I was reading a potential client's manuscript on a Zombie novella to be turned into a graphic novel, and I was stricken by the similarities of all zombie subject matter I have come across... and even more deeply stricken at the inner discussion I had with myself whilst trying to find value and meaning in the idea of undead cannibalism. Lots of undead creatures and their storylines carry romantic notions and deep seated stereotypes based on human/animal tendancies, just as comic book super heroes are born out of a social outcry for superhuman profoundness hidden in the everyday life we all drag ourselves through. But who has given a Zombie depth? Being defined by emptiness, they are silly and horrifying and utterly disconnected from everything we know to be true about human and animal nature, and the subhuman dysfuntions that twist the two planes of existence together to enfold the genre of horror... and here are some of the interesting visual + philosophical conclusions I came to in my line of questioning:
So the basic framework of any story is based on 3 variations of conflict: Man versus God, Man versus Nature, and Man versus Himself.
Prior to reading the manuscript, after having perused the descriptions, I find the director/writer is focusing, or actually assuming that his conflict is Man versus Himself, as both the fighting with the ranks of unaffected humans and previously human attacking the remaining human. To me, the conflict is highlighted/triggered by Man versus Himself... but is really a profound discussion of Man versus Nature. What defines us as different from the rest of the animal world as a race of mammals is a certain level of conscious thought. We draw the line between cro-magnon humanoids that shared the planet with us, and our actual ancestors/earliest civilization by the first primitive death rites - the act of burial and marking the resting place of former loved ones (as well as ancestor worship). Pretty much everything that was considered "magical" throughout our developmental history has through science and medicine been defined, ie. pregnancy and birth, disease, weather, fire, domestication and agriculture as a way of always having food, and we have ceased to have magical illusions and associations with these things. We don't pray for a successful hunt and honor mother nature for the gift of fresh meat, we walk to the store and buy it. So the one clear mystery that persists, along with very specific culturally defined rites that follow it, is the concept of death. Why am I telling you stuff you already know?
1. I passed by a ghost bike the other day (you know, the white spray painted bikes that are chained to places where someone was killed in an accident?) and it struck me for a couple of reasons: by marking the spot where the life/soul/whatever animates us left the body, it shows a modern evolution of rites relating specifically to the loss of consiousness rather than the physical body. If we were suddenly placed in a reality where the person died but their body remained suspended in animation - how do we mourn? would we not feel compelled then to mark the place where their individual conciousness ceased to be? This ghost bike phenomenon is interesting also in the fact that we all see it and instantly reckognize what it symbolizes - and businesses, police, hobos do not touch them, either out of respect, cultural acceptance of the act, or superstition. I feel like a society suddenly focused solely on dead/undead trauma as a constant reality would manifest symbols and markers and become a common phenomenon in a decaying landscape. So in a modern society, I think we should consider what kind of symbol could be used to illustrate that, and how it could be visually effective in representing loss in the number of deaths as being overwhelming, and potential danger.
2. So if what separates us from animals is our consiousness, what then is left behind in a body when that is no longer there? I have two answers for that:
First I would say is the animal insticts, particularly smell. But when considering how perfect a machine the human body is, I would also argue that there would still be lingering muscle and mental memories that begin to fade as the body eats away at itself. And smell has an amazing ability to trigger emotional responses. If young animals separated from their mothers can follow the intimate knowledge of their mother's scent, why wouldn't a baby zombie be able to follow its (living) mother's scent? And it is situations like that which really shake us to the core in a supremely deep way. In a similar manner, I could absolutely believe that an old, old man who took an early dawn walk every day for 55 years down the same path, would still feel the muscle compulsion to continue certain habits that the body has repeated for years and years. Like a scratched record, like a footprint left in space and time.
And second, I would say, like wearing a wedding band for years and years and removing it for some reason - death or loss of some sort, I'm sure there is a very profound sense of having a physical hole where it used to be, where you'd feel the empty bed like a bitter and lonely void, that maybe you yearn to fill with what used to be there, but nothing will ever fill that exact shaped hole in your life, heart, space or time... imagine how a body would feel if it suddenly lost all consiousness. We never see zombies eat a body down to the bones. They never do more than take a bite and move on to the next thing. I feel like the act of consumption could represent a hunger/yearning for something else, something that living people have that they no longer do. Something that disappears the minute they bite into the living, so they are no longer interested and move on to what still possesses it. If it was a matter of blood and muscle and flesh, there is plenty of stuff out there for "dumb" creatures to consume. I think the idea of the zombie started as something very different and has been blown out into something that makes no sense. The closer we bring it back to something that we could almost believe, the more poignant and devestating the effect will be on the audience.
Here were some of my extraneous thoughts on treatment of the story and characters/wordplay:
I like the metaphorical play on consuming - we as a consumerist society buy the next big thing, take a bite, and once the newest/better version of it comes out, we toss the original and move on, never satisfied, always hungry for whatever is next. I'd love to suggest that by littering the environments with ads we reckognize universally, like Haddon Sundbloom's Santa Clause that Coca Cola used to define what Santa looked like to the rest of the world, particularly the US. Utilizing ads from older time periods is both ironic (suggesting how it lead to a land of zombies) and helps us to obscure the time period.
When breaking down the action of the story, and what needs to be shown, I would root out sequences that can be suspended in time, imitating slow motion for anticipation purposes. The movie '300' was not a perfect one, but I still watch it for one reason: the fight sequences. In that particular movie, the fight scenes move from body parts flying to an abruptly intense pulsing slow motion, and the movement of body and fabric ripples and flows across the screen. The underwater oracle dance is equally mesmerizing to me. Also consider Muybridge's animated horse sequence, broken down frame by frame. By isolating action (while subtley shifting composition for dramatic effect/reveal of dangerous situation or character) we can control the pacing so it doesn't lack moments to breath or focus. We'll basically be mimicing camera moves, slow pans, slow zoom outs and such while breaking up the flow of the story to agitate the viewer.
Throughout history we have used many different ways of marking a distinct separation between "us" and "them", like the nazi symbol, and the yellow stars for the jews. I would consider developing a symbolic marking that separates the military, doctors and civilians. That offers other ways of insinuating disloyalty or making unspoken allusions.
Just some thoughts I had.