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How To Let Politics Ruin A Movie

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Should a writer or director inject their politics into their movies? If it doesn’t interfere with the story and pace of the film, I think it is no big deal. The problem occurs when the politics detracts from the film. That is the main problem in the horror flick 28 Days Later.

Hailed as the return of the “Zombie” movie, director Danny Boyle and writer Alex Garland have created a picture on par with good horror movies like the early Friday the 13th films or The Ring. It is by no mean a great horror film like The Shining or–a film to which it was erroneously compared–the Exorcist. By the way, what is the deal with comparing every two-bit piece of fright schlock with William Friedkin’s classic? Remember how the move “Lost Souls” was dubbed “This generation’s Exorcist”? After watching that fiasco, I took a solemn oath to never see another Wynona Rider picture.

Anyway, 28 Days Later occurs in Great Britain, in which a virus that turns people into killer zombies is loosed on the population. After the virus ravages Britain, a bicycle courier named Jim wakes up in the hospital after being in an accident-induced coma. He is saved from a zombie attack by a woman named Selena. They later hook up with a father, Frank, and his daughter, Hannah. They find a radio broadcast that promises a cure to the virus and encourages them to come to a blockade near Manchester. Upon reaching the blockade, Frank becomes infected with the virus, and is about to attack the other three when the soldiers responsible for the broadcast show up and kill him. The soldiers lead Jim, Selena and Hannah to safety. The soldiers show Jim a zombie they have captured which they are using to learn about the virus. Later, the soldiers foil an attack of from a pack of zombies. Frank may be dead, but at least the other three are okay, right?

Alas, as is so often the case in the film industry, the military just can’t be a force for good. The soldiers set up the broadcast in the hopes of luring some women for a bit of nooky, the forced kind. So not only are the soldiers about to become rapists but, given that Hannah is only 14, also pederasts.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I realize that the military, like any other institution, has its bad apples. And sometimes its weaknesses can make for very good film, like A Few Good Men. Yet this is not one of those times.

After Jim refuses to go along with the soldiers’ diabolism, he is led out to be executed. He manages to escape, then kills three soldiers, and releases the captured zombie–who is nice enough to kill some of the other soldiers–in an attempt to rescue Selena and Hannah. So, a skinny bicycle messenger with no apparent military training who is not more than four days out of the hospital manages to subdue a bunch of well-trained British soldiers. Of course he has the help of a zombie, but that seems all the more unlikely given that this is a military unit that has become quote adept at fending off the foul things. (In addition, he kills one solider with the bayonet of rifle, and leaves it in the soldier. Wouldn’t that rifle have been useful in trying to defeat the other soldiers?)

This is made ironic if one views the alternative endings included in the CD version. On one such ending, Jim, Selena, Frank, and Hannah never encounter the soldiers. Frank still becomes infected, but Jim subdues him with a baseball bat. They take him too a hospital where they discover one of the scientists responsible for creating the virus. The scientist informs them that there is a cure for the virus, but it involves a full blood transfusion. In their commentary, Boyle and Garland suggested that this ending posed a big problem because you’d have to convince the audience that Frank’s infected blood was “drained out of every capillary.” In other words, it was too improbable.

So why did Boyle and Garland choose an equally improbable ending? Chances are it probably fit their stereotypes of the military. A bunch of thuggish soldiers willing to engage in rape given their just desserts by a scrawny geek–what could be more fitting?

28 Days Later might have been a great horror film had Boyle and Garland worked harder to come up with a fitting ending. Instead, they let their political views ruin it.

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About David Hogberg

  • Alex

    I just watched 28 Days Later this weekend and I’m as prone as anyone to notice lefty bias in movies, but I don’t agree.

    Maybe I’m just used to making excuses for movies (or books or comics) that I enjoy, but I interpreted it as a dozen or so soldiers who truly believed they were among the last uninfected people in entire world and just went crazy. A couple of the individual soldiers may have been scumbags just looking to get off, but the leader seemed like someone who really believed that repopulating the world trumped any morality from the pre-zombie world. They were all nuts (except the one soldier who wouldn’t go along with it and also figured out the infection probably wasn’t global), but I don’t think it was a shot at the military in general.

    And remember, the whole thing was caused by self righteous animal rights activists.

  • I didn’t think it was all that political. I thought it had more to do with the isolation that would be felt by a group of people, in this case men who are soldiers, if the whole world basically disappeared. I think maybe you have let your cynicism get the better of you. I don’t think this guy was making any sort of a political statement about soldiers, just on people who are left to their own devices, kind of like Lord of the Flies, only a bit older.

    Also, you might want to keep in mind that this movie is about Zombies who get infected with a disease ambiguously titled “rage.” Why is it that you need these small details of believability when we are talking about a bunch of zombies running around?

  • jadester

    pfah, why can’t they come up with a slightly more original twist on the zombie movie genre? Resident Evil (the game series first of course) and 28 Days Later both ripped off the Living dead series’ overall plot of a plague of zombies having been caused by a strange virus. Also, Night Of The Living Dead, Dawn Of The Dead and Day Of The Dead are far superior films.

  • i disliked the movie for the cheap production and the low innovation concerning the zombie topic. this movie was nothing new and purely just an ode to the love of zombies.

  • I’ll second Alex’s comment: What with the entire plague being unleashed by militant E.L.F./PETA types, heroes of the traditional left are being skewered here as well as heroes of the traditional right. I’ll also go one step further by pointing out that unlike in, say, Day of the Dead, not all the military men are portrayed as unthinking vicious bastards–even the man in charge is essentially acting out of concern for what he feels is the good of his men. There’s more nuance to be found here than just “we hate the army.” I wrote about this movie, and many of these issues, here–for the record, I dug it overall.

  • jadester

    day of the dead just shows how one guy who’s been catapulted into a position of command under extreme pressure can be turned…well, crazy. To be expected really, in the situation in which they were in. Even the doctor, with his good intentions, was going a little crazy. Although i like the under-pinning story part of the Living Dead series where the groups of rednecks are loving it. They could be said to be acting barbarically, except the things they are fighting are dead, and if they don’t fight them they’ll take over the world. Also, even tho you might not realise it, the Living Dead series is pretty clever – they show a wide range of peoples’ reactions to such a doomsday situation. Have you ever thought how you might react if something like that WERE to happen? would you give up and kill yourself? run away to some secret hiding place and barricade yousrelf in? go hunting zombies? try and tame them? etc.
    Some of the films also play with your “traditional” expectations e.g. of who survives. I won’t say which in case anyone yet to see them can then guess what i mean.

  • JIm C.

    As James Lileks noted last week, there’s not a single firearm in the hands of “regular people” for self defense, either. This is the nanny state UK, after all.

  • jadester

    lol, true, altho if you believe our tabloids the opposite is the case. Then again, i wouldn’t call the drug and prostitution gangs “regular people”…