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Monday, November 13, 2006

The Living Dead

or...

The inevitable unforseen consequences of setting your watch forward.

[An aside: Are the double titles lame or interesting? I like them, AND IN THIS REALM I AM OMNIPOTENT (he proclaimed) so I guess they shall continue.]

Confession: One of my guilty pleasures is the occasional viewing of a zombie movie. I'm not a fan of blood and gore. I'm not an adrenaline junky. I am a connoisseur of le cinema zombee as it were. We're talking the George Romero movies or 28 Days Later (which is not technically a zombie movie, but a reinterpretation of the genre).

Stop laughing. I'm serious here. (At least moderately).

At their best, zombie movies are social commentary. My understanding of them is that they are basically cautionary fables that highlight those trends within our fellow human beings that could spread and thereby lead to the destruction of us all. Romero's movies have targeted racism (Night of the Living Dead) and consumerism (Dawn of the Dead), lampooned the military (Day of the Dead) and even parodied the concept of the ultimate gated community (Land of the Dead). At its core, a good zombie movie should have an important message, even though you have to wipe off a thick coating of blood, brains and other assorted gore to be able to read it. Mind you, I'm not recommending anyone go out and rent any of these movies. They all include disgusting, violent, revolting and horrifying scenes which are designed to offend the sensibilities and flood the mind with terrifying images that will haunt you forever. For my wife, they fall into the "million dollar" movie category, as in:

Wife: "Offer me a million dollars to watch that movie."

Husband: "I'd give you a million dollars to watch that movie."

Wife: "No thank you. Keep your money."

When I saw Land of the Dead last year at the movie theater, I was left with the heebie jeebies for a few hours afterwards. I define "heebie jeebies" (which surprisingly doesn’t pass muster with spell check) as the irrational state of being where you keep expecting some hideous creature to leap out of every closed door and throttle you and devour your brains. Despite the best efforts of my rational, highly educated and hopefully unappetizing brain, on the way home from the theater I couldn't keep myself from checking the rear view mirror regularly and turning around to look over the back of the seat every time I stopped at an intersection to make certain I wasn't driving the Ford Focus SE Station Wagon of the Living Dead.

[NOTE TO SELF: Take the truck the next time you go see a zombie movie – no back seat! Hmmm...of course it would be easier to shake re-animated corpses off the roof of the car then shed them if they leapt into the bed of the truck. I digress.]

Why do I bring this up? Oh yes. Stranger than Fiction had a similar, although milder heebie-jeebie-like effect. Vastly milder, but similar.

Without spoiling anything, the film deals with the fragility of life as its theme. We watch the central character propelled down a path that may lead to his inevitable death as a direct (well, somewhat direct) result of setting his watch forward a few minutes. What I have said here shows up in the most basic promos of the movie and occurs fairly early in the story-line so it shouldn't affect anyone's enjoyment of the movie. I should also note that the movie is utterly devoid of disembowelments, decapitations and cannibalism. So it sounds innocuous, but, as I said, the film did infect me with something remotely resembling the aforementioned heebie-jeebies.

Leaving the theater, I didn't expect to be greeted by a horde of carnivorous zombies waiting by my station wagon, but I did wonder if a drunk driver might plow into us as we pulled out of the parking lot or if I might choke on a chunk of food at dinner or if the route I chose for heading home after picking up the kids would carry my little family directly into the path of imminent destruction. It wasn't really a fearful or cautious feeling. It wasn't about being afraid to step behind the wheel of a car or take a bite of food. It was more a sense of realizing my naked vulnerability to the forces of fate. It wasn't looking over my shoulder for monstrosities, but wondering which seemingly innocent object or activity might contain within it the seeds of my own demise.

Rule: No matter what you do, you are going to die. Period.

Exception: You may be exempt from the foregoing rule if:

a) You ascribe to some sort of fundamentalist end times theory and expect to be raptured up into the sky next Thursday at 2:15 p.m. eastern standard time just after they serve the pumpkin pie and just before Armageddon begins, or

b) You've already purchased space in that facility where baseball hall-of-famer Ted Williams has his head frozen for future revival when there have been sufficient medical advances to cure what ails you, or

c) You've already been implanted with a device in your cortical stem which is recording all memories, thoughts and sensations for future transfer to a cloned version of your own body.

So there you have it. Happy, happy, joy, joy, we’re all going to die. Sooner or later. The things you do in this life (eating habits, exercise, smoking, drinking, sky-diving, bungee-jumping) may determine whether it’s sooner or later and you could ask an actuary for advice with regard to those matters. But some things are totally out of our control and whether it comes in our sleep at a ripe old age or announces itself with a more sudden and violent entrance, death will come for the archbishop and all the rest of us as well. That’s part of the message of the movie and that’s what has been weighing on my mind for the last couple of days. Add in there my mom’s recent encounter with cancer and the fact that my wife mentioned today that she found the attorney she wants us to see for drafting our wills and there is more than enough mortality going around for everyone to share.

So Sunday afternoon I’m in my daughter’s bedroom for a stuffed animal convention. (Give me a minute. This is not a non sequitur.) It was some sort of a combination slumber party/tea party/sing-a-long/build-a-bear family reunion. The kids share a room. Once little brother got mobile, we re-arranged the furniture to segregate the room with a wall of dressers and bookcases. To get to Olivia’s side, you have to climb over her bed. So I’m on her side and need to get out. The herd of stuffed animals are taking up most of the bed and I’ve been clearly instructed not to disturb them. I step up gingerly and attempt to climb over the bed without crushing any bunnies, bears or monkeys. I’m managing as well as my arthritic and inflexible hips will allow and haven’t squashed anyone when I go for my dismount. Stepping down off the other side of the bed, I rest one hand on her armoire to steady myself. Brief aside: Our house is old and in old houses, the floors sometimes slope down away from certain walls. You can see this phenomenon mostly clearly when you push a tall piece of furniture all the way against the wall at the baseboards yet still find it leaning an inch or two away from a presumably straight wall at the top. So as I step down and transfer a little of my weight to top of the armoire, it starts tipping over with me which accelerates my eviction from the Teddy Bear’s Picnic. I end up standing with one foot on the floor and the other tangled up in the bed trying to balance with one hand and hold up the leaning tower of clothing with the other as the armoire’s doors swing open and drawers spill out their contents.

I shout out something that resembles "Arlague!" I can’t tell you what that means, but I’m thankful that in my moment of distress I didn’t utter a string of profanities and contribute to the delinquency of a Care Bear. As I am bellowing out my distress, time itself slowed down and I could project out the various potential outcomes of my dilemma. It didn’t take much imagination to see myself stumbling to the floor and ending up with a moderately sized piece of furniture on top of me. Could this be the end, dear reader? Slain by the combined efforts of a stuffed animal assembly and a chest full of predominantly pink clothing? Has anyone ever suffered such an
ignominious yet cute demise? My thoughts leap forward and I see my poor daughter who would be witness to the whole horrible scene having to endure years of expensive therapy sessions and suffering from an unnatural phobia of plush toys.

Back to the present, my wife hears my repeated primal exclamations of "Arlague!" and rushes to the rescue. She helps me right the armoire yet falls slightly short of restoring my dignity. I wrenched a couple of fingers and pulled my shoulder a bit during this escapade, but escaped from this fluffy, frilly horror relatively unscathed. This autumn, my mom passed safely through the valley of the shadow of cancer and I survived my encounter with a large wooden structure and such nefarious characters as Kitty-Kitty, Sparkle Pony and Hap the Bear. (Hap is quite cool by the way and I hold none of this against him. The other’s I’m keeping my eye on.)

The moral of the story: No matter how obsessed you may be with lurking dangers and potential horrors in your life, realize that grim beast known as irony may have something entirely more ridiculous in store for you. It’s quite liberating.

2 Comments:

Anonymous thematicvariations said...

That is hilarious!!!! And all so true! I'm going to read this one again! I got a totally different sentiment from the movie, though...I'll have to post about it.

8:16 PM, November 13, 2006  
Blogger wordsonwater said...

Quit your day job and start writing full time. I am at work shaking with laughter. BTW, I saw Night of the Living Dead one dark night years ago and had to call for help getting back into my apartment. When help showed up, I was still not sure I trusted him not to be a zombie. This is the only kind of movie I find truly terrifying.

11:34 AM, November 14, 2006  

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