Saturday, May 12, 2007

28 Weeks Later is Profoundly Immoral


Note: in its wisdom, Fox Atomic has not made images from 28 Weeks Later available to the general public - there' s no press section on their site for lesser media representatives like myself to lift images from; all images on the site are presented in a Flash Player that doesn't readily lend to their being downloaded. Not to be frustrated, I'm illustrating what follows with an image from Fallujah, in Iraq. You will see why presently.


28 Days Later was a very likable film. 28 Weeks Later is, I think, profoundly immoral and offensive. My saying this may be puzzling, because to many viewers, the films will seem very very similar, and for good reason. They share a host of features: the Rage virus as phlebotinum; jagged edits of shaky, grainy, hand-held digital video images that really get under your skin; images of a deserted London; running, raging, red-eyed “zombies;” a central focus on the family; and even the music of Canada’s own Godspeed You! Black Emperor, which worked so well in the first film that they’ve made the same passage, I believe from “East Hastings,” the primary soundtrack to the sequel. I need to step back a little bit and set forth a few basic principles before I can even begin to lay clear my objections to the film.

A vast and surprising number of viewers seem to have no idea just how complex horror and action films are. The vast majority of viewers seem to read movies on the level of “story” alone, or even simply spectacle; the idea that some of the most formulaic action and horror films out there also have themes, to say nothing of sometimes even more subtle subtexts, seems to be lost on a great many. I’ve emerged from seeing all manner of films asserting they were “about” things that no one else among the people I viewed them with was aware of; when I try to explain what I’ve seen, I am constantly confronted with comments like, “You’re reading way too much into things.” From my point of view, I’m usually stunned how most people read nothing at all. Lots of folks approach films as entertainment, as stimulus, not as text; even professional film critics – of the more commercial variety, mind you – generally do a piss-poor job of reading the films they watch.

One rule of thumb for reading a film – I’m not sure where in the canons of film theory this was first articulated, but it’s generally accepted as a given – is to look at whatever disturbances begin it. What is upsetting, confusing, or unpleasant in the prelude to the film? What problems do the protagonists face? Chances are that, whatever the ordeal of the film – the specific form of which will often, but not necessarily, relate in some way to the disturbance at the outset – it will involve overcoming the flaws or problems that are articulated in the prelude. A few examples may be in order: at the beginning of Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, Cary Grant is indecisive about committing to a romantic relationiship and too-in-the-sway of his mother, which is part of the problem. The ordeal of the film involves him possibly losing his relationship and his life if he doesn’t overcome these weaknesses; interestingly, he must battle and defeat an evil homosexual couple, overcoming, thus his own overly feminized aspects and said dominance of the mother, which their gayness is the logical extension of. At the end of the film, gays defeated, he can get married and perform sexually. This pattern is typical of Hitch: he generally equates the dominance of the mother or of the female with male homosexuality, and requires that both be overcome, so that masculinity and marriage can flourish; Strangers on a Train is another interesting example of this. Psycho doesn’t follow a conventional narrative formula, but relates, since Norman is sexually confused (and being played by a gay man) and his mother is definitely dominant, if dead.

A few more contemporary examples may be in order. Die Hard – the first one – is “about” the primacy of white, masculine, American authority in the family, as most purely experienced among the working classes; it’s sort of a an average American white man’s self-pitying, self-validating masturbatory fantasy (as is The Last Boy Scout; Bruce Willis is a sort of poster boy for self-pitying, self-validating, masturbating white male authority). Consider it: John McClane, at the beginning of the film, is coming to visit his wife, who is working for a foreign corporation. She doesn’t appreciate him, wants a career, is tired of his self-pity, self-dramatizations, and cranky world view. This is the problem that must be overcome, the sign that the universe is out of order: the Virtuous White Man is NOT BEING APPRECIATED - and his wife has a career of her own. Through a series of ordeals, he must defeat a sophisticated, European terrorist and his gang, prove himself smarter than his superiors, and rescue his wife from the consequences of her own foolish desire for independence. (I don’t recall there being any specific pokes at Japanese companies operating in America, but they’re clearly part of the problem, not of the solution, and corporations and international business are generally framed in a bad light, assumedly since the men in the film's demographic feel threatened by them). By the end of the film, we have confirmed that McClane’s cranky world view is in fact an accurate perception of things as they are; the universe has been restored to order, symbolized by his wife finally being subordinated to him again – leaving the ruined building, abandoning her career and aspirations for an independent life, once more under the arm of her potent and powerful hubby, where she belongs, and belonged all along (if only she’d realized it in the first place, so much trouble could have been spared everyone!). It’s plain as day, but try telling anyone that the film is about how women shouldn’t work, and people will generally look at you funny. Trust me: it’s a conversation I’ve had more than once.

28 Days Later, mind you, is not a particularly subtle film, and enough has been written about the aspects of social commentary in its Romero-directed precursors that savvier viewers probably could pin down a few thematic threads; zombie film watchers generally represent a higher class of filmgoer than Die Hard fans, too – or did for the longest time; the form is being somewhat vulgarized now, as the pointless and thematically void Dawn of the Dead remake evinces. Still, if I said that 28 Days Later is about survival in a society that has completely broken down, which is meant as a dark mirror for our own; that it suggests that our survival requires people have an open mind to new forms of relationships (overcoming racism, for instance, in the form of the mixed couple at the center of the film), and that there is a profound mistrust of white male authority in the film – as symbolized by the soldiers and their deranged leadership, and the threat they represent to the two female leads and thus to the survival of the surrogate “family unit” at the heart of the film -- most fans of the film would probably be with me. Neverminding its plot device of misguided animal activism – which seems irrelevant to any of what follows – the film could be read as extremely progressive, and much in line with Romero’s project (which, with the possible exception of Land of the Dead, typically places non-whites and women in the role of protagonists and regards “the old order,” most often represented by the police or military, as oppressive, atavistic, or at the very least fraught with difficulty). Even though again 28 Days Later has a white male hero, he has to battle and overcome the institution of “white male power” in order for there to be a happy ending, and is at times shown the inferior of his black female counterpart. It's ultimately pretty liberal-friendly.

28 Weeks Later is far more complex and harder to read. In order to do so, I’m going to have to spoil most of the film for people who haven’t seen it. I’ll warn you when the spoilers are particularly destructive.
At the start of the film, a surrogate family is holed up in a farmhouse. Actually, the main couple are a real man and wife pair, but there are surrogate grandparents, surrogate siblings, etc. There are also rage-zombies outside – even Ken Eisner notes the parallels with Night of the Living Dead and the “theme” of family, while failing to get much further into the film. While the drama of the original film centered around the question of whether the family can possibly survive, though, the entire impulse to family – or indeed, any sentiment that holds people together – is depicted as the enemy in 28 Weeks Later, the center of the problem, the thing that must be overcome. Thus: the woman at the table, in the opening sequence, who is convinced that her boyfriend will return is a threat to the safety of the surrogate family. The impulse to let the uninfected child who pounds on the boarded up windows into the house and protect him is a threat to the safety of the surrogate family; we can assume it helps the zombies (well, Rage carriers, but it's more or less the same thing) figure out where the fresh meat is. The zombies are more or less invited into the house by the woman hoping her boyfriend is outside; her peering through the slots in the boarded up window incites them to break through it. The surrogate family are thus placed under siege, and in trying to help each other, end up almost all being killed. The man and wife pair are separated; seeing he has no choice, rather than indulging the hopeless impulse to protect his wife – who is inside protecting the child – he takes off. This sets in motion the key disturbance of the film, and what I guess is meant to be its explicit theme: sometimes you have to cut people loose and look after yourself. As the film frames it, there is little doubt that if the man (Robert Carlyle, by the way) had stayed with his wife or gone back for her, he would have died; no good would have come of it. He makes the right choice, and the action of the film serves to vindicate him, as, in the rather complex narrative that follows, it is abundantly proven that sentimentality (like that which has him looking over his shoulder at her as he flees) is a bad thing, dangerous to indulge.

This message, in itself, is not entirely objectionable, I suppose: the theme that “sometimes selfish sentiment needs to be sacrificed for the good of the whole” in fact runs throughout the zombie genre – for example, in Night of the Living Dead, the parents who refuse to accept that their daughter has been bitten and is going to become a zombie run the risk of jeopardizing all the other survivors in their party and pay the ultimate price – being eaten by their own kid. (One is also reminded of Tom Savini pretending he hasn't been infected in From Dusk til Dawn). When survival requires it, you have to be honest about your chances in horror films; denial is dangerous, and that's fair enough. The problem is the alternative posited to selfish sentiment in the film, and how it interfaces with the film’s subtext, which is clearly meant to resonate off audience’s awareness of what is being done in Iraq.

This is most explicitly triggered early in the film, when the “safe area” in a post-Rage London is referred to as the “Green Zone,” aka Baghdad; the American military are defending it, and the area outside the Green Zone is off-limits and dangerous, as in Iraq. The “family” at the heart of this film exists within this world – Carlyle and his two children, who were safely out of the country when the virus hit and return to him the titular 28 weeks after the virus has died down and he has been safely evacuated. He lies to them, rather than trying to explain that he chose to save his ass by abandoning their still-living mother; his inability to overcome his guilt at having done perpetuates the problem – if he were more bravely honest with his kids about the reality of the dangers out there, some of what follows could be avoided.

Spoilers begin to mount here on in, but since I think I can easily convince you this is an immoral film unworthy of your money, fuck it. Examples of clinging to the sentiment of family, as the root of all evil, persist. The children endanger everyone by voyaging into the forbidden zone in order to find a photo of their mother. They further endanger everyone further by actually FINDING their mother, who has survived, an immune host to the Rage virus. She is brought back to the “Green Zone,” and Carlyle, in his sentimental desire for forgiveness, kisses her – and thus contracts the Rage virus, which he spreads through the safe zone; it quickly runs out of control.

The American military have (supposedly) no choice: with the virus out of control, the entire population of the town must be destroyed, to protect the world from the possibility of a resurgence of the Rage disease. The order is given to execute everyone, even those not visibly infected: in the chaos that has descended, no chances can be taken. We are placed on ground-level, for the most part, as the uninfected strive to survive against both the marauding rage-zombies and the arbitrarily death-dealing military. Carlyle’s two children form the heart of a new surrogate family that springs up, comprised of a female scientist who (for good scientific reasons) wants to preserve the kids so their blood can be studied, on the chance that they’ve acquired their mother’s immunity; and a soldier who (sentimentally) disobeys the command to exterminate civilians. He will later be aided and abetted by a friend, who also chooses to disobey orders for sentimental reasons.

In the meantime, we are treated to a vivid depiction of the extermination of civilians – a vast firebombing sequence larger even than the one in Apocalypse Now, and happening in a city: the entire green zone is spectacularly torched, with innocent, non-infected civilians whom the army is supposed to be protecting being set ablaze with the snap of fingers. If you don’t think of Fallujah while this is all going on – y’all know that the equivalent of napalm – napalm-by-another-name – was used there, right? – you probably need to give up your subscription to the Province and find a better source of news.

If you disagree with firebombing civilian centers, you’ll love Plan B: when some Rage-infected survivors of the scorching are seen, nerve gas is used.

Now, you see, for me, at this point in the film, regardless of the question of whether it was okay for Robert Carlyle to have cut and run - the overt disturbance of the film, which in fact obscures the real subtext -- the stakes have been raised considerably, because the film seems to be offering us the following choice: either we approve of the firebombing and gassing of civilian centers (to get at the terrorists hidden among them, say – or zombies, or whatever) OR we cling to the sentimental impulse to respect human life, to regard those we would firebomb as being like ourselves and thus worthy of respect, and place ourselves in danger. This is basically a fascist question, and it is absolutely chilling that Boyle and Garland – who made the (liberal, anti-fascist) first film and are involved as producers of the second – would be willing to frame it. It is absolutely imperative, for the film to have any shred of morality to it, that the decision to exterminate everyone be proven the incorrect approach, and the “sentimental” respect for human life, however imperilled or troubled, to be ultimately vindicated.

It isn’t. The kids survive, but by doing so, spread the Rage virus to the mainland. The “bad guy” in the film is thus not hysterical, murderous authority, as in 28 Days Later, but any human impulse that would object to hysterical murdering authority. The army was right; Tony Blair was right; George W. Bush was right; KILL THEM ALL, it’s the only way we’ll be safe. (I guess this kill'em all to save our own asses thing also vindicates Carlyle post-mortem, tying up the other thematic thread quite nicely: not only is it okay to cut and run from your family to save your ass, it's okay to napalm them, and everyone else too).

If the film could be defended on any grounds, it perhaps could be said to be a provocation, “raising the issue” of what is being done in Iraq in the name of preserving our privelege; I mean, I don’t think that defense could hold water, but if ANY defense of the film COULD be issued, it would have to go along those lines. For it to be a credible defense, among other things, it would require that viewers emerge from the theatre deeply unsettled, asking each other if we are really bad people, for allowing atrocities to be committed in our names.

I profoundly doubt that that sort of conversation is taking place in movie theatres, but I dunno. I will now visit Rotten Tomatoes and see how many negative reviews mention Iraq at all...

13 comments:

ammacinn said...

Actually, people are catching on - there's even some discussion on the IMDB boards, tho' the number of "it's only a movie!" responses far outweighs attempts to think critically about it. See here, for instance:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0463854/board/flat/74144395?p=1

- Allan

Anonymous said...

Your not a smart man

Jonathan said...

You have got to be kidding me. Your analysis is completely subjective. Your arguments link to events in Iraq, but it could happen in vastly different areas. You link it to Iraq only because that's the hottest action going on. Your arguments are vastly similar to the conspiracy theories that popped up during 9/11. Saying that the terrorists specially planned it because its 9-1-1. Please, get a more objective point of view.

Anonymous said...

"Spoilers begin to mount here on in, but since I think I can easily convince you this is an immoral film unworthy of your money.."
Methinks you vastly overestimate your ability to sway opinion, let alone write a good narrative. Would it not be better to encourage people to see the film and decide.

ammacinn said...

Anonymous 1:

...And you kant spell.

Jonathan:

The film deliberately identifies the safe area as "the Green Zone;" it is being made by filmmakers from one of the two countries with the largest presence in Iraq; it has American soldiers using napalm and chemical weapons on civilian centers, as it has been said Americans have done in Iraq; and it raises the whole issue of "collateral damage," which is one of the larger issues critics of the Iraq war have focused on.

If you think filmmakers spend millions of dollars on making movies without thinking out references and parallels like that - if you think that it's an ACCIDENT, for instance, that they use a term used to identify the most secure, American-protected sector of Baghad - then there's no arguing with you; you're asleep. You're suggesting all these parallels are ACCIDENTAL? Isn't it a lot more likely that you're just not paying careful enough attention?

There is no connection between anything I say and 9-11 conspiracy theory, and your saying so only suggests that you haven't read the piece that carefully.

Anonymous 2 -

The point was that if I thought this was a film worthy of people's attention, I'd probably go to greater lengths to not "ruin" the plot developments. If people want to see the film and decide for themselves, they're welcome to do so, but don't need my encouragement; they'll do what they will. Thanks for at least a remotely thoughtful comment, though.

Jonathan said...

Actually, your arguments are very similar to the theories of 9/11, and also similar to the "23 enigma". You're just taking evidence and making work for your argument. I'll tell you one thing, movies aren't the only things that call secure zones "green zones". There are also other things that use chemical weapons to cause collarteral damage. I.e. Modern Strategy games. Do you think all the games just base it all Iraq events? No, its just based off modern technology. Technology that is used during wartime. You're expecting the movie producers to come up with their own weapons so they don't trace modern warfare?

You also stated that :"If you think filmmakers spend millions of dollars on making movies without thinking out references and parallels like that" Do you have proof that filmmakers make a parallel? Can you provide me HARD evidence saying that the filmmakers of 28 weeks later were thinking about Iraq? If you can, I would like to see it. If not, your argument is still completely subjective.

ammacinn said...

Jonathan -

Okay, here are some quotes from the makers of the film, since you don't seem to be registering me (spent half an hour Googling the film and found a few obvious quotes to start you with - there's probably a lot more in the press on the film than I've found). The director, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, interviewed online here:
http://www.startribune.com/1553/story/1175493.html

"It's a kind of provocation, a punch in the face. Sometimes it's a good thing to wake up and look at the world that we're living in. My intention was to make a mirror, and make it real. The more real, the best horror."

From a Guardian interview with him, here:
http://film.guardian.co.uk/interview/interviewpages/0,,2071673,00.html

"The film is full of reality and present time. When you are making something this real, then it acts as a mirror, and it can reflect what is going on right now."

The producer of the film, Allon Reich, interviewed here: http://moviesonline.ca/movienews_11904.html

"Though I would say the political commentary is not overt, you’ve still got the UK effectively being occupied by the US... I’m sure the image of it will call up the US army in other hostile environments. If people can get anything extra from that kind of imagery but it’s not overt. No characters stop and go, 'Hey, this is like that time in Iraq'"

Then there's Danny Boyle, being interviewed on video. Unfortunately, it's very choppy, and we only hear part of his sentence - but it makes the parallels very clear:

http://www.terrorfeed.com/index.php?id=28weekslater-int-dannyboyles

(Relevant bit is right at the end, in the section On the Relevance of the Film- he says something like,

“Particularly when you look at what's happening in the world at what’s been done in Afghanistan and Iraq, to impose solutions on countries – to fly in solutions and rebuild... I think that’s great...” I don't think, given the film, he means that the US occupation of Iraq is great; he's saying the relevance is great. He goes on to explain how the Rage virus has parallels in the world today, too.

Now, of course, the director and the producers and the director of the original film are all pretty subjective too, but it really sounds like all of them are saying that they meant the film in part as a political allegory with parallels to Iraq.

But why should you take their word for it, either?

A.

ammacinn said...

Actually, scouring for those quotes was kinda productive - it's interesting that Fresnadillo uses the word "provocation" - which I say towards the end of my original article is the only possible defense for the film. So maybe it's not immoral after all! (The ending of the film sure does seem to imply that killing the kids would have been the right thing to do, and thus that exterminating the civilians as a whole was right, lest Rage spread...).

ammacinn said...

Hey Jonathan, where'd'ja go?

A.

JonoQ said...

Allan -

I just found this post via your link on the Criterion Forum. Your argument is certainly provocative but, in my opinion, you're way off-base regarding the film.

First of all, as you point out, the film is obviously about Iraq. However, I believe that it's actually a fairly devastating critique of US actions in Iraq - not a defense of them.

I think the film presents a scenario in which the US military is occupying a foreign country and through a combination of negligence, incompetence and malice, manages to spark a conflict that not only engulfs the country they're occupying, but threatens the entire world. Does that sound familiar?

Why does a civilian have a pass that allows him access to every area of a military base? Why does no one but Rose Byrne's character ever consider that the kids might be immune? Who decided it would be a good idea to put all the civilians in an underground parking garage with a second set of doors that the zombies could come in through?

These are the kind of fuck-ups that have been going on since day 1 of the war in Iraq. The last few years in Iraq have been a repeated cycle in which disastrous mistakes are made, the people responsible fail to take any kind of responsibility, and the only solution is to further extend & escalate the war/occupation. This is what I saw when I saw 28 Weeks Later.

You say that the film is immoral because it endorses the view that the right way to react to the zombie outbreak was to kill everyone. And yet, that's exactly how they do react and it only ends up causing the disaster they were trying to prevent. Maybe if they'd had a plan other than "kill everyone," the situation wouldn't have turned into a complete clusterfuck, and maybe Rose Byrne's character would have survived to warn someone about the kids. Maybe Andy wouldn't have gotten infected if the civilians had all been quarantined in a secure zombie-proof facility after the virus returned.

The film is not endorsing a "kill everyone" plan for Iraq, it's suggesting that such a plan would not only be shockingly immoral, but that to attempt to do so would end up escalating the conflict to a dangerous new level.

Anyway, that's my two cents on the film. I'd be very interested in hearing what you think.

Jonah

ammacinn said...

Whoop! I posted a response to that last from work, but it seems to have disappeared.

Here's some background everyone should read on the US in Fallujah (where one of the sites of civilian casualties was also a hospital, as in the film, and where napalm and chemical weapons were used):

http://www.dahrjamailiraq.com/covering_iraq/archives/commentary/000118.php

You certainly make a reasonable argument, and one I'd like to be able to accept, but the problem is with your reading is that throughout the film, it's NOT military incompetence that exacerbates the problem: it's people acting - as I say in the original post - on sentimental and emotional ties (trying to find a photo of their mother, wanting to be reconciled with the wife you abandoned in crisis, trying to protect children from being killed, etc). These are the root of the problems, and the ultimate failing of the US military in the film, come the final scenes, isn't that they exterminate civilians, but that they FAIL to exterminate two very specific ones; the necessity of doing so is made clear by the consequence of having NOT done so. The pilot's error isn't that he follows inhumane orders, but that he DOESN'T, and tries to do the "right thing."

Compare this with the first film, where the army are portrayed as completely inhumane, unsympathetic, and evil, and human, sentimental values, however imperilled, are continually praised and shown to be worth maintaining - in, for example, the Jim vs. Selena arguments. The second film almost seems to reverse everything I liked about the message of the first...

It would certainly make SENSE, though, that the filmmakers intend to be critical of the US in this film; if so, they have not thought their story through to the end, since the final sequences unequivocally vindicate the "kill'em all approach." I really don't see how we can fail to reach that conclusion.

Thanks, though, for the intelligent and thoughtful post -
Allan

Emyr said...

This is my message posted from the debate on IMDB

http://uk.imdb.com/title/tt0463854/board/nest/74188939?p=3

ammacinn
Emyr - yikes - you want a reply to this, huh? A few comments - I'm tiring of this, and don't want to grapple with everything you've said. I've taken a nap and edited this a bit for clarity.

Well the more someone posts the more I have to 'chew on' so to speak, however I won't begrudge someone who doesn't post an equally long post as I can understand these things are time consuming and of course tiring. However as long as you read my points then that is all I ask.

I say the film justifies collateral damage because in the end, it seems demonstrable that if the kids had been killed, the virus wouldn't have spread and America WOULD have saved the world from another outbreak. Even if you don't accept the specific analogy of Fallujah and the film, surely you DO accept that at the end of the film, if Perrineau (the black pilot) had killed the kids, like the army did to all the other civilians, there would have been no further infection? But he doesn't kill the kids, so the virus spreads... Hence, the official US approach in the film is the correct one, and collateral damage (in the fictive case of the film) is justified.

Well yes if the kids had been killed by either Doyle, Scarlet or Perrineau then there wouldn't have been a helicopter ride to France; which resulted in a triggering of another infection. Although perhaps on some level the film could be saying that traits such as compassion are vital in distinguishing us from everything else. Even if they lead to dire consequences.

Although the reason I said "Firstly I don't see how the film justifies collateral damage?" was in relation to what you said here :-

"If at the end of the film, we are led to conclude that the situation in the first case is "okay," then we have no choice but to conclude the second case was okay too."

In essence what you're saying is that any 'occupational situation' encountered by the US Military should be treated the same as shown by the methods at the end of the film. Where I disagree that the situation faced in Fallujah and elsewhere in Iraq isn't the same, therefore it doesn't require such drastic measures. That you can seperate the two situations and thus the film doesn't justify nor condone mass extermination in every instance of 'occupation'. As for justifying it only in the film, well what were the alternatives? There's no cure and containment has failed. Perhaps on some level the film says sometimes the necessary decisions aren't always the easiest. Although that in no way implies that the US Military should employ such destructive tactics on such a scale elsewhere in the real world. Clearly different tactics could have been used such as deployment of armoured vehicles, which could've meant the survival of some of the civilians.

Leaving aside the question of whether there is a further analogy with Iraq for a second - if I can take it as a given and get back to that in a second - clearly the killings of civilians in Iraq is NOT a good strategy for winning the hearts and minds of the people, and PROBABLY the filmmakers, whom I [b]assume[/b] are against the occupation of Iraq, would agree with this. This is my main complaint about the film, though: if they are against the occupation of Iraq and the concept of killing civilians, and DO intend the film to have echoes of the current situation there, they haven't done a very good job of thinking through the implications of their story, because the final failure of the US in the film does not stem from their killing civilians, but from not killing ALL of them... IF the Iraq/Isle of Dogs analogy holds, and IF you agree that Perrineau should have killed the kids and that the official US strategy in the film is validated, then by logical extension, killing civilians is okay and necessary to get at the "enemy."

Firstly you've made a big leap of faith in stating that you assume the producers are against the occupation of Iraq; none as far as I know have expressed any sort of political view on the situation there - I.e whether they agree or not. Secondly as stated from the full quotation by the producer Allon Reich; he doesn't mention that the film is a direct commentary; only that it has 'parallels' which are two different things.

Let us look at the quote in full. I've highlighted the relevant parts :-

"Though I would say the political commentary is not overt, you’ve still got the UK effectively being occupied by the US, granted for a very good reason, but the US army is effectively giving Britain back to the British, that’s where we come into the story. I think the very fact of the US army in the streets of London keeping order does have parallels to what’s going on in IraMoviesOnline: There’s no commentary, but I’m sure the image of it will call up the US army in other hostile environments. If people can get anything extra from that kind of imagery but it’s not overt. No characters stop and go, "Hey, this is like that time in Iraq” (laughs). And again, the army is there for a very good reason so there’s no suggestion that there’s a malign force or anything."

It's a little confusing with the "what’s going on in IraMoviesOnline: There’s no commentary," bit. As I think the 'MoviesOnline' is a typo and should be a full stop. Putting that detour aside he's stated that it isn't a commentary simply that there are parallels with what's going on in Iraq. Also this isn't meant to portray the US Military in a negative light as you would expect from a commentary on Iraq - or moreover filmakers that are against the occupation in Iraq. Mentioning that the 'imagery' isn't overt (I.e in your face) isn't an admission that the film is a commentary on real events. Just that seeing an occupying US force can easily remind us of what's going on in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo etc.

Therefore it doesn't tally with your supposition that the filmakers made a commentary on the occupation and were against it. Since you've admitted that they didn't do a thorough job in working out the implications of the story. Which would indicate to me that this wasn't meant to be a commentary whatsoever; and at best it only has allusions to current events. Again I will re-iterate that just because the US Military finds itself in the same kind of situation; doesn't mean it has to act the same in each situation. Especially when there are different factors at work here.

So then, does the analogy hold? While I grant you that Fresnadillo talking about the film being a "provocation" is open to some interpretation, and while the family drama clearly is also important - see my blog piece, linked somewhere above, for more on that - his citing a parallel with Basra (in Iraq) really should have some influence on your reading of the film, no? Also, Danny Boyle, one of the producers of the film, explicitly mentions Afghanistan and Iraq as being thematically relevant; he does not mention Kosovo or Ireland or any other example you bring up. I really don't know how you can ignore that. The producer does not, as you interpret it, say there is no "deliberate or intentional" commentary on Iraq - you are rewriting people's words to suit your argument, which isn't really fair game; he says that there is no OVERT commentary on Iraq, as in, none of the characters MENTION Iraq. This does not mean that the choice of words like "the Green Zone," most obviously, is not "deliberate and intentional," though. Things that appear in multi-million dollar film productions do tend to be deliberate and intentional.

Well as I've clearly said for me the analogy/metaphor/allegory doesn't hold. It seems from above you're the one who's being skewing words. You've also mistook 'commentary' for 'imagery'. I think the point of not mentioning Iraq is because it has nothing to do with it. When I used choice words like 'deliberate' and 'intentional' I meant he effectively said those words which in my opinion wasn't misleading nor misrepresentative. I'd like to add that using phrases or terms such as 'Green Area' are not meant to allude to a certain situation; I.e Baghdad. Merely to be technically correct as any zone that the US Military would be securing would have that name regardless of where it is. Who knows you may find one in Kosovo. So yes it is deliberate and intentional but only in the sense of being technically correct not 'politically' correct.

I think there's been some confusion, the actual person that mentioned the parallel with Basra was the article writer not the director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo. Since the author being British and writing for a British magazine the namedropping of Basra (Iraq) (as that is one area which was under British control) is somewhat inevitable. I don't put much weight in what Danny Boyle says about Iraq & Afghanistan as he only served as co-executive producer with Alex Garland. The latter having wrote the screenplay for the first film but neither are stated as having been involved in the writing process. The only other direct involvement that I'm aware Danny Boyle had was as a second unit director. Also that could just be his personal take on the film rather than a true reflection of what the film is based on. Since clearly Juan Carlos Fresnadillo has stated that the primary motifs for the film are cowardice and rage. If you look at the Guardian article you provided you'll notice the following :-

(Italics being what the writer says)

Fresnadillo says he is dramatising a statement of Aristotle's: "rage occurs when a person gives back their own suffering".

"It is disgusting to me that in Spain every day you read stories in the newspapers about men abusing their wives. I thought a lot about that, where it comes from. I think these men must be suffering in another place, perhaps they had a difficult upbringing, or they work a terrible job. The men you read about who come back from fighting at war and beat their wives, they are giving back their own suffering. The man is a victim as well. Obviously the clear victim is the wife, but the man has suffered too I believe, at some point. I am not justifying this; I am analyzing it, and giving it context."

Zombies are the kind of monsters that don't just come out at night; they tend to turn up at times of social anxiety. They haunted us during the cold war, and in the dark days of Vietnam, and it is no surprise to see them back again, the embodiment of our paranoid post 9-11 climate. But it's not so simple, Fresnadillo tells me. The film's source is both more general and more specific, rooted in the culture he comes from.

"My grandfather was in the military, fighting under Franco. I was raised in a Catholic country, a controlled country," he says. This is Spain's own lurking horror, the civil war. "Rage is the main antagonist in this movie. Rage is a human feeling. We are surrounded by rage, you can read about it in the newspapers, watch it on TV. This movie is about people who are obsessed with control, with power. There is always a gap in power. The military set up a controlled area. They try to control the repopulation. They lose the control, because you can't keep order over human feelings. The control is destroyed because there are people feeling."

That is really the subtext of the film. Not what the US Military has been doing abroad.

Given all these examples, I really can't do much more to sway you; if you don't think, given all the above, that the film is intended to bring Iraq to mind - what more can I do to sway you? You have successfully defended your castle from my intrusion, and there's no further point to this conversation.

I'm afraid to say you've only left your fort open to attack. Although it's been good to have a proper discussion without resorting to a flame war. However I haven't finished quite yet.

A couple of side-notes, though. In regard to the "alleged" use of chemical weapons: yes, Wikipedia can be edited by anyone - including people who want to LESSEN criticism of the US government. The US military HAS ADMITTED (quietly) to using napalm-by-another-name and white phosphorous. I don't believe I used the word "allegedly" anywhere, and I apologize if I did, since, when it comes to matters of fact, I find it gutless and a sign that someone hasn't done their homework. The US media use it far too often to protect themselves from criticism (Robert Fisk has often brought up the cowardice of this word, in regard to controversial articles on Israel - talking about the "alleged" occupation, or such). I don't see the word in the quote you're responding to, though; again, it seems like you're changing what people say and then arguing with the revised version. Still, on the issue of chemical weapons, can I leave you to do your own homework on this? Read the Jamail article, that I think I linked above, for starters.

To start off with, you haven't used the word 'allegedly' but 'apparently' which are one and the same. The quote in question being :-

"Basically, the way I see the film, it INESCAPABLY justifies collateral damages and the worst excesses of the US in places like Fallujah, where napalm and chemical weapons were both apparently used"

Maybe not the same quote but the same topic nonetheless.

http://uk.imdb.com/title/tt0463854/board/nest/74188939?p=2

Since we are in agreement that Wikipedia is as partial as its authors we can both be correct and incorrect. However I must hold my hand up as it seems I was in the wrong regarding the validity of the Fallujah 'flame weapons' (aka napalm). As I didn't check the referencing for some reason and came across the article (through Google) which clarified the issue. The article in question is by GlobalSecurity.Org which are very reputable and reliable. It states that even military personnel and even one Commander has admitted to using them. As you said 'discreetly'. Here's a good excerpt :-

But John Pike, director of the military studies group GlobalSecurity.Org, said: "You can call it something other than napalm but it is still napalm. It has been reformulated in the sense that they now use a different petroleum distillate, but that is it. The US is the only country that has used napalm for a long time. I am not aware of any other country that uses it." Marines returning from Iraq chose to call the firebombs "napalm".

http://www.globalsecurity.org/org/news/2003/030810-napalm-iraq01.htm

It seems the Pentagon don't quite class it as 'napalm' even though it is essentially the same. They say the difference being it's less 'enviromentally damaging' - although effects on humans are just as potent.

To clarify on the legality of using flame weapons. Read this :-

The use of flame weapons, such as Fougasse, the M202A1 Flash, white phosphorous, thermobaric, and other incendiary agents, against military targets is not a violation of current international law. They should not, however, be employed to just cause unnecessary suffering to individuals. The use of flame weapons should be addressed in the ROE. Flame weapons are characterized by both physical (flame and overpressure) and psychological casualty-producing abilities.

http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/munitions/incendiary.htm

Contrary to what you said on your blog :-

"it (28 Weeks Later) has American soldiers using napalm and chemical weapons on civilian centers, as it has been said Americans have done in Iraq;"

That's not entirely accurate given that they target insurgents and there isn't evidence to show they willfully and deliberately target civilians. Yes they are in a 'civilian/population centre' but aren't targetting civilians directly.

Btw Al Jazeera aren't exactly known for their impartiality in reporting current affairs, much like Fox News.

A final point re: escapism: for someone who isn't interested in thinking about subtexts, you're spending a whole lot of energy trying to deny they exist (or to convince me that there are hundreds possible). Why bother? If you don't care about interpreting film, as you say, why engage me in a discussion? I'm not going over onto threads where people are speculating on whether zombies and the infected are the same or different, or any other truly idle entertainments on this board, and telling people they're not thinking deeply enough - I'm leaving people to their fun. However, people like you, and people much ruder than you, who claim that films have no meaning other than the sheer mindless entertainment they offer, and that somehow it is WRONG to try to think about them, are popping onto threads like this one and telling us we think too much, are trying too hard to read things into the film. Which of us, exactly, is being intrusive and trying to ruin other people's fun? If you just want to entertain yourself by watching movies, go for it - no worries - have fun. Enough people use movies that way that the activities of people who DO like to think about what they see shouldn't really ruin things for you; just pretend we're not here, okay?

Finally nearly there

This is where again you've skewed my words to fit your argument. I didn't state that I'm not interested in sub texts only that 'often' (note not 'always') I go and watch a film to unwind and not intentionally look for references and deep hidden meanings. As I explained I wouldn't begrudge someone if they only wanted to see a film as purely a piece of entertainment; which you seem to belittle in your blog and maybe your posts here. You can imagine a person who has a busy life and doesn't have much time to themselves may not want to preoccupy themselves with reading into supposed commentaries and subtext which [b]may[/b] not be there. I even said that I occasionally enjoy satire and social (also political) commentary - if it's well crafted and intelligently done.

Please read the following quote by me more closely :-

"It depends on what people want out of the film. Some like yourself will look for deep and hidden meanings, subtexts, allegories and metaphors to the modern world we live in. Others like myself want an escapist experience where we can leave the daily hustle and bustle of our lives and just let ourselves go in this fantasy world presented before us for two hours or so. Of course I also enjoy satire and the occasional social commentary, especially if it's well crafted and intelligent. Although often I simply want to escape for a while and forget about real life. I wouldn't begrude the people who aren't excited by hidden meanings and such, if they want to just enjoy the film as a simply a work of enjoyable fiction, then let them. I do believe that sometimes people can look for too much in a film and it simply becomes a case of 'how many references can I find' rather than sitting back and being open minded."

I certainly never said it was 'wrong' as you put it to look for subtexts and other meanings in films. I don't know where you got that impression from. You're being a little bit too precious about your 'right' to interpret a film as that was never an issue. I merely commented that people can look too much into things when it was written without any in mind. It doesn't affect nor interest me to 'police' how people view and interpret films. I've said here that people see what they want and essentially it's up to them.

Anyhow I shall depart, goodnight & adieu! i

ammacinn said...

This was my reply:

I have a really hard time understanding how you can possibly come to a conclusion that, "Perhaps on some level the film could be saying that traits such as compassion are vital in distinguishing us from everything else." Compassion, sentiment, and fellow-feeling consistently endanger people in the film, generally leading to infection. In the farmhouse set piece at the start, the girl who misses her boyfriend is sternly lectured for not facing facts, and indeed, we know the person lecturing her is right. When the people inside hear banging at the door, the compassion they have when letting the little boy in is what lets the infected know they're in the house. When the infected do break in, in at least two, maybe three set-ups that follow - they happen pretty quickly, so I don't quite recall the exact number - we see one person in danger from the infected, and another, by trying to help - by virtue of compassion - getting infected themselves. The mother refuses to leave the little boy - which, though we don't see it, ultimately means she gets attacked and infected herself. Compassion and infection are inextricable and the only alternative is Carlyle's - pragmatism; cutting and running.

This is echoed throughout: when the daughter brings her brother into the quarantined area to look for a photo of their mother, she's showing compassion for him - but she's endangering everyone else, and her actions lead to the return of the virus. When Carlyle and his wife kiss, what could be a touching display of forgiveness and reconciliation is presented as the key moment when infection re-enters the world. And the various characters in the film who try to spare civilians, from the soldier who deserts his post at the beginning of the order to kill them all, to Perrineau at the end, only let the infection spread ("dire consequences," as you acknowledge). How, then, is this a film about "compassion?" Where does compassion, in this film, actually do anything but help the virus spread?

If 28 DAYS LATER ultimately vindicates Jim's POV ("that was more than a heartbeat," remember?) 28 WEEKS LATER is squarely in Selena's camp: "I'd kill you in a heartbeat if I thought you posed a threat to me," or whatever her line exactly is (I'm paraphrasing). She's the pragmatist in the first film, but is proven wrong - that emotion is good, necessary, etc. In 28 WEEKS LATER, on the other hand, the consequences of compassion, of feeling, are so hideous that pragmatism - be it Carlyle running away or the decision to napalm civilians - seems preferable. They've managed to reverse the message completely, between movies. And say what you will, but the excesses of the US military here seem to fail because they are not thorough enough - NOT because it is fundamentally wrong to kill civilians en masse; this has distubing political implications, WHATEVER situation you apply the film to.

Rather than being boring, though, and insisting on my POV, let me take you up on one of the INTERESTING things you're bringing to the table, something that DOES matter to reading the film - the director's quote you provide:

"Rage is the main antagonist in this movie. Rage is a human feeling. We are surrounded by rage, you can read about it in the newspapers, watch it on TV. This movie is about people who are obsessed with control, with power. There is always a gap in power. The military set up a controlled area. They try to control the repopulation. They lose the control, because you can't keep order over human feelings. The control is destroyed because there are people feeling."

One wishes his English were a bit better, actually - I don't fully understand what he's saying; if the moral he would have us draw from the story is, "you can't keep order over human feelings" - and "rage is a human feeling" - then how can rage be the "antagonist?" The quote seems to suggest the problem lies with the people who try to CONTROL human feelings, not the feelings themselves... He does seem to open up a different way of reading the film, though, by which the film serves to pose a question of where you fit on a spectrum, between the worst excesses of out-of-control emotion (rage; bad), and, at the opposite extreme, cold, calculating pragmatism and the loss of emotional ties (abandoning your wife, napalming civilians, etc). We're stuck in the middle trying to survive, to locate ourselves between two unacceptable extremes. This certainly fits with the way we identify with characters in the film; we spend very little of our time with the infected and very little of our time with the soldiers, mostly locating ourselves with the people on the ground being attacked from both sides. Taking a purely "emotional" reading of the film, though - not taking ANY political stuff into account - what does this mean, thematically? That the tragedy of human emotion is that if we are going to have any at all (Perrineau showing compassion for the kids, or any of the above examples of compassion listed above), then we have to accept the possibility of its most extreme manifestations? That having feelings means living in a world where we have to grapple with rage, as one possible consequence? A sad conclusion indeed - it makes chilly pragmatism pretty attractive as an alternative.

I'll think about all this more on a second viewing. I still maintain that there's something deeply WRONG with the overall message of this film, particularly if we apply it politically. The message that human compassion leads to rage and infection is simply not one I think is morally acceptable, and I still remain unconvinced that this isn't a necessary conclusion to draw from the ending of the film...

A.


(Emyr - hey, thanks, but can we just keep this at IMDB? Among other things, there's more of a chance that people will read this stuff over there, tho' since we're pretty long-winded, I have my doubts!