What Should Christians Have to Say About Zombie Movies?
- Monday, July 25, 2005
The first question that might arise from simply looking at the title of this article might be, "Why would Christians even watch zombie movies must less want to have anything to say about them?"
In response I need to emphasize that MovieMinistry's role is not that of the film critic, but of the cultural critic. We do not recommend or promote films, we explain them so that Christians can see inside the driving cultural forces underlying the stories movies are telling us to see if we can use them to explore the gospel. And, believe it or not, horror films are ripe with myths and analogies that can be used to our advantage.
And that is what drove me to the cinema at midnight on a recent Thursday to view the latest installment of George Romero's "Living Dead" franchise. Romero is a famous low-budget horror film maker, and his "Land of the Dead" is no exception. Made for $15 million (peanuts by most Hollywood film standards) it is guaranteed to turn a profit because millions of young people in the film's target demographic will turn out for the mayhem.
The story concerns a group of survivors carving out an existence in a world dominated by zombies whose only desire is to kill and eat the remaining humans. In the midst of the seemingly simple story (and the amazing amount of gore), Romero makes statements about consumerism, greed, and (I think) the human condition. Most noteworthy are the way Romero's films – and most zombie movies – make use of death, decay, insatiable appetite, and meaninglessness to expose the contemporary problems facing culture in the West.
The first emotion that zombie films prey upon is our natural fear of death. In Romero's films, if a person is bitten by a zombie, infection sets in followed by death. Immediately after, the dead come back to life as zombies. Zombies are not a pretty sight – but neither is death.
For millennia humans have been dying. With the exception of Enoch and Elijah, every human born has died. One would think we would be used to it by now – but we are not. Every time it happens, regardless of how long we have to prepare for it, death comes as a surprise. I am certain that just before Methuselah died at 969 he said, "Is that all?"
Our recognition of death as unnatural would seem silly unless we believed that we were not meant to die. The Bible explains that physical death is the unnatural result of the curse pronounced on Adam and Eve following their initial sin in the Garden of Eden. Yet Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God has placed "eternity in their heart." We know we are designed to live forever, so death always appears as the relentless enemy.
Fear of death is not the sole province of the zombie film – death on the battlefield in war films frightens us as well. The fear of death is heightened in Romero's films by the fear of decay. As zombies shamble about in Romero's films, they have a hard time literally holding themselves together. It is disquieting to see the human body profaned.
In the Old Testament, Numbers 19:11-22, God explains to the children of Israel that dead bodies are a source of uncleanness. He commands ritual washing and purifying of anyone and anything that comes into contact with a dead body. Those who touch one are unclean for a minimum of an entire week.
Because death is unnatural, decay is as well. God did not intend for our bodies to perish – they were designed to last forever. The Bible tells us that Jesus' body did not suffer decay (Ps. 16:10), and those in Christ are promised that their own corruptible bodies will put on incorruption (1 Corinthians 15:53).
Zombies are the living dead – animated decaying corpses that feed on human flesh. Their appetites are insatiable. The films warn that zombies will not stop until they run out of food – which means that by then, everyone will be dead.
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