Saturday, June 29, 2013

Non-Star Trek TOS Post of the Day: 28 Days Later

I started a post (at work, again) yesterday about how I wrote an email to the Film Crit HULK in like May right before I graduated from Bard that the tiniest part of me, like 17%, or maybe 7, is embarrassed by, or thinks that I will be embarrassed by in say two, three years, but that I'm also happy to have written. I took a screenshot of the relevant part (aka not the part that I can only describe as "gushy" where I say things like reading him is "like I'm the first human being ever to read a book by an alien" (which, accurate) and "You are like the 10th Doctor if he wrote about films and I just want to say thank you" (which, gushy and also accurate). (I guess I am happy I wrote it.) That isn't the part I took a screenshot of, though. That part is this:

The point of this post was going to be that that's how I feel about blogging right now. I really want to post but I don't know what ~about. At least that's how I felt yesterday afternoon, before I watched 28 Days Later.

Context: Wynn says he's never been scared by a movie. My mission this summer: scare him by a movie. I mean, get him to watch some good horror, and watch some myself in the process, because I haven't seen that much. Alien. Aliens. Alien III. Also, I have this thing right now about wanting to be an expert in something, to have seen all of something, to be able to speak to something, and I guess zombie movies are a good place to start? Wynn was sleeping over at a friend's last night, but my picking zombie movies as the place to start was basically because my dad loves them, so I watched 28 Days Later with him and Loren (who just got home from Javascript camp). My dad saw it mentioned in a review of World War Z recently and I had the sense that it wasn't something to watch with Wynn. Who's 12. It probably wasn't something to watch with Loren, either, who's 14. It probably wasn't a good idea to watch with me AND I'M 22. 

If the mission was like "get scared" I got scared all right. But not the delighted kind of "zombies-swarm-Jerusalem scene in World War Z" scared but scared like feeling sick. And to process that, to get it out of my system, I felt like I had to journal.

What I most wanted to unpack was the difference between the first and second halves of the movie, and the way that the danger shifts from zombies (called "the infected") to the uninfected—the group of British soldiers that Jim, Selena and Hannah fall in with. The first half is silent, slow-paced—Jim wanders through deserted London in his mint-green scrubs, past an overturned double-decker bus and a wall plastered with missing persons flyers; Jim, Selena, Hannah and Frank raid a supermarket and picnic in the ruins of a monastery, watching black and white horses gallop through green fields—punctuated by brief, minimally scary scenes like the mid-tunnel tire change.

(The real reason I'm blogging about this might be that London is deserted and there's no electricity or running water and there's this scene where Frank (that's Frank, in the second picture) takes Jim up the roof of his apartment building, where he's set out dozens of containers to collect the rain, and I saw it and thought "wow that's beautiful" and "I have to blog this") (God)

I guess this is like "screenshots of my favorite shots" now? What I was journaling about wasn't that, though; it was the changing nature of danger at the halfway point, an hour in. Jim, Hannah and Selena are taken in by nine soldiers at blockade 42, and are safer in their mansion than they have been anywhere else—at least from the infected. The danger now becomes the soldiers themselves. Major West has "promised them women" because "women mean a future," and suddenly—but very naturally—the movie darkens. Settles. Whereas before we had danger (the infected), a long-term goal (survive) and a string of short-term ones (get to Jim's parent's house; get to the Christmas lights; get to the blockade; get some food besides sugar), now we have a new danger—rapists—and a goal that feels somehow more urgent than survival: save Selena and Hannah from them. 

The movie basically realigns itself; though there's still no endgame in sight, its short-term sense of purpose becomes more and more clear as Selena's shirt is ripped off, as the soldiers hand her and Hannah matching red dresses, as Selena gives Hannah pills that will make her "not care." Not only are the infected no longer dangerous (maybe 20 attack one night and are repelled by trip wires, land mines, and machine guns) but, after the soldiers' intentions are revealed, they become almost secondary. The soldiers have chained one up in a courtyard to "study" it, and Jim actually sets it free; infection becomes his weapon. What he's fighting—rape—is worse than being infected, worse than being killed, and punishment is meted out accordingly. As the soldiers are infected one by one, the worst of them—Corporal Mitchell—drags Selena to the attic at knifepoint to find a "fucking place." Loren and I were screaming "COME ON, KILL HIIIM" when Jim found them, but I literally covered Loren's (already closed) eyes with my hand so he couldn't see Jim first bashing Mitchell's head against the wall, then throwing him to the floor and jamming his thumbs into Mitchell's eye sockets. To the hilt, as it were. The penetrative nature of his death is no accident.

Why is rape the worst thing that can happen to a woman? In a movie about red-eyed, blood-clot-vomiting zombies, that's the true horror? And from a male director's point of view? Why? Are there ways of depicting rape that don't diminish its seriousness and yet don't portray it as the worst thing that could possibly happen? What are the arguments for trying to find such ways?

I think the film emphasizes rape because it isn't about zombies, not really. It's about the darkness in us. We see that when Jim goes looking, in the burger joint, baseball bat in hand, for a zombie to kill and finds an adolescent boy who he pins to the floor with his foot and whose head he bashes in and first lies about it and later says he liked it. We see it in optimistic, even jovial Frank, who instantly becomes bitter when his hopes are (seemingly) dashed at the abandoned blockade. Jim, in his valium-induced dream, sees a swarm of white horses on a green field, calls "Hello" to them, just as he did in the church and in the burger joint—a "Hello" echoed by the white HELL on a green hill that we glimpse in the penultimate scene. Who was he calling for? Does he want to be found?

As I was journaling last night I wrote "Wow it feels good to actually need to write," which is a) the best feeling and b) basically the opposite of how I'd been feeling earlier that afternoon and, as I wrote to the HULK, how I kind of always feel right now. The last time I needed, like needed to write was after Star Trek Into Darkness when I came home with so many thoughts in my head that I didn't know what some of them were, even, but I knew it was going to be pretty unpleasant in my head til I got them down on "paper" so I wrote a 2000-word Tumblr post about like Why Kirk's Death Scene Didn't Make Me Cry (see, this is a Star Trek blog). I can't know which movies/books/etc. will make me feel that way, but I do know that it's never about knowing what I want to say and expounding on that; it's about the feeling that there are thoughts in my head that are making me feel a certain way—frustrated (STID), sick (28 Days)—and that figuring out what the thoughts are will make the feeling go away. Maybe. I'm still pretty upset that Kirk's death scene didn't make me cry.

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