Like the book, the movie, as social commentary, suggests the modern self is already largely zombie. Early in the film, R walks through the airport with a bunch of zombies sitting around or bumping into each other. He recounts an earlier, better time, when humanity meaningfully interacted with others—the scene shows an airport full of people absorbed by their electronic devices bumping into each other.
Many zombies have gathered at the airport—airports are about waiting, and they are all waiting for something. R tells us what he’s waiting for: “I just want to connect.” This line gives us the theme of the movie, and gives us the film makers view on what will cure the zombie.
This desire for connection is reflected in R’s collections. R collects a lot of things, and, from what we are shown, everything reflects this craving for connection. Every slide in the stereoscope shows a boy interacting meaningfully with a girl. The snow globe he acquires on the same excursion on which he acquires Julie presents lovers holding hands on a foot bridge. And all the songs we hear from his record collection are about missing someone.
The connection issue is shown in the Living as well. Their major project involves the construction of a huge wall to separate the Living from the Dead. Lead by Julie’s father, the Living strive for the symbol of division.
Like the figures in the snow globe, the young people supply the bridge between the Living and the Dead.
When the zombies see R and Julia holding hands, they are profoundly affected–the cure has begun. R describes the effect of the gesture when he says, “Julie and I were giving the others hope.” All this is a lot of fun. I enjoyed the movie, but, sadly, they resorted to mere convention.
This is where I think the movie takes a significantly different approach to the cure than does the book. In the book, romantic love is metonymy; it represents all things transcendent, like beauty, soul and mystery. Not so with the movie; here the cure is simply romantic love. All the indicators of “true love” are present: hand holding, kissing, accelerated pulse, the inability to look away when her shirt is off and taking stupid risks, not to mention a literal balcony scene.
This is not surprising in that Hollywood movies usually solve all their problems with Romantic love; it is able to overcome all barriers of social class, age, race and ethnicity, and personal conflicts. Why not over come death? I was a little disappointed at this, for it seems like a cheap solution, especially when the book offered romantic love as metonymy, rather than the end in itself.
There was the baptism scene, which might have been a part of a larger whole, but I didn’t see it.
In the end, we are asked to put our faith in romantic love, for only this is powerful enough to “exhume the world.”
Matthew Arnold said as much in his poem, “Dover Beach” (1867).
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
I don’t think Arnold’s answer was any more satisfying then, than it is now. It is not mere romantic love that will save us.
Where the book hints that we need to recover of a view of reality beyond philosophical materialism, the movie suggests romantic love is the solution to all our problems. This is not to condemn the film, I actually enjoyed it, it just means it is a romantic comedy — and little more.