Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Prettiest Zombie

I've heard some commentary floating around that Warm Bodies is basically Zombie Twilight. Even just from the previews, I was ready to refute this (and ready to see the movie, which I cannot say about Twilight). Having now seen the film, I stand by my original assertion.

Warm Bodies courts the Twilight problem, but thankfully doesn't quite succumb to it. Actually, superficially, it does succumb to it, but it somehow survives it. By "The Twilight Problem," I mean the character structure that makes the Twilight films so pathetic. That being, an attractive supernatural male who should by all means be a threat risks everything to protect a human girl whom he loves for no discernible reason. The girl is pretty but unremarkable in both appearance and personality, or rather completely lacking in the latter. In short, that is my impression of Twilight from what little I've experienced of it. I don't even want to validate it by continuing to talk about it; even discussing the many differences will relate it too much to Warm Bodies in a detrimental way. That said, perhaps it is even more remarkable that the movie succeeds despite this initial structure.

On the subject of the attractive supernatural male, my initial thought on Nicholas Hoult's character at the beginning of the movie was simply "he's too hot." Too pretty, too nicely made up, not nearly as disgusting as a slowly decaying zombie corpse should be. His skin is white and smooth, eyes perfectly shadowed, lips tinted with what looks more like lipstick or wine than gore. The infected veins in his neck stop conveniently before crossing onto his face. Really, he just looks like a goth guy in normal guy clothes.

But then I thought, wait. Maybe this isn't a bad thing at all. Most female stars of action/horror films stay beautiful no matter the circumstance, and it's so culturally ingrained that it is rarely commented on. A prime example would be Milla Jovovich in the Resident Evil movies. Granted, she's not supposed to be decaying, but she is faced with a multitude of grimy, grueling situations, most of which turn her merely a different shade of goddess. Male actions stars, however, are generally the epitome of grime. One could argue that this is merely a different kind of marketable attractiveness: the stereotype of masculine rugged endurance. I would argue, though, that it's actually not the flipside of the same thing (and not just because I don't go for that persona). Please pardon the generalization, but action films are generally made by straight men for straight men. These leading actors can get grimy and gross because marketing men to men necessitates (or rather, studios think it necessitates) no confusion about why these men are being watched. The layers of dirt, sweat, blood, and stubble put up a barrier. Obviously, many people do find this very thing attractive; in fact, I may be in the minority in finding these men totally unattractive. However, I'm pretty confident in saying that these decisions are not made with these viewers in mind.

The problem I have with the divide of pretty vs. grimy doesn't have anything to do with one being better than the other. It's the divide itself that I find problematic, and that its purpose is so clearly tied to who the film is for. Mainstream audiences seem to feel equally threatened by strong, dirty women as by semi-fem men in main roles. Or rather, wait a minute, who am I to say what makes something as large and amorphous as "mainstream audiences" feel threatened? I guess I am merely reiterating the assumption (whether unconscious or calculated) on the part of those in marketing positions. The correct way to phrase it might be that studios feel threatened by the possibility of not making a ton of money. I personally think that audiences- mainstream or otherwise- are capable of accepting much more than they are given credit for. Whether women get grimier or men get prettier, I don't really care; in fact, a little of both would be just perfect. Copious amounts of dirt and wounds for all may be more realistic, but is realism always the point in film? Certainly not.

With all of that said, Warm Bodies is in no way an action film, but it does visually reference the world of action films. It is also not a horror film, though also decidedly locates itself in the horror world (zombies, obviously). It is at its core a romantic comedy, but that doesn't mean that the zombie plot is purely incidental. (Though I shudder to bring up Twilight again, I will point out that I think its vampire plot is purely incidental.) Rather, Warm Bodies sets out to adapt Romeo and Juliet into a zombie comedy rather than another human tragedy. I could begin a whole new tangent here, but I'm not going to. I had originally wanted to discuss the movie in relation to the tradition of some preceding zombie films, and how it plays with the tried and true if not overused structure.

However, I saw the movie last friday, spent saturday and a bit of sunday writing this, then stopped. When I get to a point where I start ignoring something I've been working on, I think it means that it's time to wrap it up and release it into the world, accepting that it is no epic masterpiece. This is difficult. But this is a blog post, which is better than a perpetually open safari window on a very overloaded and unreliable computer. The end.

P.S. Not quite the end. Writing about trying to bridge the gab between how male and female actors are presented to their audiences ignores one huge point: the complete lack of trans actors. The fact that I hypothetically want to add that in but didn't carve a space for it further marginalizes the possibility. Which is pretty much the opposite of my goal. I just wanted to point that out instead of letting it go unspoken, that's all.