The Walking Dead Roadtrip: Disease, Environment, and Humanity

SPOILER ALERT

Ok, there are black people in The Walking Dead! I was glad to see the British actor Lennie James, who was fabulous in the canceled TV show Jericho. Lennie plays Morgan James who is central to the first few episodes of The Walking Dead. In ensuing episodes when the two have parted, Rick Grimes, the lead character, played by Andrew Lincoln frequently invokes Morgan, the first person he met in the new world of flesh-eating monsters.

Rick travels on leaving behind bread crumbs or sign posts (i.e. notes on cars) for Morgan to follow Rick and his rag-tag of survivors of the zombie plague. Their travels show the familiar trope of film and television of the buddy road trip–this is the horror show version–traveling across many terrains. Transforming the trope, a group and not a pair of buddies travel across the land as the group bonds and develops. I have already seen forming and storming. I am wondering if the series will get to norming, performing, forming and mourning in the midst of living dead chaos.

The backdrop to the character development is disease and the landscape.  The disease that triggers the transformation into zombies and the defunct Center for Disease Control (CDC) condemns healthcare system and perhaps even reform in the United States. The plague is winning, and modern science and medicine are losing.

In one of the first scenes is in a hospital. Rick wakes from a coma, stripping off the monitors to the machines that kept him alive; pre-plague, a suspect shot him while on duty as a police officer. He walks the corridors of the hospital stumbling about encountering the first of many zombies to come.

Looking at the environment, the telling landscapes are in the Atlanta Metro area are a grassy “plain” dotted with trees, the Bellwood Quarry, the empty streets of Atlanta, and the CDC.

One of the first times Rick kills a zombie is on a grassy slope, probably a park. I am assuming the scene is somewhere in Atlanta although I cannot name the place.  A mangled zombie drags herself, half of her body gone below the waist, seeking to chomp on a human. Rick watches the futile efforts and then kills the zombie.

Rick’s humanity slowly seeps away, as he becomes less and less human and more and more dead like the zombies he shoots and bludgeons.

That rag tag group was already forming and living near a quarry while Rick was in his coma in the first episode. The location is Bellwood Quarry in Atlanta. The  place is abandoned, unproductive, non-working–much like the people simply surviving in what is essentially a post-apocalypse. No one is planting crops. Great paintings are no longer being created. The 21st century War and Peace or Beloved are not being written. Civilization no longer exists like a quiet rock quarry that is no longer producing slate for kitchen countertops and outdoor walkways.

Before finding his new and struggling community, Rick makes his way to Atlanta in hopes of reconnecting with civilization–which ultimately serves as condemnation of Atlanta and more broadly dying urban life. The empty streets of asphalt and the sidewalks of concrete are an echo of what once was. The buildings tower, almost close in on Rick. Rather than being greeted by “society” he meets swarms of zombies during this first visit. Atlanta once Rick’s place of hope is now hopeless. The city in 2010 is full of empty condos and houses that will not move in the stagnant real estate market. Like many an American city, particularly downtowns, it is a bleak city. Atlanta is a metaphor for modern issues of poverty and crime overcoming ailing cities in the United States with more zombies than humans wandering around. Dead cities, dead people.

You would think the beacon of hope would be the CDC, another of Rick’s stops. Not. They do not use the real CDC which is on Clifton Road in Atlanta. Security did not allow for access, I’m sure. Pike fences surround the real CDC, which is closed off from the street.

The small group led by Rick arrives on the edges the alternate CDC on open terrain still searching for civilization, along with answers. They find dead bodies scattered on the campus; not a good sign. And the undead are lurching about as usual.

When they get into the CDC after much drama, one man, a scientist still remains trying to figure out what went wrong. Why does this disease vector trigger an illness that transforms people into zombies? He does not have the answers sought by this band of gypsies. And the unspoken question: was the CDC responsible for the plague? There’s no answer for that question either.

Without fuel–perhaps an allegory of 21st Century reliance on fossil fuel, the CDC begins automatic shut-down and goes into self-destruct (so the cache of viruses and diseases that remain in the building are not released)  much like the survivors. When the scientist locks them in with him, locks them into his hopeless and futility, they fight to leave and survive.

The band, the cobbled community are still holding tight to their humanity in the midst of the dehumanizing plague. They still have free will, Christian theology for some, choosing to die with the scientist or continue to live on through the journey. The members of the community leave the CDC without a cure, without the answers to spoken and unspoken questions. Others stay behind choosing to die and give up on the journey, a cure, and their community. No matter the choice, there is free will.

Running across the grounds of the CDC dodging the undead, the survivors leap into the RV and other vehicles to continue their twisted frightening road trip.

What new place is next? Will the disease further strip the group of their humanity? As someone who loves show for the tortured troubled relationships, the struggle to create community, and maintain their humanity–not the zombies and many variations on clubbing and shooting them–I look forward to seeing what happens in the city, on the farm, and in the woods.

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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

Splice The Movie: Makers Not the Creature are Dangerous

From nationalpost.com

WARNING: SPOILER ALERT

Don't Splice the Duck with Humans

I went to a matinée of Splice, thinking I was going to see a by the numbers horror film. The film is frighteningly more. It is a morality tale of arrogant humans playing at being the maker and abusing genetically manipulated creatures.

In Splice, Elsa (Sara Polley), a young woman, ranks as one of the most evil characters I have seen on film or television, or read about in literature. Elsa’s cool calm rationality, a scientific façade hiding behind her damaged psyche (yes, mommy issues!) is more chilling that an ax murder. Elsa operates outside the law and ethics to bio-engineer a creature from the spliced DNA of human and animal genetic material. It is unclear what animals are spliced in the experiment but Dren, the engineered creature, has legs, wings, and eyes like a bird, and a tail with a poisonous spike like a stingray.

Spliced with a Flower or a Vegetable? Hmmm.

The question for me throughout the film is who is evil? Is it Dren who does abominable things or Elsa and boyfriend Clive (Adrien Brody) who play god and manufacture evil. Much like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the creation is both a sympathetic and evil character. The film is also a homage to the monsters in the Alien and Species movies.  So who or what is evil: the makers or the creature?

Throughout, Elsa and Clive have crossed ethical and legal boundaries but forge ahead. Ultimately, they fall prey to the evil they created. You’ll have to see the film to understand what I mean.

As I watched the movie, I thought about the Tuskegee Experiment in which African American men in Alabama with syphilis were test subjects used to track the ravages of the disease. Even when scientist discovered a cure, these same African American men were left to go insane and die from the disease as white scientists continued their inquiries.

As we continue to test the boundaries of genetic engineering, looking back to the bad and unethical science of the past, who or what is our nightmare and danger?

PHOTOS BY DIANNE GLAVE unless otherwise noted