I scare easily
People are scared that the end is coming. I don’t think they actually believe that Judgment Day is nigh, or that an extinction-level asteroid is on its way, or that Syria (or North Korea, or Taiwan) is going to lead to World War 3, or that a virus will mutate into a pandemic as deadly as the Spanish flu or whatever it was that nearly ended human civilization in Contagion, 28 Days Later, or The Walking Dead. But all of these things are making people anxious – very, very anxious – and somehow this is translating into a desire to buy tickets to movies about what these people are anxious about. They actually make me more anxious than I was already, but it seems that for some people these movies calm them down, sort of like how speed calms down kids with ADHD.
Maybe it’s because they teach us how to respond to the end. Last week, I wrote that, in contrast to the narrow scope of the comedy This is the End, “when Hollywood tackles the end of the world we get giant sci-fi epics focusing on teams of either super-heroes or super-heroic soldiers making the planet’s last ditch effort to stave off oblivion.” Like religious myths of ancient times about deity-caused dooms, these movies tend to have powerful moral centers; we learn how people should behave when most people are about to die. The need for selfless heroism is the lesson of World War Z, the frightening, if somewhat flawed zombie apocalypse movie starring Brad Pitt and directed by Marc Forster.
The plot, like most big budget wannabe-blockbusters, is painted by numbers. After leaden foreshadowing communicated through overheard news reports, Gerry (Pitt), a former United Nations war crimes investigator, is sitting in Philadelphia traffic with his wife Karin (Mireille Enos) and their kids (Abigail Hargrove and Sterling Jerins) when the zombie hordes strike. These are fast-moving zombies, similar to the frenzied monsters in Danny Boyle’s now-classic 28 Days Later, and after they bite their victims, the victims turned into zombies in about 10 seconds. Gerry and Karin and the kids manage to escape Philadelphia and find refuge in an apartment building in Newark before being rescued by soldiers sent by Gerry’s old boss at the UN Thierry (Fana Mokoena). On an air craft carrier in the Atlantic Ocean, Gerry discovers that Thierry only was able to save him and his family because the remains of the US government and the UN wanted Gerry to lead the team investigating the origin of, and potential defense from, the zombies. Feeling that he has no other choice – because of his moral duty to the world and because of the quid pro quo that will keep Karin and their daughters safe – Gerry takes off for Korea, then to Israel, and then… well, you probably don’t want the plot spoiled. But aside from some twists and turns, the plot hurdles towards to an expected conclusion that fully realizes the lessons in heroism.
It is important to note that this ending was created after rewrites and reshoots; the original third act of the film is much, much bleaker and not nearly as instructive. And I’m glad that that they decided to do it the way they did. I was so disturbed and terrified by the first two acts of the film that I don’t know if I could take what would have been an agonizing ending. Forster’s shooting of the script that was mostly written by Michael Carnahan (with an ending done by Damon Lindelof and Drew Goddard) heightens the grit, tension, and horror of the seeming impossible struggle for survival. He seemed less interested in gore than in creating a tone of dread, fear, and unnerving suspense. And while Pitt does the hero thing as well as anyone, it is through the brilliant Enos (best known for The Killing) and Daniella Kertesz, who plays an Israeli soldier who becomes Gerry’s sidekick of sorts, that I felt the more visceral emotions. Both are terrified but need to be almost superheroically brave in order to do what they need to. If anything makes World War Z not obvious, it is having such strong, interesting female characters. That excites me, and not in an anxious way.
World War Z
Directed by Marc Forster
Written by Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, and Damon Lindelof
Starring Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, and Daniella Kertesz
At your local multiplex