New Favorite Movie
I am always on the lookout for a great new film. Usually though I don't end up seeing the movie until it's well out of circulation. There are two reasons for this: Oklahoma doesn't get all the really interesting smallerish movies and I don't have access to a megaloplex theater. So, when I catch something, and it really interests me, then it gets thrown into the upper pantheon that is my favorite flicks.
The movie in question fuses together masterfully three distinct sub-genres: romantic comedy, buddy film, and horror film. Any guesses? Okay, one more hint: it hails original from Fair Albion's shores, i.e. England. Still at a loss? Last try: George A. Romero loved the film so much he cast the two prinicipal leads as monsters in his most recent film. Give up? The movie is "Shaun of the Dead."
Before I go on to sing this movie's praises, let me say up front: the movie is rated R. Don't rent it for the kids. It is adult fare no matter how hilarious it is. There is a lot of profanity (guess which word; just don't mention it in the combox) and there is one particularly violent death scene (go figure in a movie about the undead). Also, at the end of the movie, the strong implication is that Shaun and Liz are living together but the film doesn't make clear if they are married or not. Other than that there is a lot going for this movie.
Brief synopsis time: The movie opens with Shaun stumbling his way through a regular mundane day of work, relationship issues, hanging out with his buddy, Ed. Although Shaun has a lot of potential, he clearly hasn't lived up to. In short, he needs to get his life in order and it takes his girlfriend, Liz, breaking up with him to jumpstart the move to sort out his life. Cue the zombie uprising. Through some perilious twists and turns and truly inspired scenes (I will never be able to look at an English pub or listen to the song "Don't Stop Me Now" by Queen the same way), the movie resolves and returns to the same mundane events with which it began.
Now for some commentary or a segment I like to call: "Look out, falling spoilers ahead." The film touches upon a basic fact about life that we rarely see played out in this way. The virtues we cultivate in silence, often unnoted by those around us, are those which make us who we are when the time counts. Shaun didn't wake up one day ready to fight zombies, but each day he went to work, supported his friends, especially Ed whom no one really likes or thinks much of, wants to be good to his girlfriend and mom and dad. When it comes time to help and defend them, Shaun is ready because he's been training for it all his life. Further on this same line of reasoning, the filmmakers suggest that the strange and supernatural is just around the corner: it's a magical thinking kind of movie in which the mundane and extraordinary co-mingle at the edges of reality. This is played out in Shaun (played well by Simon Pegg) as he walks on two different occasions to the local convenience store. The first time it's the normal work-a-day London we would expect: guy washes his car, jogger passes by, a child plays with a soccer ball. The second time is very different: although Shaun walks the same route everything has changed. The car is wrecked, the jogger passes by (this time running for his life), and the child is now one of the undead. What makes the scene funny and poignent comes from Shaun not really noticing anything is wrong. That suggests, at least to me, not just how we shamble through our days as worker drone zombies but also that underneath the surface of reality there is more than we can imagine. (However, I recognize that some readers may disagree with this last point as an explanation for the zombies -- rampaging virus -- is decidely materialistic or at the minimum could be understood that way.)
The film also makes a good case for loyality and friendship, especially when our friends are clods. (By the way, every has a certain degree of "clod factor" which is that innate ability to indulge in the worst inclinations of your personality at the most inopportune time.) Ed is a loafer and slob but just as much as Shaun has stood by him, Ed has stood by Shaun. Even when he gives ridiculous advice or suggests that dogs can't look up, Ed has Shaun's back. This is particularly well demonstrated in the final scenes of the movie. After the zombie uprising has been quelled and everything is back to normal, Shaun goes out to the shed before having breakfast. Why go out to the shed? The shed has become the home of his newly zombified best friend, Ed. The movie ends with the two of them playing a video game which is much how the film started. Rather than just disposing of Ed the zombie, Shaun holds on to his friends, despite repeated efforts by Ed to bite Shaun. That's a charming note to add to a film which could swing off into sardonic or other ill fated decisions.
It seems to me that rather than being anti-Christian, there is something clearly traditional about horror movies. You know who the good guy is; you know who the bad guy is; every one has be virtuous or some approximation of that to make it to the end of the story. "Shaun of the Dead has moments like this such as when the film goes to great lengths to make sure the audience understands that Shaun's biological dad died and his mother was a widow when she married Philip, Shaun's stepdad. Even though I am willing to bet no one would have batted an eye at the proposal of divorced parents, it was interesting to note how the filmmakers made sure to get that point in there.
This brings me to a conclusion. St. Genesius, martyr, started out mocking the Christian faith only to die a martyr for the faith. Performers in the entertainment industry must be beset each day with a thousand competing voices that influence their work, and yes that includes morality and their faith. We would do well to pray for folks in the entertainment industry, not because they are hopeless heathens, but because they are just like the rest of us lot, trying to be true and faithful to that which will bring true happiness to themselves and those they love. As St. Thomas Aquinas observed, "man will always choose something he thinks is good, even if it is only an apparent good."
St. Genesius, pray for us.