During the last third of May 2021, the Netflix platform began broadcasting the movie “Army of the Dead”, written and directed by Zack Snyder, who established his own method of adopting visual effects with slow motion in his films, amid speculation About to follow it with a second part to come. In the film, we are exposed to an emotional reconciliation between a father and his daughter, which comes in the context of the “traditional themes” of zombie films (2).
But what is completely unconventional, was Snyder’s approach to the living dead. They are not the product of a medical institution that produced a virus that has lost control, but rather they appear to be the product of military experiments that deviated from its framework. Because of that narrative, Snyder developed a type of zombie he called “Alpha”, characterized by With intelligence, organization and management, unlike the famous zombie heroes, he also gives leadership to a queen who has helpers. In an unprecedented precedent, these zombies possessed zombies like themselves (3). Therefore, we are not faced with mere monsters, but rather a hierarchical system with a hierarchical leadership that gives its instructions through a language represented in various frequencies to scream at a herd bearing the characteristics of zombies that we know (4).
In the meantime, a businessman assigns a group of people the task of grabbing a fortune. The money is available in a safe located in a nightclub in Las Vegas, which is occupied by zombies. Some have argued that the film lacks creativity, as the characters in it are one-dimensional, which “Snyder” does not pay attention to (5), while giving instructions as close to politics as he does in the scene in which a soldier aims a temperature sensor at a girl, and when he notices She has signs of anger and protest. He comments that the first signs of infection with a virus are grumbling and acting outside the norm of society. In a separate scene, the decision of the President of the United States to drop a nuclear bomb on Vegas is broadcast out of hilarity, as if it indicates a frivolous way of thinking that does not realize the gravity of the situation enjoyed by the decision makers.
The strange thing is that zombie films – good or bad – usually receive the attention of the audience, and to search for the reasons for this, let’s go back to the beginning of the story and its roots, and here we will reach the Golden Coast in West Africa, where the gate of no return is located, about two centuries ago. It is the last stop of the dark-skinned prisoners in their country, amid the crashing waves, the roar of the wind and the echo of the iron handcuffs that bound them, while some of them take a last look at their homeland before crossing.
The ocean waves carried their ships to a country called “Haiti” located in the western third of the island of Hispaniola (6). Dozens of tormented human beings crowded inside the boat. European slave traders forcibly took them to the French colony to work on sugar cane plantations, after they were stripped of their names, deprived of medical treatment, education and practicing their religion, and they were subjected to systematic forms of violence. Of course they longed for freedom, and they saw their salvation in putting an end to life, a large number of them committed suicide, while most of them refrained from heading to the brink of death.
For those who stayed, they were afraid of what they believed in their belief that committing suicide would bring about their worst nightmare, being slaves, never stopping work, forever. The zombie state in this respect is the logical consequence of slavery in which man is without a will or a name, trapped in an endless cycle of “living death”. The Europeans realized this, and these ideological fears were one of the methods used by the colonists to control African slaves (7).
After many years, “Haiti” gained its freedom after the revolution of 1804. This was considered a significant historical event, and influential on the local and global levels, and historians have estimated that this revolution represents the strongest confirmation in human history that man deserves his freedom. But on the other hand, the European empires considered what happened at the time to be a stigma and insult to them, so they resorted to demonizing and stigmatizing the slave revolution (8), using the media and cinema to promote that image. The word “zombie” has been associated with the revolutionary Brazilian Muslim leader Ganga Zumba, and reports of cannibalism, human sacrifices, and dangerous rituals continued to circulate in Haiti throughout the nineteenth century.
After a while, a new colonist gained from the island, this time the United States. The American occupiers looked with suspicion at the true religion of the population (Voodoo) or what is called black magic. This appears in a visit by the American journalist and traveler “William Seabrook” to Haiti (9), whose goal was to write a report on the American occupation of the island, and instead of He found himself drawn to voodoo, and instead of writing his anticipated report, he wrote a book called The Enchanted Island, conveying his fascination with voodoo to the Americans.
The book was popular, especially a chapter entitled “Dead working in the field of reeds” (10), in which Seabrook presented a definition of the zombie as a human corpse without a soul, taken from the grave and sorcery endowing it with a life-like appearance. The zombie is thus a representation of the Haitian people who are being controlled by a charlatan named “Bocor” and used to serve his own interests and to do menial work. That concept took root in the popular imagination, and only three years later it had found its way to Hollywood. At that time, both “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” films were huge hits, and the timing was perfect to introduce a new monster to the cinema.
“White Zombie” was released in 1932 as the first zombie movie, influenced by the book The Enchanted Island, and also by Kenneth Webb’s Broadway play called “Zombie”. The film depicts a wealthy farm owner colluding with a sorcerer, who pleads with him to turn the woman he loves and is about to marry another man into a zombie.
The film was received coolly by the audience at the time, but it established a trend that zombie films did not deviate from: the follower and the master. During this era, early references to zombies in the United States were closely associated with slavery and African traditions. In a precedent that did not occur before that, the word appeared printed in an American newspaper in a short story entitled “The Unknown Painter”. (11)
The story depicts a young African owned by a Spanish painter named “Bartolome Esteban Murillo”. The young man asserts that “zombie” has appeared in the art studio at night to work on the paintings of the trainees, while everyone questions the young man’s words, and the painter rejects the existence of zombies as an African legend. This fictional story struck a chord with the American public, and various versions of it were published in local newspapers around the world. By the mid-19th century, zombies were for many “associated with a creature of African origin who willingly renders their services to the white man”.
Later, the director “George Romero” in 1968 presented the movie “Night of the Living Dead”, which is a milestone in the history of this genre of films (12). The film abolished the concept of masters and slaves, abandoned the theme of control in the first place, and made the living dead act on their instincts and roam the earth in search of the living to devour them. They die with a shot in the head or by burning, but a bite of them or a simple scratch is enough to kill you within a short time, before returning to life and chasing the safe people, “Romero” called them “ghouls”, taking into account Richard Matheson’s novel “I am a legend”.
In the second part of his trilogy, Romero transforms his zombies from primitive mutants into a potentially meaningful vessel, using zombies to criticize consumerism. In the film, the zombies go to the shopping center at night, and move around in a friendly manner. Romero also eliminated the racist fantasies that accompanied the living dead, by excluding black magic as the cause of the condition, to replace it with an outbreak of a (man-made) virus that activates the brain of the dead, or radiation that may come from outer space.
Surprisingly, zombies are not intractable or complex creatures. They are motivated by the simplest of needs, they have no concern for their safety, they have no desire for love and a sense of belonging, or the need for self-esteem and pursuit of it anyway. Sigmund Freud puts it: “The zombie represents the unconscious, biologically inherited instincts that are driven by impulse and the desire for instant gratification and aggression” (13). Behaviorally, zombies are motivated by hunger and gluttony, and as a result, they engage in consumption behavior.
So one possible reason to like zombie movies is that zombies are us, these mutants don’t come from myths and fairy tales (14), but are born out of social and cultural fears. Frankenstein’s monster, for example, represents the fear of science and man’s attempt to play the role of God and determine one’s destiny. Monsters always come from a latent place of the psyche to reflect the oldest and most important fear that humans have known since the beginning: death (15). Attempting to understand and embody fear is then nothing but a desperate human effort, through which man seeks to impose his control over a world pervaded by chaos.
On the other hand, it is about survival. Over hundreds of thousands of years, our goal as humans has been to adapt to environmental pressures, with our hyper-awareness of the threats and dangers that surround us. Simply put, the more people able to detect dangers in their environment and respond to them efficiently were the more likely to survive and reproduce, so we have passed on fear with their genes. In this context, three aspects of zombie stories relate to that evolutionary history: fear of predation, disease, and the survival of the fittest. But aren’t we supposed to, because of that, do the opposite, that is, run away from zombie movies because of the fears they embody?
The researchers argue that “we want to deal with death and infection without going through them. By watching we experience that anxiety and sadness, and when the show ends we go back to our normal lives” (16). Some attribute this psychological function of cinema and television to the Greeks, who were convinced that this was the best way to maintain the stability of society, by experiencing all these threats indirectly through imagination.
Dominique Sipierre, a specialist in classic Hollywood cinema and emeritus professor at the University of Western Paris “Nanterre La Defense”, supports this interpretation, stressing that watching representative scenes of death while sitting on a chair in a movie theater or on your sofa allows you to experience the feeling of domestication and victory over death, given Because “Facing death frequently (in horror movies) kills death itself.
Siber also proves that zombies are better than humans, they quickly learn how to cooperate together, they never resort to deception and trickery as we see in the movie “Army of the Dead”, they are just trying to achieve their only goal of ending human life. Unlike many humans, zombies are simply who they are, in that sense the zombie apocalypse teaches us that zombies should not be feared as much as other humans. (17)
The zombie question, then, is primarily human. Can other people that a human encounters while trying to survive be trusted? Do we really treat each other on our diversity in a different way than we treat zombies? Even if a person does not turn into a monstrosity from a biological angle, he may be loaded with the legacy of racism, classism and consumerism, and from that point of view he may be a monstrosity as well, but only of another kind!
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