I’ve never bothered to look up the inspiration behind Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, since I prefer to believe the author walked out of the Keira Knightley flick with his significant other and said, “You know what would make that story better? ZOMBIES!”
I admit, the first time I saw a “monster mash-up” book, I was appalled. It seemed disrespectful to the source material (or historical figure). My brother had to drag me away from a display of Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter books in Barnes & Noble before I caused a scene. Imagine how hard I laughed later when the movie adaptation became one of my favorite guilty pleasures. What can I say, Abe and Mary were adorable!
Once I saw the trailer for this flick, I knew I had to see it – so I went, alone, and watched it in the theater, alone. Apparently either people didn’t know the hilarity they were missing out on or didn’t bother to go; but I laughed so long and so hard my lungs hurt by the end. I didn’t realize how much I needed to see Lizzie engage Darcy in a beat-down until it happened. And, of course, there never has been, and never will be, a more hilariously, likable, over-the-top Mr. Collins than Doctor Who! (Matt, I dunno where you get those energy levels, but pass them in my direction! You’re so great, you got your own gag reel on the Blu Ray!)
There’s much that I could say (and have said) about PPZ, about the symbolism of zombies, the removal of free will, our spiritual desire for oneness with our creator, etc, but I most want to talk about how it’s a very modern romance.
Jane Austen was a product of her time, and in her time; her characters behave according to her contemporary social standards, and those who stepped outside it were shunned (Lydia, and others “seduced” by Austen’s rakes). So too, does modern society frame the new PPZ. In Austen’s book, Lizzie and Darcy have a terse exchange in a drawing room where she tells him what she thinks of him; here, words accompany actions to illustrate her loathing. She throws books, attacks him with a poker, gets him in a chokehold, and kicks him across the room. Not very ladylike, but an embodiment of her internal emotions manifesting in the world.
Everything Jane hinted at is present in physical actions, escalating into a dramatic showdown, an implosion of literal and figurative events that force Lizzie to a realization about her feelings, challenge Darcy to become a better man, and take Wickham under … or so it seems. Here, he’s not threatening Lydia’s virtue and social standing, but her life. He kidnaps and hides her in a zombie-infested church, literally threatening her life in the process –it’s a metaphor for the original Lydia’s plight. As an unmarried woman living in sin with a rake, society would have treated her like a zombie, an outcast. The stakes are higher this time around, but it’s something a modern audience, who thinks nothing of illegitimacy or “shacking up,” understands. The morals and social standards of Austen’s time seem old-fashioned, outdated, or rigid to modern sensibilities, so everything in PPZ is bigger… more dramatic, life-threatening… ideas manifested in physical reality.
The coolest alteration from the source material (Austen’s book) is the climactic showdown between Wickham and Darcy, which ends in a duel “to the death.” In the original, Darcy is much too dignified to challenge the man who tried to seduce his sister and steal her money to a duel; nor does he propose such a thing for Lydia’s honor, rather, he tries to repair the damage as best he can out of compassion and affection for Lizzie. But his loathing for Wickham is obvious, here turned into a literal fight against a force sucking hope, joy, and life from the world.
Wickham is a zombie, strong enough to resist feeding on human flesh and therefore able to retain enough humanity to be cunning, scheming, and dangerous. This is a dramatic shift from the original Wickham, who was diabolical in his intention to use girls to get their fortunes, but less of a mastermind than an opportunist. His actions against Lydia and Georgiana can be seen as acts of zombieism, since he’s preying on their hearts, minds, and bodies to sustain his needs.
To some, this film is a weird, funny mash-up, to others a travesty unworthy of Austen, but to me, it’s a metaphorical retelling of the classic themes that ensured Austen’s characters endure.