Sunday, December 20, 2009

Family Matters -- Reflections on "Zombieland"

Three years ago my mom died.

Last year so did my dad.

I'm an only child, and I mostly feel alone in the world. I have three children on my own, but I only get them part-time, so the rest of the time I am flying solo. I am out there on the proverbial highway, trying to survive, much like the characters in Zombieland.

On the heels of zombie movies like 28 Days Later (and the sequel 28 Weeks Later), Dawn of the Dead (re-make), and Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland at first seems like a retread. We've been here before, right? Consider the premise:

1) A virus has spread throughout the country, turning people into zombies once they are bitten by the infected.

2) Random survivors with major trust issues, team up for survival.

3) There's a place they can go where they are supposed to be safe.

Most zombie films follow this basic formula, yet Zombieland, with its remarkable sense of humor, takes the premise and has lots of fun with it, while still finding something important to say. Important? Zombie movie? Well, George Romero made some of the most incredible political statements with his Night of the Living Dead and its sequels.

Zombieland is, at its core, about what makes a family. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg, the poor man's Michael Cera) is a loner who has devised a series of survival rules (#17: Don't be a hero; #4 Always wear a seatbelt). He is jittery and high-strung, and despite his disdain for his mom and dad, he still wants to go home just to find a familiar face among the walking dead. Along comes Tallahasee (Woody Harrelson in one of his finest performances), a redneck with a major jones for killing zombies. They eventually meet up with Witchita (Emma Stone from Superbad) and her kid sister Little Rock (Abagail Breslin from Little Miss Sunshine). The majority of the movie finds the four of them trying to learn how to trust one another. As with Romero's zombie flicks, the conflicts amongst the survivors are often more intense than the conflict they have with the monsters raging outside.

And, that, my friends, is what family is all about -- trust. Zombieland does an exceptional job with developing the relationships between these anonymous strangers, all of whom don't want any emotional connection, yet are starving for it all the same.

When you watch Zombieland, you'll have a good time. It's a fun movie. And really super gross, too. The jokes are great and the film is very quotable (my favorite: "Time to nut up or shut up."). But after the movie's done, take a few moments to think about family connections and trust. That's what this movie did to me.

Then again, like Columbus, I feel alone in this world. I can only imagine that I'm alone in this.

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