A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Thursday, March 16, 2017

28 Days Later (Danny Boyle, 2002)

Cillian Murphy in 28 Days Later
Jim: Cillian Murphy
Selena: Naomie Harris
Frank: Brendan Gleeson
Major Henry West: Christopher Eccleston
Hannah: Megan Burns
Mark: Noah Huntley
Sgt. Farrell: Stuart McQuarrie
Corporal Mitchell: Ricci Harnett

Director: Danny Boyle
Screenplay: Alex Garland
Cinematography: Anthony Dod Mantle
Production design: Mark Tildesley

Danny Boyle's science fiction/horror film 28 Days Later was a critical and commercial success, which owes much, I suspect, to its post-apocalyptic theme, capturing a mood prevalent after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Many viewers noted the similarity of the kiosk in the film, covered with notices posted by people searching for lost friends and relatives, to the real ones posted in New York City after the fall of the World Trade Center towers -- a prescient touch on the part of the filmmakers, since the scene was shot before the terrorist attack and its aftermath. It has also been an influential film, helping spark an interest in "zombie"* movies and TV shows. After a prologue that shows how animal-rights activists attacked a research laboratory and unwittingly released a virus that causes uncontrollable rage in its victims and is spread by contact with blood and saliva, the film's protagonist, Jim, wakes up from a coma in a London hospital to discover that he has been abandoned there and that the streets outside are empty. (The premise of someone waking up from a coma to discover a world depopulated by an incurable virus was repeated by the creators of The Walking Dead, first for the graphic novel published in 2003 and later for the TV series that began in 2010.) Jim soon discovers that he is not entirely alone: He is attacked by people infected with the virus and rescued by two who weren't: Selena and Mark. Unfortunately, Mark gets bitten by one of the infected and has to be killed, allowing Selena to explain that the disease takes hold swiftly and is incurable. Selena and Jim then discover two more survivors, Frank and his daughter, Hannah, who have a crank-operated radio that has picked up a signal from survivors north of Manchester calling for others to join them. Frank is infected and killed during their perilous drive northward, and Jim, Selena, and Hannah discover that the survivors are in a well-armed military outpost under the command of Maj. Henry West. It turns out that West has been sending out the signals especially to attract women to service his sex-starved troops, which means not only that Selena and Hannah are in danger of rape but also that Jim is expendable. Before he helps Selena and Hannah escape, Jim also hears the theory of a soldier opposed to West that the virus has not in fact spread worldwide: that it has been contained in other countries and that the island of Britain is quarantined -- a theory that Jim confirms for himself when he sees the contrails of a jet plane flying high overhead. The released film ends happily -- or at least hopefully -- when Jim, Selena, and Hannah, having escaped, construct a giant "HELLO" sign that is spotted by a plane flying reconnaissance over the cottage where they live. It's not the preferred ending of director Boyle and screenwriter Alex Garland, who proposed a bleaker resolution of the story that failed with test audiences. Well-directed and -acted, 28 Days Later does what it's designed to do: build suspense and provide interesting characters. It also resonates nicely with our paranoia about pandemic infections in the age of HIV, Ebola, and the annual influenza scare. But it doesn't hold up well under the old test of Questions You're Not Supposed to Ask: like, why has Jim been abandoned, stark naked and comatose, in a hospital? If the hospital was attacked by the infected, why wasn't he attacked? If it was evacuated -- we see a newspaper headline, EVACUATION, at one point -- why was he left behind? How did he survive unattended for 28 days with only an IV drip that would have run out in a few hours? If the rest of the world is safe and only Britain is quarantined, why doesn't Frank's radio pick up international broadcasts? Where are the humanitarian operations like the World Health Organization and Doctors Without Borders? And so on....

*The infected in 28 Days Later aren't technically zombies. i.e. animated dead people. They're still alive, and they can be killed by ordinary means like shooting or stabbing them.

No comments: