After hearing about its Iraq War subtext, I went to see the zombie flick 28 Weeks Later (IMDB), the follow-up to Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, last night. To be honest, I don’t remember the original film that well. I was surprised to see that I never wrote about it on my blog in any detail (I did mention it a few times in relationship with Dawn of the Dead), but I do remember Doyle’s disturbing depiction of the initial survivors of the “rage virus” and his ability to make the survivors seem as monstrous as the zombies themselves. In the sequel, director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo takes the “rage virus” concept and translates that into one of the more visceral, if incoherent, critiques of the Iraq War that I’ve seen in a mainstream Hollywood film in some time. While the film clearly wants to criticize the occupation of Iraq, it is also caught up in the logical and political limits of the zombie genre.
The film opens with a classic survivalist scene, several weeks after the original film ends, with Don (Robert Carlyle) and his wife Alice (Catherine McCormack) holed up in a house with several other survivors, sharing meager resources as they wait for the next attack (the shift in time also allows the film to justify the absence of the original cast). They briefly discuss their children who have been evacuated to safety, I believe somewhere in the U.S. When the attack comes, Don and Alice are separated, with Don running desperately to board a motorboat that takes him to safety and witnessing, he believes, his wife being bitten. Like the first film, many of the attack scenes are depicted using handheld cameras shaking jerkily to mimic the chaotic attacks. As Paul writes, these scenes are so shaky that it often becomes impossible to tell what is happening and who is being attacked. While Paul reads this as a flaw, I’m inclined to forgive it to some extent as it adds to the overall confusion felt by the survivors and eventually by the U.S. soldiers who come to occupy a chunk of Great Britain.
But the main plot of the film–and the allegory for the Iraq War–begins several weeks later when Don is reunited with his children, the teenage Tammy (Imogen Poots) and the slightly younger Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton). The family settles into housing in the “Green Zone,” the safe area that has been sealed off from the virus while the U.S.-led NATO force works to make the rest of London and, presumably, Great Britain inhabitable again. We are introduced to the Green Zone by a female soldier who eagerly tells the settlers about the amenities they will encounter–running water, electricity, even a pub–which recalls, of course, the lack of that infrastructure in large chunks of Iraq. And here’s where the Iraq War analogies get a little slippery. As Paul points out in his review, the military presence in London is somewhat muted here, and the film generally stops well short of criticizing the soldiers themselves. It’s worth keeping in mind here that the film was produced by Fox Atomic, which is part of the massive media conglomerate News Corps, so to look for an explicitly critical political “message” makes little sense.
Despite being warned against leaving the relative safety of the Green Zone, the children sneak across into London and eventually find their way back to their old house, an adventure that eventually reawakens the rage virus (through a series of actions, especially by Don, that are, in retrospect surprisingly stupid). But, once the rage virus is reawakened, the Iraq allegory returns with a vengeance. After seeing the zombies attack the surviving British citizens, the U.S. soldiers almost immediately move into Code Red, which gives them license to shoot first and ask questions later and placing the remaining survivors in between the gunfire (and eventually firebombing) of the soldiers and the unadulterated rage of the zombies. The film’s politics are perhaps most powerfully illustrated in a scene that evokes the Odessa Steps sequence in Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (also see Helen Grace’s essay), with the soldiers mowing down a group of civilians as they are fleeing a zombie attack.
Ultimately, the film focuses on the protection and rescue of the two children. Because their mother demonstrates a resistance to (though not immunity from) the rage virus, they represent a possible cure for the rage virus, and the medical doctor and another sympathetic soldier (named Doyle, presumably after the director of the first film) spend the last third of the film trying to protect the children from both the zombies and from their fellow soldiers, reprising the whole endangered children plot that always seems tedious to me, while also having it both ways by depicting most of the individualized soldiers we encounter (Doyle, the doctor) in positive ways. In this sense, ascribing any specific politics to the film becomes somewhat more difficult. There’s little doubt that the film is critical of the occupation of Iraq, but mapping the current conflict in Iraq onto the pure threat represented by the rage virus offers very little as an interpretation of the U.S. military presence over there.