Dawn of the Dead Review
Written by: gothiczen
The original Dawn of the Dead will forever have a place in my wormy heart. It is a socio-political film that examines a society based on consumption. It is the thinking fans zombie film. The zombies in it represent the consumer – people who devour in order to establish an identity.
The original Dawn of the Dead uses setting as symbol. In a helicopter flight from the fury of the dead the four main members land on top of a mall in order to try and gain a brief respite from the flesh eating hordes. It is no accident that the mall is a setting. Romero uses this symbolic setting to establish the one of the main themes of the movie – we are all looking to devour something. Once inside the mall the relative ease of gaining things – clothes, a television, vintage wines, and even money from a bank – takes the group from trying to simply provide to trying to live in luxury.
An important framing device comes in a quick flash of black and white as two characters walk through a labyrinth bank line to have their photos captured by a security cam as they exit with bundles of cash. Romero is showing us the pointlessness of material wealth and out desire, in the face of any disaster, to try and turn a buck. The only female character, who is pregnant, spends time in front of a mirror doing her makeup so as to appear as a femme fatale. Our desire to impose a fiction on the world becomes evident.
The zombies themselves are listless, and, much like us, spend a lot of time going after something they desire but cannot have. The main characters are nothing more than sustenance to the zombies – people are the ultimate in disposable imagery. They desire us to destroy us. The zombies are actually more human than the survivors. Character becomes symbol in this film. When Flyboy (the pilot) asks his pregnant girlfriend to marry him she simply replies that it would not be real. Relationships outside of item consumption have become meaningless.
It is telling that the characters represent the failing structures of modern society; two swat team members and two reporters. The police, within the context of a democracy, represent law and the desire for order through sanctioned violence. The news media represent an informed populace through mass media technology that is supposed to bind us together. The policemen are cold, brutal, and efficient in using their swat techniques on the undead. But their violence is meaningless – it changes nothing. When the mall is overrun by those symbols of anarchy – a motorcycle gang, violence becomes an absurd response – pies are thrown in the faces of the undead. Violence has lost all justification but as a species we still try to use force.
The media of course fail as they try to construct an alternate worldview that is inconsistent with the facts. Truth becomes pointless as they flee their television statement – the global village is no more and they are just voices in a zombie populated wilderness. The head of news tells his reporters to keep giving out old information – places for survivors to flee to – in order to keep ratings up. The news is identified as a faulty signifier – there is literally no truth in advertising.
When one of the characters is bitten he tells the others that he will try not to come back as one of the undead – a task doomed to failure. When the character dies, he is of course, reborn as one of the undead and is then re-killed – a victim of the violence that he one perpetrated on others.
The zombies are the proletariat masses attempting to justify their existence through devouring the material world. They congregate at the mall; the church of the consumer. They surround it and beg for substance just like the poor at a food shelter. They are the poor, the hungry, and those yearning to be free. We become the monsters – we are those who keep the wealth away from those who crave it. The only thing left that has any worth is our body – and that is wee are – sacks of meat. There is no God or spirit in us just as there is no God or spirit in a hamburger.
This film is multi-layered and uses symbol as a means for us to examine our selves and our worth. It is a brilliant satire on what it means to be human in modern society.