My quest for movies to review increasingly takes me into the archives of The Legionnaire. As the collection nears the 1,000 mark, I sometimes have difficulty remembering which films I covered. That is the main reason why I recently did Shaun of the Dead (2004). There are times when I think of movies and wonder what I thought about them, which makes my blog a handy tool. I was shocked to discover that I had not done one of the original zombie-comedy flicks, and the film that introduced me to my favorite director, Edgar Wright. In writing about what I daresay is a classic, I was equally surprised when I found nothing for Zombieland (2009). Seemingly after the dust had settled from Shaun of the Dead, along comes an American version that does not intentionally pay homage to its British counterpart. If that seems confusing, my apologies. My only wish is to speak to the fact that they both turn the zombie sub-genre on its head by playing it for laughs. While Shaun of the Dead does it as only the English can, Zombieland’s more American style blends well with the send-up of tropes about the undead that are found in main character Columbus’ (Jesse Eisenberg) rules for survival. In short, they are both hilarious, but in different ways.
It is those rules that Columbus narrates to us in the opening scene of Zombieland as he stops for gas on his way to his namesake town in Ohio to see if his parents have survived the apocalypse. His first rule is easy enough to understand. Given the shambling nature of the undead, it is crucial that you keep up with your cardio so that you can outrun the creatures when necessary. He finds that he must do this until he can get back in his car. He drives away, only to find a zombie in his back seat. His solution is to drive into a barrier, which launches the corpse through the windshield. Columbus remains in his seat because another rule high on his list is to always buckle his seatbelt. These rules seem to stretch back to before he became one of the last humans on Earth, isolating him from his college peers. At the outbreak of the disaster, one of his dorm neighbors, 406 (Amber Heard), came to him panicked after being accosted by somebody she took to be a homeless person. She had been bitten in the process of getting away, which turns her into a zombie after taking shelter in Columbus’ room. Taken together with his rules, Columbus is thus predisposed towards not trusting others. He must overcome this hurdle when, while walking along the highway after losing his car from the beginning of the film, he comes across Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson). With his large, black Cadillac sports utility vehicle (SUV), adorned with a Dale Earnhardt Jr. number three hand-painted on the side, and a no-nonsense attitude, Tallahassee presents a seemingly stark contrast to the overly cautious Columbus. Regardless, he offers to give him a ride, though it soon becomes apparent that Tallahassee is obsessed with finding a Twinkie. They find a Hostess delivery truck, but it contains only Snowballs. This leads him to stop at the next grocery store, braving the zombies inside in search of Tallahassee’s desired treat. Instead, they find a number of the undead, which they dispatch with Tallahassee’s trademark bravado, and two girls. They are Wichita (Emma Stone), and her twelve-year-old sister Little Rock (Abigail Breslin). Wichita lures Columbus and Tallahassee into the back where she tells them Little Rock has been bitten. Having no weapons themselves, Wichita talks them into handing her one of their guns so that she can kill her doomed sister. In turn, they rob Columbus and Tallahassee and take off in the Cadillac. Fortunately, they do not have to walk far to where they find an abandoned Hummer with a bag full of weapons in the back seat, much to Tallahassee’s delight. He is also renewed in spirit, and heads west after the girls, the direction of their stated goal of the fictitious California theme park Pacific Playland. When they catch up with the girls, they are tricked once more into handing over their vehicle and weapons. However, this time they take the guys hostage as they continue on their journey. Along the way, they bond over destroying a roadside faux Native American attraction before making it to Los Angeles. Desirous of some place to lay their head, and having the pick of Hollywood’s celebrity mansions, they choose Tallahassee’s idol, Bill Murray. When it turns out he is also alive, they attempt to play a joke on Columbus that results in the famous comedian’s death. The next morning, feeling like she is getting too close to Columbus, Wichita takes Little Rock and the Hummer and heads for Pacific Playland. Initially, Tallahassee is content to let them go, but seeing Columbus’ determination to go after them convinces Tallahassee to accompany him. Doing so allows Tallahassee to revel in the opportunity to kill more zombies, where were attracted to the area when Wichita turns on the rides at the amusement park. Doing so provides Columbus the distraction he needs to rescue the girls, and conquering many of his fears at the same time. These acts cement the bond between the four, and they head off into the night as the film ends.
What becomes apparent from watching Zombieland is that each one of the adults have trust issues. They all have their reasons. For Columbus, growing up in an admittedly unloving household made him into a loner with a long list of phobias. Tallahassee keeps everyone at arm’s length because zombies ate his toddler son, which also fuels his desire to destroy as many of the undead as possible. As for Wichita, aside from a natural disposition towards not having confidence in men, she is simply trying to protect her sister. Once they are each able to put aside their issues for the sake of survival, if nothing else, it is also easy to see why they can get along since they share many of the same hang-ups. The fact that they are able to do so is a beautiful demonstration of the benefits of trust. For Christians, trust in God should come first, and everything else should flow from that belief. It also takes trust to live together in any kind of community. Columbus illustrates this towards the end when, after rescuing the girls and meeting back up with Tallahassee, he realizes that they are the family he never knew he wanted but always needed. A family is a type of community, and size is not the only way by which such things should be judged. It is also a concept imbued into Christianity from the beginning. Early Christian communities functioned in ways we would recognize as a family, sharing things in common. This is also the way Catholic religious communities work. And I do mean work. Christianity flourished early on because they worked together as a family, a feat only possible with trust. Think about this the next time you argue with your sibling, or are deciding to go off on your own in the middle of a zombie apocalypse.
I enjoyed Zombieland, though I need to be careful about recommending it. Its R rating is appropriate given the language, gore, and brief moments of nudity. The nudity part is a short moment during the opening credits where a zombie stripper is chasing down a patron, which is kind of funny on a variety of levels. The rest is due to the curse words and violence, though nothing out of the ordinary given the material. If you can handle these aspects, you are in for a fun little movie.
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