Raising the Dead in Warm Bodies

Note: Spoilers will follow in this review.

Warm Bodies is honestly one of the most interesting – if not necessarily the best – movies I’ve seen in recent years. The acting is good, directing is good, they did some great use of lighting and colours, but ultimately it is because of an atypical storyline that is actually compelling: It is a zombie love story, I knew that much going in. But it is more than that, too.

The General Plot

The movie begins with the main zombie R – he can’t remember what his name was but he remembers it started with an R – giving an internal monologue about how much he hates his new “life” as a zombie. He just shuffles around all day. There is no meaning to anything. He introduces us to his friend M, and then clarifies that by “friend” he means that they look at each other a few minutes a day, occasionally grunting and sometimes managing a single actual word. Zombie fans know that’s already giving zombies a bit more humanity than most zombie movies – any others that I know of – but it isn’t really a stretch either.

One day as R, M, and about a dozen others go hunting for food – after R has clarified that he doesn’t want to eat people, he just doesn’t know how not to – they encounter Julie and a few other human survivors who are out searching for a cure. R kills and eats the brain of who turns out to be Julie’s boyfriend, but for some unexplained reason puts blood on Julie as a disguise and brings her back with him to the airport where the zombies live. Their love story begins here as Julie comes to accept that maybe R isn’t so bad and he actually protects her from the other zombies (or “corpses” as they get called). Eventually, though, she wants to leave and return to her life with those who are actually fully living.

From http://thedoghousediaries.com/5402

Through it all, R’s ability to speak gets better and I think but can’t be sure that his skin becomes less pale. On the night that Julie leaves him in a suburban home, R does something that zombies could never do before: he dreams. Around the same time, M and the other zombies also dream for the first time. This is the big realization that they’re coming alive (again). Actually alive, not just zombie “alive.”

The final step needed for R to become fully human is a radical act of self-sacrifice. Cornered by “bonies” or skeletons – zombies who were too far gone to be saved (I could make an interesting statement about Hell here) – R jumps off a building with Julie, putting himself on the bottom so that he hit the bottom of a pool and she would be safe. After getting up and being shot by Julie’s military dad, to the shock of everyone he begins to bleed, just like a fully alive human.

The Lessons

So what do we learn from this? Regeneration starts, and continues to completion, through acts of love. It necessitates being treated as fully equal humans. R explains in the closing voiceover:

The rest of us? We kinda learned how to live again. For a while it seemed like a lot of us forgot what that meant.

The humans began to accept us, connect with us, teach us. This was the key to the cure.

It was scary at first, but every great thing starts out a little scary, doesn’t it?

This is how it happened. This is how the world was exhumed.

It’s actually quite a radical idea for a zombie movie. As I’ve commented elsewhere, zombie movies often wrestle with the question of whether zombies are still in any way human. They pretty unanimously conclude that no, they are not, and therefore we need to wipe them out. This one changed that – everybody assumed they weren’t except maybe for Julie, and her different assumption actually made them human.

Now bear with me for a minute for an analogy: we’re the zombies. We were dead (Ephesians 2:1 among others). We still walk around. We still eat. We still communicate, although far from perfectly (side note: interesting that the ability to communicate – including to those very different, those we might not even consider equal in humanity – is part of becoming more human). We still bear the image of God, but it is a broken, fundamentally different image. It is much like how zombies look like humans and in some ways are the same but in others are radically different.

And as with R, we are brought back to life by the “fully alive” (Jesus) treating us who are dead with radical acts of love. At least it’s very radical if you start with an assumption that the higher being should submit to serving the lower being, as almost every human does as part of our eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. It’s not like R deserved to be regenerated, as every other zombie movie tells us. He did choose to accept it, even stating he wanted to stay referred to as R as a symbol of his new life instead of trying to reclaim his old one.

We don’t deserve for God to regenerate us. Imagine if God acted like the humans in most zombie-movies: “they’re not like us anymore and we should just wipe them out completely.” It might be a little sad, but ultimately you don’t feel too bad about it because it is fair and seems to be necessary for survival. God doesn’t do that, though, just like the fully alive humans learn not to treat zombies that way. Instead, God demonstrates that the chasm – whether real or imagined – can be crossed through radical love. And as we learn to live in this same radical love toward those who we think are less than us, we become restored more and more to the truly-alive, image-bearing humanity we were made to be.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.