28 Days Later

Gen-X-Reviews-28-Days-Later-2003 It’s ironic that one of the best horror movies in years is really a story about human beings.

28 Days Later is the most memorable zombie film in decades, but this is because it’s less about the undead and primarily about humans trying to realize what it means to be alive. Survival is meaningless in a world that makes loving impossible, but can people learn to love in a world that is toxic down to its blood stream?

Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up in a hospital and the world is dead. He pulls cords out of his body, finds hospital clothes, and walks London streets as deserted as the face of the moon. Not knowing what to do, he pockets money that he finds blowing in the wind, and calls out “Hello.” He might as well be talking to himself. The world is over.

He winds through the deserted streets until he comes to a church. Inside he finds bodies stacked on top of one another, their pale limbs knotted together grotesquely. Something terrible has happened, but the worst is yet to come. As Jim scans the burial mound looking for living things, something not quite alive blinks back at him. It is eating someone.

Suddenly something else is in the corridor with Jim, hissing.

He runs and in the street below meets other survivors. Selena (Naomie Harris) and Mark (Noah Huntley) have seen the world die and adapted to what has been left behind. The live in a subway convenience store, safely locked behind bars, travel only in daylight, and never wander away from one another.

Selena tells Jim about the disease that has wrecked England. Rage is a virus that turns men into mindless creatures. Highly contagious, the Rage is carried in the blood and the infected want nothing so much as to spread the virus. They vomit blood, scratch and bite, spit and generally are pretty unpleasant creatures.

Selena and Mark have lived the last 28 days as rats, cooped up in the ruins of the store. In a world where physical contact of any sort is not just dangerous but deadly, the last human survivors want nothing to do with love. Love means a future beyond this moment, and no such promise can be made when the person next to you may turn into a creature you have to kill at any moment.

“Plans are pointless. Staying alive is as good as it gets,” Selena tells Jim.

But humans are no more alive than the infected masses if deprived of the opportunity to connect. Being human is more than merely persevering: It is carving a niche out for yourself in your enviroment, however hostile. It’s being fully awake, which means being alive to the romantic urges in your body in the same way as you’re conscious of the potential contaminants around you.

One of the reasons the virus has spread is because people have not been awake. They have looked at their fellow organisms as objects, used their intelligence to create biological weapons rather than art or poetry, and succumbed to their basest need for power and dominance. If you were awake you wouldn’t do these things to yourself and your world, would you?

Sleepwalkers have unleashed the virus, destroyed the world and turned one another into vile creatures. Now nothing is innocent. Your very blood is poisoned, corrupted by a virus that may, at any second, transform you into your worst enemy. And despite all this – or, maybe, because of it – the last remaining humans must live fully alive, with their eyes open, unafraid to love.

28 Days Later is a story of people trying to rebuild themselves in some better, less fallen form. The virus that transforms men into rabid beasts is the same sickness that makes us murder each other, hoard our wealth, and treat one another as meat objects. It is replicated in our genes, in the subtle contagion of our cultural habits, in the way we choose to live as sentient beings.

The thing is in our blood and the real horror is what we allow ourselves to become.


Pirates of the Caribbean


Gen-X-Review-Pirates-of-the-Caribbean-With the right eyes you can see everything coming back from the ocean. The ghost ships return, their dark sails and skull banner blowing in the mist, prehistoric barnacles clinging to their ancient timber. A man appears in the crow’s nest: His eyes narrow into the horizon, searching for the next vanishing point in the wide, empty expanse of water. Johnny Depp returns, having rediscovered his pirate soul, in the new film Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

Depp has a cache of people my age, who regard him almost as fondly as our patron saint, Curt Cobain. He was to us what James Dean or Peter Fonda was to earlier generations. We counted his early successes as our own, congratulating ourselves at our clever choices in picking Edward Scissorhands over Weird Science, at recognizing the early punk roots in Hunter S. Thompson, in deciding to embrace the camp sensibilities of John Waters over Steven Spielberg.

Then he played drug czar George Jung in 2001’s Blow, a film so tragically uncool that I half expected him to start telling me hate was a four-letter word and milk was good for my bones. Less a film than a public service announcement, Blow was the most disappointing film of the year, perhaps more so because Depp really shined in the role. It was like Jim Morrison opening for Britney Spears.

Pirates of the Caribbean returns Depp to a place of honor in my book. His portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow is so far over the top that it re-emerges on the other side of the world, transformed into a kind of parody of itself. He mumbles, darting his fingers insanely in the air, both repulsive and oddly seductive. It’s acting of a much higher quality than the film deserves, but it is also just good fun to watch.

Sparrow is a pirate without a ship. His arch nemesis Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) has stolen Jack’s Black Pearl as well as the loot from an ancient Aztec burial ground. This has spared Sparrow from a rather nasty curse, but it’s also left him adrift and alienated from the one thing that gives his life meaning: The endless voyage.

Destiny intervenes when Barbossa and the mutinous crew from the Black Pearl attack the town of Port Royal, abducting Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), the governor’s daughter, and stealing a piece of the ancient Aztec treasure. Elizabeth had taken the amulet years earlier, when her ship had come across Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) on her way to the island.  She and Will are romantically interested in one another, but the rigid caste system keeps them apart, and being good kids they stick to the rules.

When Will learns that Elizabeth has been kidnapped he enlists Sparrow’s aid in getting her back, unaware that he also has pirate blood running through his veins. The stifled society has ruled against love and divided people according to the most arbitrary laws of birth. This culture is a black iron prison and only those with the mark of piracy will escape alive, and Will must learn to accept the need for freedom in his life, even if that freedom means danger.

Pirates of the Caribbean is weirdly wonderful and wonderfully weird. Its brilliant special effects never seem incongruent or out of place, and it doesn’t try to substitute bright flashes for fine acting or a tight storyline. Although it isn’t afraid of violence, it doesn’t really relish it either, and its horror is pretty tame by Hollywood standards.

I would love to see Pirates of the Caribbean at a drive-in under a full moon. It’s the sort of film that seems transported from the dream world. Like the Disney World itself, it seems pulled from some distant childhood memory, evocative and mysterious, a thing still wet with dreams and half-imagined things: The world beneath the water, where strange and beautiful things may still live.

Sparrow is the underwater current running through the story. His search for freedom inspires the lovers to be free of their own cages, and may have something to say to our generations, too. After all, the pirate is not always a fallen hero. Sometimes he is a hero in a fallen world, come back top redeem it from its own greed and prejudices.

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