As I promised in the last post, we now venture into the many fearful layers of our psyche … the land of the walking dead.

Sigmund Freud once wrote an interesting little ditty called “The Uncanny“.  In it, he set up an inner conversation between what he called Heimlich and Unheimlich. Heimlich, says Freud, is what one would call the “homely” or how one feels as one returns to the “old home fires” of the psyche.  The equivalent of the Norman Rockwell painting in your life or the old Christmas fire with green and red textures, scarves, top hats, and grateful youngsters with Red Rider BB guns.  That feeling of warmth, comfort, and security.

Unheimlich, on the other hand, has the appearance of the Heimlich but it evokes a reaction of fear, disgust, and revolt.  Unheimlich is the “uncanny”.  The homely, yet unhomely.  The Terminator is uncanny because, on the whole, he appears to be a normal human being but is really a killer robot. The half-buried Statue of Liberty in Planet of the Apes is uncanny and renders the entire movie uncanny.  It is the symbol of a wonderful national idea in a state of ruin.  Ventriloquist dummies are uncanny.  The Twilight Zone episode “The After Hours” with department store mannequins coming to life is uncanny. These are all designed to use the form of what comforts us to put us ill at ease.

And being ill at ease is often a very good thing indeed.  Is repentance not being ill at ease?

Zombies are uncanny in that they resemble (with varying success depending on the age and condition of the zombie) human beings but are not.  For instance, in Night of the Living Dead, the Barbra character arrives at a graveyard with her brother to pay respects to someone.  Toward the end, she is killed by the zombie her brother became.  The zombie looks exactly like her brother but is something altogether different.  Now, this is horror (and how!) and it is not very pleasant to ponder.  But it begs the question: From what does our fear originate?  What is being processed here in our state of unease? Romans 3:10-18 states:

10 As it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good, not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Without being flippant, this sounds an awful lot like a zombie.  It’s not something we want to hear and it is certainly said by more than a few people that this passage is overstating the paralysis of the human condition.  Christianity disagrees with this more worldly assessment.  Maybe the uncanny nature of the zombie movie can stir up some fearful, sublimated part of us that can grapple with our paralysis and bondage in a more integrated manner. Perhaps it can help give Romans 3:10-18 a new hearing.

In the next two installments we will pursue this and see how the uncanny nature of the zombie taps deep fears about our neighbor and ourselves.