… 28 Days Later: when life becomes cheap again.
In 28 Days Later, England has been overrun with zombies – fast-moving zombies infected with “Rage”. Jim, in a coma from a bike accident, wakes up in a hospital with no people, no notes of explanation, and no idea what has happened out in the world. He stumbles around a deserted London, calling out for anyone, and eventually encounters two other survivors – including Selena – who tell him about the zombies, about the attempted evacuations, about the hopelessness of everything. The whole world has been destroyed, and all that’s left is a struggle to live.
As the story progresses, Jim and Selena search for other survivors and try to find a way to safety from the infection. When they meet a collection of soldiers who’ve fortified an estate against the zombies, they figure at first that things are at least going to be tolerable now. But the soldiers aren’t interested in Jim and Selena’s safety; they imprison Jim and try to appropriate Selena for their own amusement. Other soldiers have also been imprisoned, and they and Jim are marched out into the woods to be executed. Jim escapes, and lies stone-still on the ground staring up at the sky … where he sees a plane flying overhead.
The whole world isn’t destroyed after all.
There’s hope of leaving quarantined England and finding real safety again, if only Jim can break back into the estate and rescue Selena.
So Jim openly attacks the estate, killing everyone who gets in his way. Gone are the notions of “every survivor is a cherished friend.” Gone are the notions of “human life is precious.” Now only his own life is precious, and the lives of his loved ones; everyone else is expendable.
Why is that good?
It’s probably not “good” to decide that life is cheap and that others’ lives are expendable (but they were the bad guys, after all); it’s that Jim has been controlled, cornered and threatened – nearly killed – because he believed that each life he encountered was a very large percentage of the number of lives left in the world. He put up with a whole lot of crap because he thought the ones shoveling it over him were a large percentage of the number of lives left in the world. And it was only when he realized the truth – and acted in his and Selena’s own best interests – that the bad guys were defeated and good could come out of the situation.
Out here in the real world, a lot of us tend to put up with a bunch of crap because we think the stakes are much higher than they really are. We allow others to dictate to us what we should and shouldn’t tolerate, what we should and shouldn’t do, what our own value is … and we do it because we want to “get along” or “stay under the radar” or – most insidious of all – “not make anything worse.” We do it because someone else told us it was “important”, maybe even “vital.”
But the irony of Jim’s situation? The fewer people there are, the more relatively valuable each person becomes … including Jim. If the world has dwindled from seven billion to a handful of individuals, then Jim’s life is proportionately worth exponentially more than it was before. He’s put up with crap because of everyone’s “new value”, but he also has a new value. He is worth just as much as they are … just like he was before.
We’re all always worth the same. We’re worth the same as anyone else, and we’re always worth our own support. Good happens when we prioritize our own lives and those in our care, regardless of “getting along,” “not making anything worse,” or because others decided we weren’t “important.”
It’s probably not “good” to decide that life is cheap and expendable. But it is good to reduce others’ lives to their true value – exactly and precisely the same as our own.