Dating the Dead pt. 2: DAWN
Continuing our look at Romero’s genre-defining zombie films, we find ourselves shambling into the light with his second entry in 1978… (review includes spoilers)
Dawn of the Dead
As Romero’s sequel begins, the zombie epidemic is at crisis levels, and cities are being overrun. A small group (a pilot, his reporter girlfriend, and two SWAT team members) escape to a shopping mall where they set up refuge. They avoid zombies to get basic supplies, but eventually risk venturing out more to enjoy the amenities of the mall. Inevitably, the group is overrun by zombies in the chaos resulting from trying to defend their mall “turf” against a motorcycle gang. Only a SWAT team member and the reporter escape by helicopter.
This is an excellent film, and is my favorite film of the zombie genre (28 Days Later is a close second, and yes, I know they’re not really zombies in that film). There are many themes to examine, beyond which the movie is an enjoyable action film, a “romp” as Romero describes it in the DVD audio commentary.
Much has been written about this film’s commentary on consumerism. The zombies in the film mill aimlessly about the mall, a parody of the purposeless shopper. The zombies do not eat for sustenance, they eat simply to consume, showing the grotesque extreme of a consumeristic mindset (or lack thereof).
Beyond that, the film presents an interesting picture of response to crisis. The protagonists first hole up in the mall for survival, but then set up their own small kingdom to avoid acknowledging the crisis of the outside world. They try to hold onto mundane, “normal” life though it is obviously foolish: the world is literally being devoured. The resulting spiritual question emerges:
When we fear sin and death, do we spend our time and energy futilely pursuing power, control, and security?