There is a reason we laugh so eagerly at zombies, as audiences have been gleefully doing with the horror comedy “Zombieland.”
Is there a more fitting symbol for our own inescapable mortality than zombies - decaying, dismembered figures that relentlessly pursue the living? Zombies have officially haunted us since 1968’s “Night of the Living Dead,” but the basic concept has been around in movies at least since 1920’s “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.” We’re fascinated by the awful prospect of something even worse than death: never-ending dying.
And what do we often do in the face of such ugliness? Laugh. Horror comedies exist precisely because laughter can serve as a release valve – a way to deflect or delay a terrible truth. When the hero of “Zombieland,” a hypochondriac (Jesse Eisenberg) whose isolation has helped him survive a zombie apocalypse, offers hand sanitizer to fellow survivors, the gag makes light of – sanitizes – the appalling situation. For a moment, we find it easier to breathe.
For Christians, zombies shouldn’t be all that scary. Stumbling about in search of human flesh isn’t in our picture of the afterlife. Yet the fatalism that is so essential to the zombie genre speaks directly to our understanding of life on earth as a temporary existence – a blip in our eternal journey.
We don’t like to think about that, of course. Instead of acknowledging our expiration dates, we waste time in this life scrounging around for short-lived treasures and experiences. But zombies are as good a reminder as anything that you can’t cheat death – and that you had better be ready for what happens after.
That’s just my take, but it’s hardly a definitive interpretation. Another great thing about these movies is that they can mean many things to many people. Zombie auteur George A. Romero has used them to make statements on everything from race relations (“Night of the Living Dead”) to consumerism (“Dawn of the Dead”).
Maybe some Christians see zombies as sympathetic figures, wallowing in sin and awaiting redemption. Maybe others think they’re symbols of what life would be like without God – devoid of meaning, full of violence. So I’m curious: What do zombies mean to you?