I saw it. I really did. Last night. Normally I do not see movies of this genre and had no interest in this one. But a friend with whom I periodically go to the cinema—who is a cultivated, highbrow French research scholar (CNRS, SOAS) but with a cinematic preference for Hollywood blockbusters (particularly if they star Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Johnny Depp, or George Clooney)—really wanted to see it. And my interest was piqued by news reports of the pic’s geopolitical angle, with Arabs slamming it for being a paean to Israel (e.g. here) And one thing I read—by a right-wing Jewish commentator—wondered if the film was an expression of love for Israel or, rather, anti-Semitic. Intriguing. And as it’s the dog days of summer—it’s hot in Paris (mid 30s C/mid 90s F) and Paris cinemas are now air conditioned (which they weren’t twenty years ago)—I decided what the hell.
As a film, it’s preposterous. But as the subject is zombies annihilating the human race, one would be surprised if it were otherwise, i.e. if the story were credible and serious. Entertainment-wise it’s okay: the special effects are good enough—though I don’t have much to compare it to—and one is on the edge of one’s seat at a couple of points. There’s the inevitable Hollywood schlockiness about the central family in the film—Brad Pitt’s character, named Gerry Lane, as the loving husband and father, with loving wife and adorable daughters with their teddy bears—but one expects that from Hollywood. What was interesting for me, though, was the film’s politics, and on this level it’s quite good. Seriously.
First, America does not save the world. The president of the United States or the US military are not the heroes. WWZ is not ‘Independence Day’—which I never did see—or other Hollywoodish celebrations of American hegemony and greatness. In WWZ, one learns early on that the POTUS and Joint Chiefs of Staff have been killed by zombies, the V-P is nowhere to found, and Washington is basically out of commission. Army Special Forces are involved at the beginning but they kind of screw up and cease to be a factor. The US Navy takes in VIPs and their families in its flotilla—in the oceans and out of reach of the zombies—but makes hard, cynical choices as to who is worthy of its protection—i.e. who is useful—and who is not. Gerry Lane is in civilian life when the movie begins but prior to that did covert, clandestine work in countries at war for an unnamed governmental-type agency, and whose skills, whatever they may be, are needed to counter the zombie onslaught. But as it turns out, the man-in-the-suit official—speaking in a non-American accent and from some kind of headquarters—who arranges Gerry Lane & family’s exfiltration from zombie chaos on the East Coast—and who tells him that they really need him in the anti-zombie campaign—is the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations (and from Nigeria). And at the end of the movie Lane ends up at a research center of the World Heath Organization—a UN agency—in Wales, where (spoiler alert!) the solution to the zombie crisis is found. In other words, it’s the United Nations that spearheads the world campaign against the zombies and possible extinction of the human race. International organizations and cooperation save humanity. As for America, how could it possibly save humanity in view of the chaos and breakdown of authority across the country? In America, it’s sauve qui peut—and with all those guns Americans own of zero utility against the zombies (so much for the Second Amendment). And the private sector? Hahaha 😀 … I doubt Fox News & Co liked the movie.
Second, on the Israel part. In the early stages of the zombie crisis it is learned that two countries have managed to contain it: North Korea, with the regime pulling the teeth of its entire population, and in 24 hours—which may or may not be a recommendation for totalitarian regimes—, and Israel, with the wall around the country. So Gerry Lane hightails it to Jerusalem, to meet with his Israeli counterparts (Mossad). But while the wall is keeping the zombies out the Israelis are allowing all the Palestinians in—so there is no suggestion that Palestinians are zombies—, where, from the safety of Israel, they commune with the Jews in peace and harmony. But then the zombies breach the wall. The wall fails. And the Israelis are trapped. All hell breaks loose as people rush to the airports to flee the country. Subtext: separation barriers give the illusion of security but are no guarantee of protection for Israel—from zombies or Palestinians.
One question nagged at me at the end, as humanity found a way to counter the zombies, albeit with a large portion of the world’s population lost: what was the impact on the world economy? We’re talking about a massive decline in gross national income across the board, thousands of times worse than the 2008 financial crisis. How does the world economy recover from a zombie crisis? There’s not a hint in the film. Hopefully that will be the subject of the inevitable ‘World War Z II’…
UPDATE: A friend has pointed out to me that the zombies in the film are not, strictly speaking, zombies, as they are not reanimated cadavers but, rather, live persons infected with a hideous virus after having been bitten by an already infected person, which turns them into murderous zombie-like persons who join the biting spree. Dont acte.