Sunday, 14 July 2013

Warm Bodies AKA Tropes Are Not Bad : The Movie

I've just watched the movie Warm Bodies, I've seen it before, caught it the last week it was in the cinema, but it's out on DVD now and I liked it enough to want to see it again. In fact... is there a DVD version of desert island discs? because Warm Bodies might well make my list; but much as I like the film I was having a hard time putting my finger on why. It's well paced, well acted, well shot and the dialogue is laugh out loud hilarious, but there are plenty of films that fulfil those criteria that wouldn't make my hypothetical desert island list. I do have personal reasons for particularly liking this movie's take on zombies (more of that later), but that didn't seem to be enough either.
Then as I was mentally scrolling through the list of stuff in this movie that would normally be major red flags for me, tropes that normally send me running for the hills, it hit me: I like this movie so much, not in spite of it being filled with stuff I normally dislike, but because it has those things but does them in ways that I can't help but be entertained by. For me at least, Warm Bodies is essentially Tropes Are Not Bad : The Movie.

Brief Spoiler Warning: I'm going to be talking about a movie, so it should go without saying that there may be spoilers ahead, I've tried to keep them small and/or referred to in the DVD blurb, but I can't swear to my success so if you haven't already seen Warm Bodies you may want to go and do that first (honestly, it's worth your time). Also if the phrase 'tropes are not bad' means nothing to you, then tvtropes is your friend (but a very needy friend, the kind that having met you will want to tell you not only their own life story but that of their parents, siblings, cousins and every pet they've ever owned. You have been warned).

All right then, so far I've been basically assuming that you have some idea of what I'm talking about, some vague awareness of what the movie is about, I should probably cut that out. Warm Bodies is basically Romeo and Juliet if the Montagues were zombies. No really, the romantic leads are R (he can't remember the rest of his name) and Julie, there's even a homage to the balcony scene. If at this point you're thinking something along the lines of 'oh no, not another retelling of Romeo and Juliet, not another teenage girl meets monster boy, not more zombies' then, well exactly, lets start there.

I have nothing in particular against Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, I think it's a little overrated, in that he wrote other plays I like more, but yeah, it's a good play. On the other hand it's a pet peeve of mine that people describe it as a romance, it's really not, or at least it's not only a romance. Let me use the bard's own words to explain:
Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents' strife.
The fearful passage of their death-mark'd love,
And the continuance of their parents' rage,
Which, but their children's end, nought could remove,
Is now the two hours' traffic of our stage;
 That's (most of) the prologue and if you know the play at all, you probably recognised it because it's one of the really memorable bits, the emphasis is (obviously) mine. So often I see love stories being described as being like Romeo and Juliet if they merely feature a couple born to two mutually antagonistic groups regardless of whether their actions do anything to heal the rift. That bit's important folks, in fact I'd go as far as saying it's the whole damn point of the story (there are also people who describe any romance featuring teenage or apparently teenage protagonists as being like Romeo and Juliet, but those people are fools and we shall not speak of them). Ahem, like I said, pet peeve, so Warm Bodies earns major points from me for actually remembering this, R and Julie's relationship, in the words of the DVD blurb '... begins to transform the other zombies and maybe the whole lifeless world'. This alone makes me do a happy dance, but there's so much more.

I'm not going to go into the teenage girl meets monster boy thing too deeply, because Warm Bodies actually mostly avoids this by having the protagonists just a little older (late teens/early twenties), which, especially with the added maturity boost from living/unliving in a post-apocalyptic setting gives their relationship a very welcome seasoning of, well, common sense really: R knows he's being weird and creepy, Julie makes repeated, earnest attempts to get away from the monster before she gets to know him better, and so on. On a similar note, yes R is yet another romantic hero who struggles to express his emotions, but he has a damn good excuse, he's a zombie, he can't physically form the words, plus you can see that he's really, honestly trying to communicate, this makes a difference. Plus his inner monologue (as voice-over) is both hysterically funny and poignant.

Finally then, there's those zombies, two lots of them in fact, the more skeletal 'boneys' don't interest me that much, other than I do kind of like that as the movie's 'faceless oncoming hordes' interpretation of zombies they are shown as being literally faceless... well all right if you want to get picky they kind of have features that are recognisably the remains of eyes, a nose, a mouth etc, but they don't have faces in the sense of that which identifies one person from another, that individuality has been stripped away from them along with their outer flesh. I thought that was kind of neat, moving on.

The other type of zombie, called 'corpses' are quite possibly my favourite interpretation of zombies ever, they remind me somewhat of Shaun of the Dead's shambling metaphor for modern apathy / 'going through the motions' but here the metaphor is for a deeper emotional distress, these zombies are not switched off emotionally, but locked in, each isolated in his or her own mind, unable to communicate. More than that, they're slowly fading away as they forget how to dream and how to feel, as if they're shutting down their emotions to avoid overload and pain or have done that and now can't find the way back. There's something about that that resonates for me. That and about the way the human survivors dismiss the corpses as unthinking monsters that can be killed without consequence (the same as most zombie movies / games etc do) when we as an audience get to see that they're not so different. I think my boyfriend summed that one up walking out of the cinema back when we watched it on the big screen "What if all movie zombies are like the ones in Warm Bodies?" It was, we agreed a pretty horrifying thought.