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Warm Bodies: Zombies with Heart

Zombie narratives are not new. They have been around for quite some time. Regardless of genres, most of them have revolved around monstrous zombies, and therefore we are quite used to hideous-looking ones. They are, however, changing now: some of them appear almost like humans. This article examines these new zombies and discusses their meanings.

Thinking Zombie’s Love
Isaac Marion’s Warm Bodies, published in 2011, is a story about a male zombie who falls in love with a female human and becomes a human once again thanks to emotions and memories revived by love: in short, it is a zombie’s love story. A male zombie named R lives in an abandoned airport near the city, hunting from time to time humans for survival. One day, he finds a group of young adults searching for supplies. He kills the leader, Perry, and feeds on his brain. After eating the brain, he experiences some memories of Perry, containing images of his girlfriend, Julie. Right after that, R sees Julie and decides to save her from his fellow zombies. Spending some days together, they slowly get to know each other and build trust, but as she cannot stay there for good, she leaves for home. After she is gone, he walks back to his house in a heavy rainstorm, and to his surprise feels cold for the first time since his death. As he realizes some mysterious changes are taking place within himself, his fellow zombies come to him, saying that they are experiencing some changes because of R and Julie. R decides to go after Julie, and with the help of the fellow zombies, he successfully enters the stadium, a shelter for the uninfected. From then on begins an unprecedented love between a zombie and a human, so does a miracle.

Implications of New Zombies
One of the most interesting features of Warm Bodies is that the zombies are not depicted as mere humans’ cruel enemies. They, of course, must eat human flesh, and in that sense, they are not different from the old zombies. The zombies in Warm Bodies, however, do not appear as absolutely monstrous beings. The story told by R reveals that a zombie, in its own way, questions the meaning of life, falls in love, and feels guilty about killing humans, while leading a life full of fierce competitions and heavy obligations. The new zombies, therefore, seem to be another us in a way, us city dwellers of the 21st century. Generally speaking, zombies are interpreted as a metaphor for the marginalized in that being largely excluded, they are forced to live on the margins of society but cannot say anything about themselves. It is, however, not easy to consider them the weak, and empathize with them, when we read zombie narratives, especially those of the early 21st-century featuring the maximized cruelty of zombies, written from human points of view.
Deviating from the recent patterns of a majority of zombie narratives, Marion gives a voice to a zombie, R, who is, despite being a zombie, not much different from us, which helps us see the world from a different angle, breaking with conventional dichotomies, and recognizing in us some aspects of the marginalized. Marginalization is not limited to social or economic sense. It could be also closely related to alienation from ourselves as well as others. The new zombies in Warm Bodies manifest not only physical but also emotional marginalization taking place in modern society. In that sense, they reflect us who are, in spite of ourselves, marginalized in many ways.
As Warm Bodies suggests, we might already live in a post-apocalyptic world, where a boundary between human and zombie is no longer valid. This being the case, what can reanimate us, machine-like beings busy surviving, is perhaps love, just as R and Julie show. How about meeting these new zombies with heart for a change?

정나리  narie.jung@skku.edu

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