The zombie genre won’t stay down, and it’s never a bad time for its meanings to roam free. Warm Bodies may be mistaken for a trifle, the even paler Twilight, but no phenomenon this insistent can be so easily dismissed.
Zombie movies are always about our anxiety over what comes after death — a worry we carry from the first moment we learn that we die at all, and one compounded by our anxiety over various kinds of continuity — of our loved ones, of our way of life.
We fear that we’re already dead — that our chances are exhausted, or that our society is built to fail. That’s why zombies shamble persistently through the mall in the original Romero Day of the Dead, and why they congregate in an eternal wait at the airport in Warm Bodies — enacting workaday routines with an endless amount of time to get them right or see them come to something.
The allegory and the alarm are more alive than ever, though their significance does move forward — our resource insecurity is at a historic height, as the developed world wonders what it will be absorbed (essentially eaten) by — ideologies we’re uncomfortable with, nationalities we’re phobic of.
But our own gnawing craving is for an alterative way of living — and Warm Bodies shows the struggle of the abhorred and the embattled to experience a life after the only one they know (or others think they know about them).
It’s no spoiler that the film deals with the enemy-camp romance between a zombie-killing girl and a post-living boy, whose heart is somehow rebooted by their encounter. His stumbling horde starts to follow in file by seeing their example, challenging the assumptions of the girl’s martial-law dad, who has turned the last known city of the living into a walled fortress.
The barricades of Bush-era war-on-otherness are unmistakable but not overpowering either as metaphor or fact; love rises again and the walls may be buckling.
The entire production design is of a kind of pop sarcophagus, where the trappings of an era much earlier than the end times (notwithstanding their own extended hipster lifespan) — vinyl records, polaroid cameras — clutter the landscape of nothing new. The symbol of youth always having to navigate a world left lesser for them to build on is poignant though unsentimental. We have to grow up, and we need to change, and if we choose carefully we may come alive for the first time.