Saturday, May 17, 2014

Warm Bodies -- love as a life-bringing force

Director: Jonathan Levine, 2013 (PG-13)

If you think back to the last love story you watched, it probably featured a beautiful twenty-something woman and a hot and handsome hunk, two of the current or emerging stars of today’s Hollywood.  Two lovers full of life. It probably did not have a gore-encrusted scruffy corpse as the leading man. Rarely has there been a zombie love story. But this is one.

Yes, it’s the zombie apocalypse!

Warm Bodies begins with this voice-over:
“What am I doing with my life? I'm so pale. I should get out more. I should eat better. My posture is terrible. I should stand up straighter. People would respect me more if I stood up straighter. What's wrong with me? I just want to connect. Why can't I connect with people? Oh, right, it's because I'm dead.”
The young man who is thinking this is R (Nicholas Hoult), who never gets a name as he simply cannot remember his pre-undead life. He merely shuffles around in the airport that he and others like him exist.

The film features a voice-over narrative throughout. Although cliché as a device to let us inside a character’s head, in this case the characters cannot speak. They only grunt. But voice-over allows us to discover that R is full of thoughts and desires, wants and wishes. We would not know this from his (lack of) communication.

In this post-apocalyptic world, three kinds of beings dwell: the undead, known as corpses (not zombies); the bonies, corpses that have devolved to the point of pulling off their own dead skin and flesh; and the humans, almost at the point of extinction.

When a team of young humans leave the city walls that protect them to go in search of medicine and supplies things go horribly wrong. Julie (Teresa Palmer), daughter of the city’s leading general Grigio (John Malkovich), and her team get attacked by a horde of corpses bent on eating live flesh. Perry (Dave Franco), Julie’s boyfriend, gets killed and his brains eaten by R, the hero of the film. Then in a poignant moment, R falls in love with Julie and saves her from Perry’s fate. He then takes her back with them, smearing gore on her face to cover the aroma of life that attracts the zombies.

At this point it’s worth mentioning that this is more than a love story. As a zombie flick, it has its fair share of horror moments. After all, zombie movies are captured in the horror genre. Warm Bodies includes some nasty images of bonies eating humans, and some violence. But the images of R eating Perry’s brains are perhaps the most gruesome.

Yet these scenes are crucial in R’s wooing of Julie. As R says in voice-over, “There's a lot of ways to get to know a person. Eating her dead boyfriend's brains is one of the more unorthodox methods, but...” He cannot put his thoughts into words to talk to her and so assimilates Perry’s memories by absorbing his brains. In this way, he does get to know her, even if she does not get to know him.

But a strange thing happens. As he falls deeper in love with her, his dead heart begins to beat. And he is able to speak words, slow and monosyllabic at first but later short sentences. Then his zombie friends begin to change, too, recognizing the feelings of love that awakens them from their long sleep of death.

Here lies the connection to Christianity. We are all zombies, dead men walking. As the apostle Paul says, “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12) But love changed everything. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).

Jesus, full of love and life, came to this planet that was full of death as a healer for those that would hear and accept. He said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mk. 2:17) Starting with the Twelve Apostles, his radical vision of the kingdom transformed people who in turn brought this saving love to others: “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. (1 Jn. 3:14)

Toward the end of the film, R says to Julie, in a struggling sentence, “No matter what... we stay together... we're changing everything.” This is the message Jesus left his disciples with: “Remain in me, as I also remain in you” (Jn. 15:4). If we who are no longer undead corpses stay with Jesus, our life-bringing Lord, we will change everything. This is true hope for our not-yet apocalyptic world.

Copyright ©2014, Martin Baggs