Warm Bodies fights the post-9/11 cold war

Look past the walking dead formula of Jonathan Levine’s Warm Bodies that combines the zombie craze with the Twilight franchise’s freaky love story and notice its sometimes clever and exact satire of modern alienation.

In its post-nuclear holocaust premise, Warm Bodies depicts a society that has lost its soul. The walking dead are called “corpses” not zombies and these corpses are defined as “a state of being we don’t understand.” That describes R (Nicholas Hoult), a stumbling, half-awake soul who falls in love with uninfected Julie (Teresa Palmer). Both living and half-dead battle third-stage skeletal creatures called “bonies.” R complains “I just want to connect”–essentially the adolescent desire recognizable in Levine’s two previous films The Wackness and 50/50.

Romantic Levine goes against the cynicism of current zombie trash and the unfelt Twilight series. In finding sappiness in the horror genre Warm Bodies has only half a good idea (reminiscent of the movie Idle Hands), but that streak of decency makes you wish it were better. When R describes bumping into people yet being “unable to say I’m sorry” or points out “I don’t like hurting people but this is the world now” he shows moral clarity. His combination of helplessness and yearning are genuinely contemporary. After he attacks Julie’s boyfriend (Dave Franco) his cannibalistic drive-and-remorse are sharpened: “I get his memories if I eat his brain; I feel less dead.”

That “less dead” pang makes Levine one of those American Eccentrics trying to figure out this callous, dangerous, non-spiritual, secular, post-9/11 world. (If Levine went any further he’d be Kafkaesque.) The war between the living, the less-dead and the bonies gets a surge when R falls in love with Julie (there’s even a Romeo & Juliet balcony scene) that’s best dramatized when his best friend (Rob Corderry) discovers his beating heart (“Do you feel it?”). And it’s illuminated like E.T.’s heart light–the essence of Levine’s child-of-the-80s yearning.

Levine’s uninfected living who join the less-dead to fight the avariciousness of the bonies become what post-punk band New Order called love vigilantes. In the film’s subtler details of racial fear and ethnic isolation (Julie lives among barricaded gentry), Levine continues his cross-cultural commitment, identifying compassion as a 1984-style rebellion. R and Julie go on a mission to “exhume” the human race.

This sensitive need can be expressed in creative genre narratives like Walter Hill’s Bullet to the Head or muddled by overwrought genre films like Zero Dark Thirty. Levine proves more courageous than the latter when R says “I wish I could say we killed the bonies with love but we just straight up killed them all.” He finally finds the satirical edge of the walking-dead genre.

Follow Armond White on Twitter at 3xchair