My country was dragged into the international spotlight last week. Because, not to put even remotely too fine a point on it, Ireland killed a woman. This news made me feel physically sick. This happened so appallingly close to home that for a while I couldn’t process it.
How close to home?
I was born in University Hospital Galway. Both my parents have worked there at various points in their lives. It is where my mother had her mastectomy. I worked in the foyer coffee shop for a summer when I was a teenager. This time last year, I sat with my dad in the intensive care unit, listening to a machine do his breathing for him and wondering if he would ever open his eyes again.
I spent significant stretches of my life in the same hospital that took Savita Halappavanar’s life.
I have been trying to write something about this for over a week. At first I was too angry, then I was too upset and ashamed of my country to form coherent sentences. The details of the case have been well-covered (here and here and here for anyone who missed it) so I’m not going to reiterate them again. I think it is extremely clear – to me, to Ireland and to the rest of the world – that there is no reason on this earth that Savita Halappavanar, a 31 year-old dentist from India, should not have survived her miscarriage and gone on to live a full and happy life with her husband.
World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War is one of my favourite books ever. I have read it three times and it scared the crap out of me. Good job, World War Z. Unfortunately, Hollywood got its hands on it and stripped it of everything that made it unique and terrifying and profoundly human, because why have any of those things, when you can give Brad Pitt a gun and a vague UN job and throw him up against a big writhing pile of CGI zombies? Don’t worry though, we’re supposed to give a shit about his character because he has a Generic Family with two adorable little girls and he says things like “It’s going to be okay, honey!” and “Tell them I’m coming back!” a lot.
I am not exaggerating:
so the topic of why fast zombies are stupid – both in terms of plausibility and symbolic efficacy – has been well covered. No one puts it better than Simon Pegg:
I know it is absurd to debate the rules of a reality that does not exist, but this genuinely irks me. You cannot kill a vampire with an MDF stake; werewolves can’t fly; zombies do not run. […]The speedy zombie seems implausible to me, even within the fantastic realm it inhabits. A biological agent, I’ll buy. Some sort of super-virus? Sure, why not. But death? Death is a disability, not a superpower. It’s hard to run with a cold, let alone the most debilitating malady of them all.
More significantly, the fast zombie is bereft of poetic subtlety.[…] [T]he zombie trumps all by personifying our deepest fear: death. Zombies are our destiny writ large. Slow and steady in their approach, weak, clumsy, often absurd, the zombie relentlessly closes in, unstoppable, intractable.
However (and herein lies the sublime artfulness of the slow zombie), their ineptitude actually makes them avoidable, at least for a while. If you’re careful, if you keep your wits about you, you can stave them off, even outstrip them – much as we strive to outstrip death. Drink less, cut out red meat, exercise, practice safe sex; these are our shotguns, our cricket bats, our farmhouses, our shopping malls. However, none of these things fully insulates us from the creeping dread that something so witless, so elemental may yet catch us unawares – the drunk driver, the cancer sleeping in the double helix, the legless ghoul dragging itself through the darkness towards our ankles.
Don’t get me wrong, the idea of crazy rabid people who want to tear you apart and eat you is pretty horrifying, especially when the infection seems to disproportionately effect world-class sprinters. BUT, as Red Lemonade points out, they are not zombies. This is not what zombie means. I’m not saying fast zombies don’t work and should never exist. I believe they have their place in the monster canon. But the slow zombie – the inevitable shuffling mass of death – that zombie is KEY to World War Z.
According to visual effects supervisor John Nelson, the reasoning behind having zombies who look like super-speedy heroin addicts is to make them more predatory because “everyone has seen everything in this genre.” Yes. Yes they have. Including fast zombies. If originality was really a concern here, a good place to start would be NOT making YET ANOTHER MOVIE about Kickass Government Operative Guy Saving The World. The book is not compelling because it has super-special original zombies. It is compelling because it is structured as an oral history that takes on the concept of zombies on an unprecedented scale.