As promised in the last post, we will now begin exploring how zombie movies can use the uncanny to explore our fears of other people.
Early one morning this past Fall, when my wife was pregnant, a criminal kicked in my elderly neighbor’s door and entered her house. Luckily, a dog chased him away, but the psychological damage was done both to my neighbor and me as a husband and expectant father. In the wee hours of the next morning, you could see crazy ol’ David Browder sitting out on the porch, looking like the Unabomber, and keeping watch.
Zombies can represent a mass realization of this suspicion of other people. The uncanny aspect here is that zombies have human form, but are quite ugly and virulent (being living dead and all). This is a visual and physical integration with what we suspect is so. We are frightened by people who mindlessly (and often maliciously) consume at our expense.
The real fear, however, is stoked by more intimate and everyday relationships. In the first episode of The Walking Dead, we are introduced to a man who survives the initial zombie uprising and his son. We learn that his wife (and the little boy’s mother) did not survive. In fact, she has become a zombie and there is a poignant scene when she walks up to the porch of their house. The little boy is crying and the father is trying to both console him and keep him quiet. Heartbreaking stuff.
How far away from this, though, is our fear that our friends and loved ones will either turn into something we don’t recognize or turn out to be something we don’t expect? I was told of a single mother who had a troubled teenaged daughter. She went to a particular church, obviously looking for some good news and comfort. It turns out that the members of the church asked her to leave because her daughter might be a bad influence on their children. What a betrayal.
How true to life is this scene when considering how many people have watched helplessly as their spouse careens off the edge into substance abuse and addiction? Or slowly succumbs to a progressively debilitating mental illness? Or just plain growing captivation by resentment and bitterness over unfulfilled expectations and hopes? How many children have learned as adults that one or both parents were unfaithful and the emotional foundation of their childhood was a lie? This deeply unsettling genre helps us, I think; draw these great fears (and, often, realities) to the surface.
The next installment will discuss the zombie genre’s ability to draw out deep fears we have about ourselves.