We may have reached a new era for the undead, one in which zombies aren’t political avatars and Brad Pitt’s man-scarves are enough to distract us from white savior archetypes.
“World War Z”, the virtually unrecognizable adaptation of Max Brooks’ collection of zombie vignettes, is notable for both its spectacle and its lack of heavy-handed morals on capitalism/big government/athletic fragrance lines. We’re not gonna take your catty retail allegories anymore, the Dead. Audience members who are hungry for metaphors of commercial cannibalism will have to dig deep to get their parabolic fix. At least deeper than in most of “Z”‘s predecessors (especially that one with Mekhi Phifer’s undead mall baby).
They certainly won’t find it in Gerry Lane, our protagonist played with straw-headed resplendence by Pitt, who is pretty much the least menacing 50 year-old with Cobain hair you’ve seen since The Dude. Gerry is as muted as his name, the kind of man who will hack off your zombifying hand without flinching and genuflect when his kids won’t clear their dishes. He also apparently used to be a preposterously successful United Nations investigator, as evidenced by the enormous lengths the organization goes to to save him and his family from a zombie-rrific highrise. But Gerry is a family man first, and even after his expensive rescue, he refuses to try and save humanity until his family is threatened by guileful humans. And will he succeed? Look at those sad peepers and tell me it’s not written in the computer-generated stars.
In spite of its curious lack of symbolism, “World War Z” does grant a sense of pathos. Our hero may be a white guy who travels to various countries to save the world from a foreign (Korean?) virus, but the movie manages to showcase the international unity such a crisis might create. In its most dazzling set piece, Palestinians and Israelis fight together against a teeming wave of zombies spilling over a Jerusalem wall. At that level of ethnological frenzy, as long as you avoid becoming a masticating fleshbot, you’re cool. This is one of the biggest departures from Brooks’ book, where it isn’t zombies who ruin everything but haredi Jews (no exaggeration). There’s also a chilling scene where American soldiers and South Koreans work in tandem to stave off a flock of infected who leap, twitching and hissing, at the camera. Such is the cross-cultural harmony which ghoulish things inspire.
Overall, “Z” makes no bones about teaching us what to value in our own humanity. In its bombastic, armrest-claw-able way, it grants us the leisure to enjoy without reflection, and let the scarves do the heavy lifting.