Unlike the typical zombie film, World War Z is focused on one man, Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), a former UN employee who inherits a global pestilence. Based on the book by Max Brooks, its abject horror stems from a global pandemic that multiplies while bureaucracy ponders the demise of civilization. It’s so much more than a zombie movie, as countries barricade themselves in splendid isolation hoping quarantine will prevent further infection, only to find out too late the consequences of being hemmed in!
Normally I’m suspect of any Hollywood big budget horror film, especially when it’s connected to the star power of Brad Pitt, but Brooks offers a slightly different perspective on zombies. His infected cannot be avoided, because if a cure is to be found, these zombies must be studied.
World War Z takes us along using casual comments that may or may not provide factual information. Neither confirmed nor denied, media report rumors that suggest “this began in China as a mutated strain of rabies.” Viruses mutate, as happens in flu pandemics, and as AIDS has gone from being thought of as a monkey virus to speculation that a particularly resistant syphilis strain is at fault.
With time looming before there can be no reversal of misfortune, disinformation is as much of an enemy as the reanimated dead. Political campaigns seize on this confusion to exalt their ideological claims that the situation is “manageable.” Or as was clearly stated in the book: “you can’t stop the rain but you can build a roof over those potential voters.”
So are the infected zombies who move in hordes that scale walls like ants using Legos?
If you can get beyond Brad Pitt as the savior of humanity, with his family under government protection, the most implausible factor in World War Z is that Pitt’s character is supposed to be intelligent and resourceful though he’s an ex-government employee himself! Director Marc Forster, faced with insurmountable budget woes and a seven-week re-shoot, still managed to expand on Brooks’ idea of this being an oral history of the war, with a competent storyline that never falters, thanks in part, I’m sure, to the presence of J. Michael Straczynski, whose TV show Babylon 5 was structured with similar effect.
Hollywood has a history with disease – I always think of The Satan Bug, about stolen vials of germs, but there was also Cronenberg’s Shivers and Wolfgang Petersen’s Outbreak, and I’d recommend the ignored gem, Carriers – the difference being that this movie is more about amassing facts than expressing feelings. I love how in conversation we overhear that the only place to successfully eradicate the plague spread by human bites is North Korea, who, when first learning of the crisis, ordered the military to pull everyone’s teeth! Carnage can always be averted when human rights are ignored.
And that’s one reason Gerry leaves the phone with his wife. He says he wants to hear for her each day; it’s to guarantee that his family has access to the facts and not just what the government decides to share with them.
It’s the not knowing whether or not his adversaries are alive under a ticking clock that wears Gerry down. Sure, he may have aluminum baseball bats and a pickaxe at his disposal, but his weapon of choice is his brain!
World War Z, as much as it may piss off a whole lot of people, proves that fear of a disease is NOT worse than the disease itself! In fact, it’s the fear of not finding a cure that should terrify both the healthy and the infected.