Warm Bodies is one of the most Catholic films I have seen so far this year. Topping box office charts since its release in early February, it follows on a string of Zombie and post apocalyptic films that populate the Cineplex marquis. It is a Zombie/rom com, a refreshing take on an old genre, but more than that the movie offers spiritual insights for people of faith today.
How do you respond to a culture of monsters? Warm Bodies, directed by Jonathan Levine, takes place a post apocalyptic city in which most of the inhabitants have been killed or infected with viruses that renders them zombies, without emotion and locked in them unable to connect with others. They exist by consuming the flesh of living victims who either die or become zombies in the process. The uninfected live in sectarian isolation behind fortified walls.
Julie (Teresa Palmer) joins a team sent beyond the walls to gather supplies. In the course of their reconnaissance, a group of zombies attacks, among them “R” (Nicholas Hoult). “R” who after munching on Julie’s team leader boyfriend, takes a shining to her. He protects her from the others and escorts her to his lair in an old airplane. They have to wait for a time to sneak Julie past the hoards of zombies in the airport. Attraction to Julie awakens R’s last remnants of humanity.
As R attempts to help Julie escape, love in his heart begins to restore a sense of humanity and compassion, which in itself proves infective. Can the sequestered uninfected deal with a redeemed zombie?
Spoiler alert. Stop reading here, if you have not seen the film.
R collects things, a snow globe or a baseball glove, things that remind him of his humanity. The physical items serve as a sort of sacramentals, physical signs which point to grace and prepare a person to receive the saving grace that comes from God. R admits he doesn’t know why he clings to such things. He succumbs to an unconscious impulse to connect with life and love. The same impulse makes someone light a prayer candle in church, hold a cross at time of pain, or put a religious statue on their shelf.
Christians often find themselves in conflict with the cultures around them. Sometimes there are legitimate fears. According to journalist John Allen, 150,000 Christians were killed for faith reasons last year, more than any other religion. Fears lead to the impulse to segregate from non-believers, often with rigid boundaries. The uninfected in Warm Bodies respond in the same way. They build walls and insist that there can be no contact.
The greatest threat to healing and peace comes from the far gone Zombies, Bonies, skeleton like being that are beyond help, uncontrollable, and consumed only with destruction. On the other side of the wall, the uninfected extreme are reluctant to believe in any chance of redemption that is clearly happening and so commit to obliterating all zombies, even those showing signs of healing and humanity.
In the film, as in life, it is precisely in the contact, the presence and developing relationships that there is a chance for a cure, reduced fear and healing.
Obviously the film presents romantic love (Eros) between Julie and R, but that was a spark that inflamed other kinds of love. As Julie and R become closer, it affects other zombies whose friendship love (Philia) awakens too. Zombie friends of R come through to save the day. Both of these loves culminate in Agape, self-sacrificing, unconditional, active, thoughtful, generous love that strives for the good of all. The willing and free sacrifice of R, Julie, a core group of Zombies and a core group of the uninfected make healing and peace possible.
Watch for the scene in which R clings to Julie to protect her as they fall from a multi-story fall into fountain. Baptism. As R emerges he is a literally a new man.
The film has a PG rating for zombie gore, and a few curse words. It is not a film for younger teens. Go see it, especially if your teen has seen it. There is fodder for great conversations about the transformative power of love in all its manifestations.