Zombie romcom puts Shakespeare on screen

Tragedy reversed: Can love really bring us back to life?

Romeo and Juliet has been updated for every generation: a new movie translates the ‘star-crossed lovers’ to the world of zombie horror. Is this a good metaphor for modern love?

He’s called ‘R’, her name is ‘Julie’. They meet and fall in love in spite of mutual distrust and enmity between their friends and relations. There is even a balcony scene. But this is an update of Romeo and Juliet with a difference: a ‘zomromcom.’ R is a zombie, and to win the heart of the girl of his dreams he must convince her to overlook the fact that he is a corpse.

Many viewers have managed to miss the parallels between the new movie Warm Bodies and Shakespeare’s famous play about doomed young love. This might be because the update, unlike most previous attempts to make the play resonate with a new generation of viewers, is definitely played for laughs.

Girls sometimes try to adapt their behaviour to fit in with their boyfriend’s peer group. But not many have been forced, like the female lead in Warm Bodies, to grunt and shuffle about pretending they are undead.

Shakespeare’s Romeo, like many of his heroes, occasionally falls into making a soliloquy. R spends much of the movie caught up in a hilarious and convincingly teenage internal monologue about his loneliness (‘I just want to connect. Why can’t I connect?’), his growing feelings for the girl with a pulse, and his attempts to plan the right way to make a move on her. ‘Don’t be creepy!’ he tells himself, somewhat hopelessly given the circumstances.

The relationship may seem extreme, but the courtship has universal elements.

Desperate to reach out and establish an emotional connection, the lonely zombie exhorts himself to ‘Say something human,’ but he can only manage an inchoate mumble. Most of us, faced with someone on whom we have a crush, have experienced a similar feeling of being tongue-tied. The strange warmth and glow in the heart region, visible in R’s otherwise cold torso as he finds himself in love, will also strike a chord with members of the cinema audience in happy relationships.

And it is always difficult trying to explain a new love-interest to sceptical parents who disapprove of your choice: ‘He feels!’ Julie tells her angry father, who wants the zombies wiped out. ‘He’s learning to be human!’

Genre-bending

How close is Warm Bodies to its Shakespearean inspiration? We have the ‘two warring Houses’ – the humans and the zombies. A father as unforgiving as Lord Capulet. And although Julie is older than the 13-year-old Juliet of the play, she and R certainly represent a new generation trying to see beyond inherited enmities.

But unlike previous adaptations, Warm Bodies transforms a tragedy into a comic tale with a happy ending: the zombies and the humans join forces. Is this taking the ultimate liberty with Shakespeare’s story? Or a justifiably optimistic message about the power of empathy?

You Decide

  1. Can a classic tale of thwarted love tell us anything about modern romance?
  2. Shakespeare ‘borrowed’ the story ofRomeo and Juliethimself, from an Italian folk tale retold by poets. Is it cheating to imitate someone else’s plot?

Activities

  1. Name some of the most famous pairs of lovers in fiction or real life.
  2. Write a review of another film or book where fantasy, sci-fi or horror are a way of exploring aspects of modern life.

Some People Say...

“You have to work hard not to be a zombie.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I don’t find any love stories interesting. Not even ones this zany.
OK. Well, there is another way of interpreting the zombie metaphor. Alongside the love story is an implied commentary about modern life – the zombies wander about at the airport, careless of their surroundings, and R reminisces about a time when people found it easier to interact.
So what?
Well, it could be a ‘wake-up call’ to a world numbed by technology. Which experiences make you feel fully alive? How could you deal with each day so that you feel part of the human race rather than a member of the ‘undead’?

Word Watch

Adaptation
Warm Bodies is a film based on the novel by Isaac Marion. Previous famous adaptations of Romeo and Juliet include West Side Story, the musical.
Zomromcom
An abbreviation of zombie romantic comedy. Shaun of the Dead is thought to be the first of this sub-genre.
William Shakespeare
England’s most celebrated playwright produced his tragedy about young love early in his career, in the 1590s.
Soliloquy
In the theatre, a character can share his or her thoughts with the audience but not with other characters in a speech that addresses outwards from the stage. Hamlet’s ‘to be or not to be’ is a celebrated example. In this and many other films or television shows, this trick of sharing a state of mind or train of thoughts is achieved with voiceover narration by the central character.

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