I have not hadso much fun watching a movie since… well, since Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. Or maybe it was Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. I’m a fan of these literary/history cinematic monster mash-ups, can you tell?
I could bore you all with endless gushing about how utterly hysterical the film is, but I won’t. Instead, I want to talk about the symbolism my brain dumped into my lap toward the end. (Let’s just be glad it’s symbolism that fell into my lap, and not my brains.)
There are two kinds of zombies in this story: those who have gone full zombie, and those who haven’t. The latter have not lost their humanity by refusing to eat human brains. If they do not consume human flesh, their disease does not progress into full decay and they retain their intelligence and self-control. This ragtag bunch attends Saint Lazarus’ church, and each week take communion in the form of pig brains and blood. It sustains them, but does not fully satisfy their hunger – it merely keeps them “human.” In the end, however, through no fault of their own, these zombies become fully zombified; and a villain emerges who says repressing his desire to eat human flesh was easy, in order to maintain his ambition and intelligence; he wants to become their “zombie antichrist,” leading them to victory over the humans.
Given that the last six months of my life has been devoted to theological studies, both in a modern and historical context, with close examination of true believers and what I like to call “mere church attenders,” this struck a chord with me. I thought about those who attend church in an attempt to stem their darker inner natures, in the hope that God will bless them, but who ultimately rely on good works rather than salvation for their get out of jail free card. They pray, they take communion, they try to do good, or even try to “earn” a place in heaven through good deeds, hoping that church will free them of the enslavement of their sinful desires, but are ultimately empty… zombies who are not entirely zombies, because they repress their inner urge, but for no greater cause other than… Self. Christianity does not satisfy them, because it is not real for them. It is a habit, a cultural norm, or driven out of guilt, rather than a personal relationship with Christ.
Self-denial can be selfish, if you deny Self not out of a desire to avoid causing God pain by willful sin, but to gain something by it. The villain does not abstain from eating flesh because he believes it is morally wrong; he knows that if he should eat human flesh or brains, he will become no longer intelligent enough to accomplish his objective. Plenty of people deny Self not because God asks us to live to a higher standard, or out of a desire not to belittle Christ’s sacrifice through sin, but because self-denial earns them something. Maybe it makes them a better businessperson, or other people look up to them as morally good, or maybe they think it will get them through the proverbial pearly gates, but unless our desire to deny Self has God as its focus, it is not always holy.
The zombies who unintentionally ate human flesh, after practicing this self-sustaining and largely godless abstinence, became ravenous and out of control; their humanity disappeared, leaving them free to give in to all their base instincts and become little more than mindless predators. Their desire to be good meant nothing in the end. It will not save them any more than good works can save us. Sometimes, our intentions for good turns out badly, leading us further into sin than we intended. It also speaks to those who are faithful for a time in their attendance to spiritual things only to abandon their former “good” lifestyle for one in pursuit of their sinful urges; tragically, the most repressed Christians can become the most decadent sinners once they have had a taste of the “deliciousness” (but ultimately empty pleasures) of sin.
Darcy saw the idea of befriending the sane zombies as fundamentally flawed from the start; his black and white moral thinking shot down any notion of trying to “make peace” with a civilization on the constant cusp of darkness. He saw their potential for evil for what it was. In a sense, he represents wisdom and a darkness of his own – because he is wise in calling evil what it is and wanting nothing to do with false goodness, and dark in that he intentionally leads them astray into “zombisim” (sin) in order to support a greater good (an intelligent race bent on domination is more of a threat to humans than a mindless, brain-eating horde). Yet, even his thinking is flawed; his black and white fundamentalism leaves little room for pity. As Elizabeth tells him, he is an excellent fighter – now he needs to work on becoming “a better friend,” hinting that his ruthless rigidity and immediate killing of zombies despite whether or not they hesitate to hurt people leaves little room for compassion. She, meanwhile, is so compassionate that it is nearly her undoing – she needs a little more of his straightforward thinking – good is good, and evil is evil.
Being a Christian can be a tricky business. It is easy to wander off the narrow road into one of the deep ditches on either side — fundamentalism (lack of compassion) or apathy (there is no true sin). Wisdom is staying on the path, and true wisdom comes from God. It takes self-evaluation to determine where you are in your faith or even if it is real or merely a product of your upbringing or environment; whether you are too rigid or too comfortable with sin; and to determine your true motives even in your good deeds, but this self-reflection and prayerful consideration is necessary from time to time.
It is in abstaining from our sinful urges, through our faith in Christ and our devotion to Him, that we refrain from becoming baser creatures – in a sense, metaphorical zombies. Those that give in to their sinful urges (the desire to eat brains) become full zombies… utterly lost, so given in to their primal (sinful) urges, that they no longer resemble their former selves. But self-denial is not enough to save us; we also need Christ — a force greater than ourselves. Grotesque as the metaphor may be, it can serve as a reminder that only in Christ do we become truer versions of ourselves and escape our zombie-like state.