Shaun of the Dead and Modern Life
The key to understanding Shaun of the Dead lies in its title. The name of this film is an homage to the 1978 George A. Romero film Dawn of the Dead, in which Romero, ever the subversive auteur, uses a zombie attack in a shopping mall as a commentary on the state of American consumerism. The writers of Shaun of the Dead seek to make a similar critique of modern life, which is exacerbated (to borrow a recurring phrase from the movie) by the pervasive influence of business and industry.
We can see from the introductory first half of the film that modern lifestyle and the need to work constantly leads to a zombification of the population of London, even before most of its inhabitants have been bitten and infected. Shaun inadvertently walks like a zombie when going about his daily routine, suggesting an alienation and a grinding monotony due to his humdrum job that is necessary for some financial stability. The workers and commuters of London go through their day with dead expressions on their faces. Shaun, as with the rest of the London workforce, have become subhuman as a result of his all-consuming job. It is no coincidence that Shaun spends the entire zombie survival portion of the film wearing his uniform from his job at the electronics store. Our jobs, the filmmakers are saying, unfortunately, give the impression of being the sole defining factor of our lives.
The ending of Shaun of the Dead shows British television channels displaying the integration of zombies into the workplace and on reality television. Now that the zombie attack is in the past, the presence of zombies has become mundane, and the population is now back to the mind-numbing routine of modern life. We might be tempted to ask, “How did the presence of zombies in England become normalized?” The consumerist, industry-led lifestyle lulls its public into complacency and, in the modern world, is so all-consuming that even actual zombies become further zombified and placed into specialized jobs. The assumption on the owners of main British industries is likely that zombies will make good employees since they are not likely to revolt if intimidation and restraint is used effectively. The ending reveals, however, that the zombies are more human and emotionally complex than they appear, as Ed, now zombified, is shown playing video games with his best friend. Consumerism and industry, the film shows, drives the feelings of humanity and belonging out of people by placing them in menial jobs. Ed may have been spared the fate of being controlled and used by the business leaders of London, but what of the countless other zombies? Their true thoughts and feelings will never be understood because they have become cogs in a machine.
The whole point of this comparison between the bored, unfeeling workforce of London and the dangerous, seemingly unfeeling zombies is that human beings (much like the even-keeled zombie persona of Ed at the end of the movie) should not feel condemned to a meaningless existence. Their lifestyle does not define them or what they are capable of doing. After all, Shaun reinvents himself and helps to make a difference among the people in his life, in spite of a long period of meaninglessness. It is necessary, the film is saying, to attempt to overcome alienation and the monotonous routines to which people can fall victim in the modern world. If people continue to be alienated, the modern world’s zombification effects will only get worse.
Romero, George A. Dawn of the Dead. United Film Distribution, 1978. Film.
Wright, Edgar. Shaun of the Dead. Universal Pictures, 2004. Film.
(Image courtesy of: http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/)
(Special thanks to Ross Kerr.)