Great Stories: Warm Bodies

I love science fiction and fantasy, but horror is a genre I usually avoid. I just don’t have the stomach for it. Either, it’s too gory, too frightening, or both. Even reading the plot synopsis for a horror film can give me nightmares. So the whole zombie thing has never been my thing.

Unless it happens to be funny, self-referential, and sweet. The trailer for Warm Bodies seemed to promise such things, so my husband and I decided to give it a try and make a date out of it. Happily, the trailer was not misleading. Yes, there is some gore and some jump-in-your seat moments — it is about zombies, after all — though it was mild enough that even my weak constitution could take it. And it was a great date movie.

The story (based on the novel by Isaac Marion, written and directed by Jonathan Levine) is an unlikely romance between a human (Julie) and a zombie named R — at least, that’s the best he can articulate it. The names aren’t coincidental; there are definitely shades of Romeo and Juliet.  R meets Julie under decidedly inauspicious circumstances: he and his fellow zombies are battling Julie and her fellow human soldiers; her boyfriend Perry is killed; R eats some of Perry’s brains. But as R begins seeing Perry’s memories of his girlfriend, he hesitates to attack her. He hides her from the other zombies, sharing with her the large collection of human-made artifacts he has collected in the abandoned airplane that serves as his home. And gradually, as R interacts with Julie, his humanity begins to return. It’s interesting to see this conveyed with very few spoken lines on R’s part.

This is aided, of course, by a frequently amusing voiceover of R’s thoughts. The initial narration perfectly sets up the wry humor that will characterize this movie: “What am I doing with my life? I’m so pale. I should get out more. I should eat better. My posture is terrible. I should stand up straighter. People would respect me more if I stood up straighter. What’s wrong with me? I just want to connect. Why can’t I connect with people? Oh, right, it’s because I’m dead.”

There are more than a few hurdles to the romance, of course, but I appreciate how they’re portrayed with complexity and nuance rather than ham-fisted melodrama. I mean, it’s a zombie story; it’s not going to be realism. But somehow the characters carry a sense of real-ness, even the grunting shuffling corpses. Another reason I avoid most zombie stories is because they’re so bleak, so unrelentingly horrible. Warm Bodies ends up being the very opposite — optimistic, sunshiny, and a celebration of what it means to be human.

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