Dawn of the Dead (1978): Zombies and Human Nature
by Kim Paffenroth — Iona College
September 30, 2009 – 13:19
Here we have the essence of George Romero’s zombies.It comes down to two aspects: 1) zombies are merely people;2) zombie-ism – which, given proposition #1,is unadorned human nature – is always to want.Up until the first clip (either in this film, or in its predecessor Night of the Living Dead ) zombies have only been seen as relentless hunters, bent on eating living people. Now we see that they congregate in places they knew in their former lives, places and things they still desire, even after they have lost the ability to reason and choose (cf. the damned in Dante’s Inferno). Steve’s evaluation is absolutely correct – “This was an important place in their lives” – and that place is not home or work or church or theater, but a mall. The connection with hell is made explicit in the middle clip, with the movie’s tagline, “When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth.” More important, however, is Peter’s shorter explanation, “They’re us!” Zombies are the most human and mundane of monsters, with no real powers. Their monstrosity is simply that of a stripped-down human nature – appetite without reason, restraint, or purpose. The final part of the clip shows Romero’s only hint at hope or redemption (besides Night and Diary of the Dead , all his zombie films end similarly), with the two escaping from the consumerist prison of never-ending, unquenchable appetites. Whether this will end in death (and the original script called for the two to commit suicide), or in some new, better life, is left entirely open. But note the relinquishing of the rifle by Peter to a zombie (with an identical gesture at the end of Day of the Dead ), perhaps signifying an abandonment of violence on his part. And the choice of the two survivors – a white woman and a black man, both of whom have shown themselves to be less foolishly possessive than the other two protagonists – may leave some cause to hope their life together will be better than the racist, sexist, materialist world they have left behind.