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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

You’ve Got Red on You: How Modern Life Parallels Shaun of the Dead

Hi everyone! The following piece is part of a very fledgling series on my blog Jon’s Line of Sight called “Sit Down, We’re Not Going Anywhere,” which deals with movies you must watch again and again, to the point of delaying better activities if said film is encountered unexpectedly, such as on basic cable. For Zombiepalooza, it seems like a great time to write one up for my favorite zombie movie of all time. As a bit of a formality, SPOILERS MAY FOLLOW…

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You’ve Got Red on You: How Modern Life Parallels Shaun of the Dead

Have you ever taken a look at your life when you’re in the middle of a workday? Most of the time we shuffle along in our daily routines, blindly pursuing the next waypoint in an ever-repeating loop. Get up earlier than you’d really care to, so you can get on the road with enough spare time to sit in slow traffic, all for the pleasure of spending the next 8-10 hours in whatever corporate-funded cell you’re required to occupy. Head home in same slow traffic, feel vaguely guilty for not doing more constructive things with the few free hours you have left in the day before getting to bed too late to feel good in the morning when you have to get up earlier than you’d really… Anyway, the point is that modern existence has become a series of urgent but stumbling steps toward the next poorly defined goal, in a constant fog of distraction and ennui.

This is why, when watching Shaun of the Dead, you must watch very closely to determine exactly when the world has fallen apart around the titular hero.

The plot of the film is a great twist on the zombie movie trope (sorry, I shouldn’t use the “zed-word”) in that it’s not so much a horror movie as it is a sentimental romantic comedy, which happens to be set during the zombie apocalypse. I’m not using this space to review the movie, nor to bore you with a synopsis (you’ve all seen it anyway). I will say that Pegg and Frost’s comedic timing together are nothing short of brilliant, and the film manages to convey the heavily emotional scenes of the final third with a sincerity I would never have expected after watching the first two thirds.

But back to ennui. The best and most obvious example can be found in two nearly identical tracking shots during the movie’s first 30 minutes or so. In the first, we see Shaun leaving his flat for his daily morning walk to the convenience store around the corner. We follow him across the narrow street, past a kid juggling a soccer ball, a man washing his car, a jogger, watch as he gives a panhandler a few coins, exchanges meaningless chitchat with the shop proprietor. This is simply what he’s done every day for as long as he can remember—he barely looks up.

Cut to the next day. He wakes up hung-over and newly Liz-less. He gets up, walks out his front door, and repeats the walk. He passes and even speaks to many of the same people, only now they’re all shambling undead. But Shaun is, in the most perfect example of the word I’ve ever seen in film, oblivious.

Over the course of the previous day, the clues were everywhere—weird TV news reports he flipped past without really seeing, the unexplained traffic accidents, the abnormally high number of people coughing in the bus. Shaun even catches some of these, like that old guy eating the pigeon in the park, but life distracts him from thinking about it long enough to make a real connection (in that case, deciding which rubber-stamp card to get on the flowers he’s finally remembered to get his mum). He’s constantly trudging along in his day, driving toward the little ill-defined goals that someone, seldom himself, has set for him, without really seeing the big picture. This is a nice little parallel to the zombie’s constant, shuffling pursuit of braaaaiiinnnns…except Shaun is driven by guilt at being a bad son and worse boyfriend.

Of course, a huge part of the inherent comedy of the film is this utter negligence of the crumbling of society around the chief characters. But it does point a big rotten finger at a society that has allowed itself to become so irrelevant that it would crumble without anyone noticing. You know, until someone points it out by trying to eat you in your back yard.

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