The Thing I Like About …

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.

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The Thing I Like About …

28 Days Later: the people who are “saving” the chimps.

In 28 Days Later, a group of animal-rights activists break into a lab and attempt to free a group of chimps and other animals that are part of an experiment. The animals don’t look as though they’re being mistreated per se, but they don’t look happy either, and they’re being forced to watch horrible images of violence and chaos. I don’t think animals should be tortured; hopefully few people think animals should be tortured. And I certainly don’t know – even in the context of the film – exactly what purpose there was in forcing the monkeys to watch violent television.

It’s not that I disagreed with the animal-rights activists, per se.

It’s that the animal-rights activists act without knowing all the facts – even when the nice, terrified scientist man tries to tell them the facts – and their subsequent “rescue” of the animals unleashes a zombie plague that decimates England and threatens the whole world.

People pretty much want to do good in the world. And they want that “good” to happen right now, no waiting. No red tape. No discussion. No chance for the people on the “other side” to say their reasons for thinking the “good” thing may not be so good. They get frustrated with government for “dragging their feet” … but then they get equally frustrated – and angry and litigious – if government acts without having “gotten all the facts” … the “good” facts.

Reality is a little more complex than that.

We should champion the causes we think are important. But it’s also important to make sure we know which side we’re on. It’s very, very easy to make mistakes; it’s also very like the world to change of its own accord, so that what was once the truth is no longer so. Should we all just stand around waiting for some ultimate end-of-time fact-meeting before doing anything? Hardly. But it might be useful to listen to the information we’re already receiving, and to base our actions on what will help – instead of on fear, or on a need to “win”, or on a misguided notion that “I was trying to help” will somehow magically put the zombie-rage back in the cage.

The Thing I Like About …

28 Weeks Later: the message of hopelessness.

The sequel to 28 Days Later has good acting, a reasonable premise, and excellent special effects. It is a fine entry into the zombie-apocalypse genre. I can find nothing to dislike about it; in fact, the scene in the pitch darkness, when the audience can hear Rage moving from one side of the crowd to the other, is extremely effective.  The film is … just fine.

But I didn’t really like it.

I didn’t like that they broke the quarantine and spread Rage to Europe. I didn’t like that the child was a target. I didn’t like how Cillian Murphy wasn’t in it, but that’s probably just me. I didn’t like the hopelessness that they snatched out of the jaws of triumph.

Until I considered that maybe that was the point.

Jim, Selene and Hannah have to face extraordinary loss, hardship, and heartache to survive the first film. They have to carve love and family out of a decimated world … and they do that. They do that. They allow themselves to feel love and joy again, and they are rescued, going to a new life in (based on the accents of the pilots who find them) the U.S. or Canada. They have to let go of everything – literally everything – that they ever had or knew or cared about, in order to survive and thrive in a new reality.

In 28 Weeks Later, everyone decides that you can go back again. They decide that you can ignore reality and linger in a nostalgic past; you can have everything be the same as it was, even after it changes. They decide that all that stuff we learned in the first film is basically poo. And the consequences?

Death, despair, hopelessness, chaos, and outbreak.

The entire second film revolves around blowing up London (which looked totally amazing!) and reminding us why we were happy with the ending of the first one: Jim and Selena and Hannah move forward. They let go of things that are, well, already gone. They allow change, and movement, and newness. They live now. The people in the second film … do not. They’re trying to recapture a past that died six months ago when that girl let the monkey out of the cage. They’re living in that past, and they become as dead as it is.

After seeing 28 Weeks Later, I imagined Selena and Jim and Hannah sitting in Toronto or Texas or somewhere, watching the news about the destruction of London and the outbreak in France … and shaking their heads, and saying, “F’ing morons.”

“You can’t go back again.”