World War Z
Directed by Marc Foster
Starring Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Matthew Fox, David Morse, Moritz Bleibtreu, Pierfrancesco Favino
Gerry Lane, a United Nations employee, quits his job to stay with his family. But he is forced to return when an epidemic starts turning people into zombies and even threatens to destroy the human race. Armed with highly-honed survival skills and acute intuition, Gerry travels around the world — Korea to Israel, Wales to Nova Scotia — to discover how the epidemic started and how it can be stopped.
The movie is based on a post-apocalyptic novel (written by Max Brooks, son of Mel Brooks). Although it has all the thrills of a traditional zombie movie, it is also a tribute to the family — the only institution a man can hang onto when society perishes, the only thing worth fighting for and the only thing which inspires men to face an apparently invincible enemy.
Former United Nations employee Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) is once again deployed into the field. The UN practically blackmails him: he must do the job or they will make his family leave the military ships that are keeping people safe in the middle of the ocean. His job is to follow the standard procedure set in place in the event of epidemic: to find patient “0” so that they can understand how everything began…
From this point of view, the movie intentionally looks like many other films in the “epidemic” genre like Outbreak and Contagion: a team of heroic specialists manages to stop the disaster by looking for evidence and creating a vaccine in an exhausting race against time.
But this is easier said than done when the civilized world is in ruins and crawling with zombies (or with people that may at any time become zombies) eager to bite and infect. The only safe haven — at least at the beginning — is Israel, which is surrounded by the towering walls it built to keep out Palestinian terrorists. For a moment, the movie slyly suggests that the epidemic may have been caused by Israel (recalling the urban legend that Mossad knew about 9/11 and that every Jewish employee was absent that day), but this theory is spurned immediately.
In fact, the movie savages the illusion that walls are enough to keep troubles at bay. When Gerry notices that the Israelis are letting in both Arabs and Jews, his Mossad guide reminds him that every man protected from the contagion is one less zombie to fight.
Zombies embody the anxieties and fears of modern times. They exemplify the consumerist uniformity that dehumanizes people and far darker threats like AIDS, terrorism, and catastrophic climate change. And speaking of consumerism, the movie feels like a gigantic product placement for the UN and international agencies. (Four World Health Organization employees in a forgotten laboratory in Wales play an important role in the film).
Brad Pitt (perhaps thanks to his own experience of parenting) plausibly plays the role of a father who is willing to do anything to save his family: flying a plane, amputating a hand or walking through thousands of zombies like Moses walking through the Red Sea… Director Marc Foster manages to make absurdity impressively realistic with a breaking news style which echoes the style of Max Brooks’s novel (which was written from the viewpoint of many people witnessing the “war against the zombies”).
Beyond its critique of an increasingly fragile globalized world, this film is intelligent entertainment even if, due to many terrifying scenes of zombie aggression, it can hardly be described as “family friendly”.
World War Z should be enjoyed with an abundance of popcorn and adrenaline. Just one warning: turn the your phone off, they annoy the zombies… and they always ring at the wrong moment…
Problematic elements: many scenes of mass violence and horror appropriate to the genre.
Laura Cotta Ramosino is a story editor for Rai Uno, the national Italian broadcaster, and contributes to different magazines and websites about cinema and television.