Zombies v. Humans in ‘Land of the Dead’: Fireworks and Community

Curator's Note

For centuries, fireworks have exploded to celebrate state occasions, military actions, civic traditions, and sports. In these spectacles of community, fireworks are associated with nation and national identity. Like early film spectators in Tom Gunning’s account, fireworks spectators enjoy “a reaction of astonishment." Television coverage of civic celebrations features faces gazing up, citizens in uniform and civilians, underscored with Americana music. In ‘Land of the Dead’ (2006), humans develop an effective tactic against zombies: the fireworks gaze of astonishment is used to defend the human state. Zombies are transfixed by “skyflowers,” shot into the night by “Dead Reckoning,” an armored mobile pyrotechnic mortar rack. Zombies are unable to resist what Kenneth Tynan has called the “communal bliss” of the fireworks experience. Wearing the remnants of their human lives (cheerleader, businessman, butcher), zombies are captivated and held captive by fireworks. While immobilized zombies stare at the sky, humans swoop in for the kill. But one zombie is not distracted by skyflowers. He is able to resist fireworks and recognizes their danger to the zombie community. There are other films where characters reject the pleasure of gazing at fireworks. In ‘Marie Antoinette’ (1938), Louis’ lack of interest in fireworks signifies his lack of interest in Marie. In ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ (1993), the widowed single father turns away from the fireworks, illustrating the depths of his solitude. Rather than social dysfunction, the zombie’s resistance to fireworks indicates his ability to think and to strategize. He becomes an insurgent leader who unites zombies in an organized assault on humans, establishing a land of the dead for his constituency.

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