Shrink at the Movies: “Warm Bodies” (2013)

I saw “Warm Bodies” last night, after frankly much anticipation, for any number of reasons.

Between this and “Jack the Giant Slayer”, young Nicholas Hoult is poised to claim the crown of new Movie Hunk enough to challenge the likes of the universally-loved James Franco. Also, my own foray into writing a Young Adult Fantasy Supernatural Romance novel (“The Boy from Yesterday”, which is in progress, and I’m very excited about finishing the first draft, possibly today after I write this — Fan Page link, below), has me perked up to see other stories of Young Adult Supernatural Romance for comparisons and inspiration (in the tradition of the “Twilight” series, “The Vampire Diaries”, “Secret Circle”, Sookie Stackhouse/”True Blood”, etc.).

It seems our Good Girls can’t get enough of Bad-Boy-with-a-Heart-of-Gold vampires, werewolves, and now zombies (mine will be a time-traveler). All of them include a certain “fish-out-of-water” quality when our young heroines rescue the supernatural hero from his baser instincts.

This theme always give me a little bit of pause, as if we are teaching our young (heterosexual) women that men are beasts whose baser nature is always to be tamed by the more-rational-thinking female POV; that men, left to their own devices, would destroy themselves if they were left alone with their baser instincts of what they do, eat, and, by implication, screw, if not for the intervention of the more-evolved female. As a male, I’m not sure I like this theme — purported usually by women writers, for a young female audience. I prefer to look at these stories as ways that not only supernatural beings and mere mortals can learn from each other and get along, but that they actually promote tolerance and understanding among people from very different backgrounds, increasing our capacity for compassion, empathy, and harmonious living. It is this theme that “Warm Bodies”, well, “embodies”, and breathes life into, and to its credit.

The storyline needs little explanation, but for the record, post-apocalyptic young zombie, “R”, falls for still-meaty “Julie”, whose dad is hell-bent on destroying the zombies who killed and ate his wife/Julie’s mother. Julie sees a different side, a more “human” side of R, after he rescues her from the particularly “worse” form of zombie, walking skeletons. Julie believes that the more human, compassionate, civilized side of R can be cultivated, and perhaps his lost humanity can be rehabilitated.

Despite the impressive CGI special effects that are ubiquitous to movies today, including Young Adult romances, it seems, there is an underlying sweetness to “Warm Bodies” that was making the audience I saw it with (and others, from what I hear) cheer its macabre sentiment of a certain “life” after death, and the beauty of a romance between a dead boy who “doesn’t smell rotting” very much and a real-living girl. It’s the new “mixed” romance.

From my Shrink POV, all the classic themes are there. Young R narrates the film (as he does the book by Isaac Marion; let’s not forget the man who created this story, because as a novelist and not a movie director, I’d like to credit the person from whose mind all of these characters, concept, and plot came from). Much of the humor of this dark-ish romantic comedy comes from R’s narration and the irony of being a young, somewhat horny man trapped in a probably newly-dead body. All the developmental signposts of being a young man are still there — questioning society, negotiating moral conflicts, wishing for an idealized alternative to reality.

The theme of coming to terms with one’s self as a young adult is there. So is the inevitable father-daughter conflict, particularly where fatherly angry-conservativism-after-loss meets daughter’s liberal compassion for poor stray beings.

There is the daughter-best friend relationship (which my “Boy From Yesterday” will take to extremes, by the way — hint, hint). There is the theme of depicting the positive effects romance can have on one another: Julie’s love for R, in classic fairy tale tradition, literally converts this “hideous” beast into a stunning beauty (although all the Hollywood zombie makeup in the world can’t seem to hide Hoult’s looks, even with pallor, zombie contacts, and black veins in his neck; even the black cracked lips look good on him).

I think my favorite theme is the triumph of compassion over fear. You see this in R, and R’s zombie best friend Marcus; you see it in Julie, you see it her best friend, and you see it, ultimately, in Julie’s father. I don’t know if that’s the primary theme author Marion was going for, but he achieves it nonetheless.

What’s the take-away message? I think there are several. If we’re in a relationship, compassion toward our partner can transform them more effectively than shooting them in the brain. If we don’t understand something, we should investigate it first before just destroying it. Forgiveness in a relationship is a good thing, even when our partner has eaten the brains of our ex. And some people look better “dead” (Hoult) than many of us do, alive.

Ain’t love grand?

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