Lately, I’ve been a bit obsessed with zombies: Walking Dead TV show and comics, Warm Bodies, the CDC’s warnings of a zombie break out, Zombieland, World War Z book and movie, on and on. This is partly because I had gone to school for kinesiology and know that the exact definition of a zombie can never be. That doesn’t mean that what zombies symbolize don’t exist. They do. Everywhere.
I’d bought the Max Brooks’ book before seeing WWZ and found it fascinating. I didn’t know why until I read a critique of the movie of the same name. The book is a collection of first hand accounts of the zombie take over and the fall of the world. Each chapter represented an intimate look at how certain emergency initiatives, government agencies, armed forces and advanced weaponry failed, from every corner of the globe. It was all incredibly convincing, and I began to contemplate the very real possibility of The End. The movie, on the other hand, didn’t do a good job of that.
An article in Vanity Fair suggested that fifty or so first hand accounts does not a good movie make. From a moviegoers’ perspective, Hollywood thinks that we need a main character to root for. In a way, they’re kinda correct. But the movie makes a fundamental mistake: it wasn’t intimate. Part of the reason we need a main character is because once we’re rooted emotionally to him, Brad Pitt in this case, we’re then drawn in. However, nothing about most of the movie is intimate because he deals with massive zombie attacks over large groups of people. The only real intimacy we get is his love for his wife and children…and then at the end when he has to travel through a maze of offices—alone—to find a potential solution. With each turn of a hallway, entrance to a new room, opening of a new door brought the real possibility of confronting a fast running zombie, the most intense part of the whole film. And I think the fast running zombies, not written in the book, but chided by some hardcore zombie traditionalists, was a great choice. It broke convention of the slow lumbering dead.
Lumbering through the above three paragraphs brings me to the one show that has taught me something about storytelling: The Killing.
The AMC show is currently in its third season, and I’m still hooked. But it was the first two seasons, the Rosie Larsen murder, that hooked me in. Out of all the procedural shows—all the CSI’s, Bones, Law and Order, etc—Killing brings to the forefront the epic hole that is left in the surviving family and friends. To say the show was heavy is an understatement. I’m sure less than a quarter of the show was dedicated to the mother and father and two brothers whom had to deal with the very tragic and mysterious death of Rosie. Each character showed through conflict or flash backs their pain, memories, guilt, and regrets. Here, the writers took their time, using the smallest detail and stretching it over a whole scene that laid a feeling thick with anguish and sadness.
For me, there was a sense of real loss, a real feeling of death, and the scent that only a murder could bring. Not that I smelled anything, but somehow the smell of rot entered my mind. And you would imagine that the murder scene was gruesome, especially if you’re used to shows like Dexter, which I’m a fan of. In terms of visual intensity, Killing was very tame but creepy (See above: Rosie found in a trunk of a car). But the experience of watching the show was weird, and the only way I can explain it was the intimacy each character brought. From that perspective, the writers of the show did a wonderfully morbid job.
Intimacy. That was the key.
Intimacy. The most intense scene of WWZ was the climax, where Pitt’s character had to confront zombies face to face, literally.
Intimacy. Romance novels are king in this area, so of course makes up at least 50% of the fiction sales.
Intimacy. The one thing that people want in their relationships, whether they know it or not.