Thursday, January 31, 2013

Zombie Heroes

My previous posts may have colored the Zombie archetype poorly. I was still going for the dramatic slant when I wrote:

"[W]e find the zombie as the most deplorable archetype. Mindlessness, consumption, apathy, and a non-influential lifestyle characterize the zombie. He does not contribute anything to society, and takes from it more than necessarily. The hoard mentality of mentality influences his actions: following whatever orders or actions the person near him does without regard to individual wants or needs. Personality decays ... until only the shell of a person remains."

Crabhead from Half-Life 2 (Valve Corporation, video game)

 Man-o-man doesn't that sound awful.

I want to rescind that statement, or at the very least alter it. The Zombie is not the most deplorable archetype. Otherwise, why would it be an archetype? Really, the Zombie is the most 'realistic' state. It speaks of the unenlightened individual who has yet to realize their potential role in life. That is, often we are introduced to main character(s) as Zombies.* The "Hero's Journey" the characters go through often transforms them, defines their true character, and allows them to become our American heroes. 

In the 2012 Working Titles Films production of Les Miserables, the main character Jean Vanjean goes through just a transformation. **Spoilers** He starts as a prison-slave who is forced to be a Zombie. He is allowed no aspirations, influences, or free will, and must perform mindless tasks in unison with hundreds of other prison-slaves. These chain-gangs are Zombie hordes, although not by choice.We find out he's in prison because he stole bread; just trying to survive by eating whatever he can get his hands on. He continues this mentality after he's put on parole, and eventually steals some things (to survive). He's a Zombie, doing what you gotta do to survive without any thought to anyone but yourself. Plot things happen and eventually he becomes a Cowboy/successful business man who disregards the law, and eventually a Astronaut/self sacrificing individual. Happy(?) Ending. The scene I posted is Jean Vanjean coming to the realization that he must act and help, not merely survive. Yes, they're are scenes where spots of Astronaut altruism come out, but it's in this song that he self-acknowledges his being as something more than a man/Zombie. He is a hero.

However, Not every Zombie is forced to be one. Our hobbit friend Bilbo Baggins was quite content with his quiet, isolated, mundane, uneventful life. When presented with the opportunity to go out on an adventure, Bilbo says "I just need to sit quietly for a moment." Gandalf, being the volatile grey wizard he is, retorts "You've been sitting quietly for far too long!" The wizard sees Bilbo as a complacent, mindless Zombie who, when pushed, can do great things. Bilbo starts as the consumerist, overly-concerned for "doilies and his mother's dishes." Bringing him out into the world, Gandalf wants to show Bilbo the value of the "small acts of kindness and love" that will keep "darkness at bay." Consumerism, attachment to an object (i.e. a ring), will only bring insanity, isolation, and a host of other Zombie issues..

Tell me he's not a Zombie!
Screenshot from Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Other Zombie turned heroes include Django (Django), Marlin (Finding Nemo), Forrest Gump (Forrest Gump), WALL-E (WALL-E).

That's not to say that all main-characters transform into Cowboys or Astronauts. Often time the misadventures of a Zombie give audiences the opportunity to laugh at absurdity and make them feel better about their life. Step Brothers, Harold & Kumar, and Superbad feature reluctant heroes desperately searching for something, while losing sight of the real problem. The heroes do end up realizing their antics aren't quite right, and go through a minor transformation. That's not to say its true for all comedy Zombies; for example the Bluth Family from the aptly named TV show Arrested Development. The comedy follows the antics of a formerly upper-class family that can't seem to change their ways or move on with life. They are living Zombies, oblivious to reality. It's hilarious.

The next Zombie comedy coming to theaters is actually a zombie movies. Warm Bodies (Summit Entertainment) features a zombie who falls in love with a non-zombie human. I'm going to predict that the hero transforms from a Zombie to a Cowboy or Astronaut and saves the shotgun-slinging princess. And there will be a few chuckles along the way.

So, next time you see a Zombie, whether they're on the silver screen, TV, or someone acting like one, maybe you shouldn't jump for the crossbow. Giving someone the chance to become something more, to make something more, well isn't that what Equal Opportunity is all about? Then again...

What Would Daryl Dixon Do?
The Walking Dead (AMC)

*Please remember an archetype does not mean A = A; but rather A represents XYZ. So a Zombie does not mean a zombie that Daryl is about to shoot through the eye, but a character with the characteristics I'm discussing in the post.

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