Isaac Marion’s Warm Bodies: Zombies, Alzheimer’s, and Morality

I’ve always read novels and watched films that are speculative in nature more for the metaphors and meaning and less for the violence and the macabre. My recurring question is often: what do the words and images say about all us as people?

So my fascination with zombies, the undead makes sense. It’s personal because of members of my family are suffering from dementia in their old age. Speculative fiction including the zombie genre, also gets me thinking about the deeper meaning of life including our spiritual lives.

The fascination with zombies goes back further for me as a teen, when I first read Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein in which various body parts were reincarnated as a zombie whole. I can list many Frankenstein incarnation on film going back to black and white movies.  Fast forward to “28 Weeks Later,” the film, which jump-started the zombie craze in the 21st Century. And we can’t forget AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” still currently on television because of stellar ratings.

ImageThese zombies can be interpreted in many ways but here are just two that I’ve drawn from reading Issac Marion’s zombie bestseller Warm Bodies: zombies as a metaphor for Alzheimer’s and the moral tensions between being undead and human.

There isn’t a more complex map or landscape than the human brain. And when Alzheimer’s takes hold, that map slowly painfully shrinks, reconfigures, and disconnects. The person inside once known as dear grandma or loving father becomes someone else. Like the violent zombies that beloved someone, our beloved someone, can become alien wielding a knife or screaming, really shrieking.

These people, our people, mirror those in Warm Bodies. As is true of the zombie genre, the undead mindlessly seek flesh to continue shuffling along. Our own people suffering from dementia simply shuffle along. Yet for grandma and dad, there is something going on inside, a struggle against the dying of the light. Something of their moral selves sputters and flickers.

The interesting turn with Warm Bodies is the many zombies display varying degrees of sentience as is true of the many stages of Alzheimer’s that ultimately lead to death. R, the central character, has a soul. He’s driven by eating flesh but also grapples with the meaning of God in his life, and the tension between eating and killing in relationship to the sanctity of life.

And it seems love, central to most organized religions including Christianity, truly transforms R, the undead. Will R stop eating flesh because it is the right thing to do? Will love transform him from a killer to the redeemed? Will he make the moral, the right choice?

As the world grapples with increasing numbers of people living longer and dying from dementia or it’s related medical complications, some family and friends forced to stand by and watch a slow death, cling to love. Alzheimer’s patients,our people, ultimately succumb to the disease seemingly undead, particularly in the last stages.

For some, our fascination with zombies is fueled by reality filled with dementia patients including those with Alzheimer’s.

I don’t want to give away too much concerning Warm Bodies’ plot, including the love story. I will tell you I was moved by R, a zombie listing and tilting between right and wrong, moral and immoral. The polarities are fascinating but the inherent moral struggles are enthralling.

If you pick up the book, consider the parallels to Alzheimer’s and morality as you read. The alternative to reading is watching the film Warm Bodies, a zombie romance, which will be out in a theatres near you on February 1, 2013 just in time for Valentine’s Day. I hope the nuances in the novel are ultimately matched in the film.

Iron Man 2: The Machine, Garden, and Gulf



Tony Stark, the principal character in Iron Man 2, is back with his narcissism intact. Singlehandedly wearing THAT armored suit, he’s ended war around the globe by the second installment. He thinks very highly of himself being the planet’s peacekeeper and all. Of course there are two villains because the film wouldn’t be based on a Marvel Comic without them: Ivan Vonco–the son of the scientist who once worked with and was betrayed Tony’s father and Justin Hammer–a defense contractor and Tony’s corporate antagonist.  

Parts of the film, including the first scene, are in Flushing Meadows Park, transformed into a CGI Disney fantasy-world, an amped technological corporate park. This aint the park from my childhood. Today, Flushing Meadow is a sprawling place in much need of upkeep like many city parks across the country. The park is best known for the location of the World’s Fair in1964/1965. One of the most compelling fixtures of the park has been a large weeping willow I often saw driving on the Van Wyck Expressway that borders one side of the park.  I didn’t see that willow in the movie. Welcome to CGI.      

So fast-foward to the second half of the film in which Tony watches some old footage of his father. Leaning back in a chair, Tony rediscovers his father’s model for a future tech-filled Flushing Meadow Park.   His father ascribes to the mantra: “The key to the future is here.”  Tony is not far behind.

Propelled by his father’s vision, Tony creates a new element. He bases his work on the globe in the park by his father; I’m not sure about the science here but Tony turns theory into a chemical element–you know from the periodic chart.  Can people create new chemical elements? I guess Tony can because he is a self-made god: he takes the new element to heal his ailing body and enhance his suit like a god on Olympus. Tony plugs the element into his chest and says: “It tastes like coconut . . . And metal.” Yummy. The power to destroy tastes like coconut.  It’s ironic that the globe as scientific inspiration destroys part of planet earth in Flushing Meadow Park towards the end of the film.     

Tony runs with it. His Iron Man suit is the key and future, and its here. Tony, his best friend James Rhodes, the evil Vanco who is living out his father’s raw deal, and the droids are all suited up.    Can one be well-meaning in the throes of narcissism? Iron Man does attempt to do so in lunatic hot bad boy mode. Great hair . . . Great goatee . . . Wearing his signature wife beater under his suit, Tony attempts to lead some flying destructive droids away from Flushing Meadow Park but that doesn’t work. He ultimately contributes to some environmental mayhem as he battles evil.   


Iron Man Makes His Big Entrance

At the fantasy park,  one element of World’s Fair remains including the unisphere, a representation of planet earth–the same planet that influenced the development his new element. Tony is both a destroyer and a savior.  He leads the droids into the metal unisphere, earth. He damages the unisphere. Ping ping ping–many of the droids go down and metaphorically the earth gets no respect.    

In another scene, Tony and James land (thump) in a Japanese garden inside a conservatory. I do not believe such a garden exists in the park so this is another creation for the purposes of the film. The filmmakers carefully construct manicured garden that does not truly parallel nature in the purist sense. In the battle, they laser down trees at mid-trunk. They burn, bomb, and laser this manicured garden; it is unrecognizable by the time Tony, James,Vonco, and the droids are done with it. Tony and James win the battle. They stand triumphant, machine over nature, in the wreckage of the Japanese garden. They don’t even consider the environmental disaster they have created. The military industrial complex has done it again.    In the closing credits, a Disney inspired song trills. Here’s the instrumental version: Make Way for Tomorrow Today. Tomorrow’s here and machines are in the garden much like BP in the Gulf.  The oil company is struggling to seal a ruptured pipe spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Pelicans are drowning and smothering in crude oil. Shrimpers and fishermen have lost their livelihood. A Greek-like tragedy flashes daily across the screen on CNN much  like the environmental morality tale called Iron Man 2. 

Ok, so the producer and director are not responsible for the Gulf Crisis. But the movie they produced and directed is speaks to what ails people and the planet in the year 2010. Though the disaster in the Gulf caused by BP started after Disney filmed the movie, the scenes inside the unisphere and garden reflects a troubling disregard for our Mother Earth that goes back millenia.

We want the Gulf back the way it was. We don’t want that burned Japanese garden.   

Photos by Dianne Glave Unless Otherwise Noted