What is about zombies that continues to fascinate us? They don’t have a motivation like a vampire, and even if they’re driven by impulse they’re not agile like a Werewolf. They’re not articulate enemies, so they can’t really monologue before you kill them. They don’t have motivation. They just… are. One isn’t even particularly scary. Even on the Walking Dead we’ve gotten to the point where one or two is a nuisance.
But they persist. We see them on TV in at least three TV shows, one where a zombie is working as a medical examiner and has the superpower to solve crimes by eating their brains. There’s the zany antics of Z-Nation which most recently killed a bunch of zombies with a block of cheese. And there’s the aforementioned The Walking Dead where the main theme seems to be bad decisions, sweat, not saying the word “zombie”, and trying to make parts of George look like the area around Washington, D.C. (Pro tip, there would be a lot more cars. Like… a lot.) We’ve seen them reinvented, Twilighted (Thanks, Warm Bodies for our requisite Romantic Zombie), hunted by Abraham Lincoln, parodies, and they’ll continue to remake Dawn of the Dead until sometime after the actual zombie apocalypse, in which case it will be a documentary.
Of course, all of this leads up to the most recent zombie film (Which I hope I can say since it came out on Friday, and there very well could have been seven more released between now and then) Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
That’s right. We don’t just have zombies. We have literary zombies!
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is pretty much all in the title. It’s Jane Austen’s classic tale, but with more zombies added in for good measure.
Ok, it’s more complicated than that.
It’s the tale of Lizzy Bennet and her sisters, all of whom her mother wishes to have married off at some point because back in that day apparently women were only good for marriage. Oh, and in this case, zombie slaying, because the movie is set in a world where zombie hoards are constantly attacking various places in England, and much of the culture has been changed to reflect that. For instance, Mr. Darcy, the eventual love of Lizzy (spoilers… I guess….) is now Col. Darcy, one of the generals in the war against zombies. He is called “Mr. Darcy” by Lizzy’s constant refusal to acknowledge him in his military rank. The girls are trained in the art of killing zombies, with some interesting moments I’ll mention when I get to the analysis. But the story is the same: Lizzy and her sisters lives are shaken up by the arrival of Col… um, Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley. Jane falls for Bingley, they leave, Pastor Collins shows up, tries to marry one of his cousins, Darcy sends his letter. There’s the evil Wickham who is made less of a jerk and more of mustache twirling villain in this particular version. All of this in the backdrop that an minute a hoard of zombies will burst through the gates, destroying them all.
And that’s what works about the movie. The movie itself is essentially “Pride and Prejudice”. There’s no post apocalyptic vibe to the movie. Lizzy and her family still lives on a lavish estate, and the zombies are more of a nuisance rather than a major threat for most of the movie. The love story: Lizzy, believing she doesn’t need love vs. Darcy, who is too shy to admit he is in love, plays out as usual, with the occasional break in the action for… well, zombie action.
What works about this movie is the world they created, one that honors the original book’s satirical look at aristocracy but adds in this additional threat level. I’d argue that the movie actually takes it to a different level. Early on, it’s mentioned that these aristocrats actually train and are expected to be able to fight off zombies on their own - no damseling for these ladies who, in the original book and this, are essentially hunting for husbands as well as zombie flesh. (They should have let me write the tagline.) But the movie goes a step further, the really rich are trained in special schools in Japan, while rich but not as rich as the others train in China. Lizzy and her family trains in China, and this becomes an actual plot point later, as Lizzy is mocked for her “poor” training, despite the fact that she and her sisters are seen mowing down a hoard of zombies early on.
Another note before I get back to the analysis, this is another part of the idea of zombies that fascinates me: the idea that one isn’t scary (as mentioned before) but a hoard of them is terrifying. But rather than having our methods of taking care of them: The most recent Walking Dead features a gentleman picking up a rocket launcher that better come into play pretty soon, here we have zombies attacking when weapons involved 20 minutes of reloading. That adds another level of terror, quite frankly, as they can’t just jump in their cars and run away. Being thrown off a horse spooked by a zombie is a major point for Jane. (Who does manage to kill the zombie.)
There’s even this level of aristocracy among the zombies as (spoiler again) there is introduced a level of aristocratic zombie, that being those bitten but those who haven’t consumed their first set of brains, so they decay, but they retain some humanity. So, essentially what is crafted is a movie that adds zombies to a classic, but retains much of what Jane Austen set to do in her satiric take on aristocracy and love: make fun of the hell out of it. What’s lost is that this is a largely satiric book to begin with, with most of the characters being parodies of what Jane Austen was observing at the time. This movie heightens that.
The most pivotal scene to me, is the scene in the ball where Mrs. Bennet is discussing her joy at having Mr. Bingley show interest in Jane. This is the scene that ends up driving Mr. Darcy to tell Bingley to run away from this mess of a family. But during this scene Lizzy tries to stop her mother from talking in this way, and she playfully bites her. The filmmakers here are linking the two satires: in the biting of her daughter she is showing her one track mind of getting them married off, while linking to the humor of having zombies, and their one track mind for consuming flesh, now involved in this revered book.
I will admit that it falls apart a little bit in the final act as it becomes a standard “rescue” story. Wickham still steals Lydia (essentially) and Darcy makes some questionable decisions under a forced timeline (Will Lizzy and Darcy make it to the bridge before it’s destroyed? Yes. Yes tehy will.) and it’s a little bit of a shame that it loses the brilliance introduced in the first two acts of the film to be a standard zombie film with the faceless hoards now descending upon our heroes. But its a small price to pay to see Matt Smith as Pastor Collins, marrying off the woman for whom he’d been pining for a large portion of the film.
I do recommend this movie, yes, even for Austen Purists. It’s a fascinating look at Austen and the world she creates through the lens of the undead.