I saw Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later in the theatre, and I still remember the sense of terror I had when the characters were changing the flat tire in the tunnel. It was the first time that the concept of a fast zombie had entered into the broader consciousness, and the quality made it revolutionary. For once, we got to see something that wasn’t mindlessly trying to destroy life: we saw zombies that were properly pissed off, remnants of people that had been normal human beings that were now reduced to creatures that had to claw their way through someone in their fury. So much anger, that it begs you to question what could make people that upset. This is where 28 Days Later flies: it has a sense not only of the discontent of social life that leads to zombism, but of the interpersonal connnections necessary to survive the outbreak.
|You only have to start out alone, Jim.
The introduction of the film gives us everything that is socially wrong with the world, and how our current world is enough to drive someone to the edge of acceptable anger. In the first minute, we see video images of riots, fires, shootings and brutality. These are being shown to a chimp that has been infected with a virus that is known as “rage,” which scientists are attempting to study. The rationale: “In order to cure, you must first understand.” Science has identified the feeling of intense anger as a disease, and rightfully so: anger kills people every day, and more and more people are getting angry about the world around them, from larger social issues like sexual assault to taxes to a lopsided political arena – if it’s spreading like a disease, why not find a cure? The problem with this lies within the ethical quandry of attempting to study and aid, which leads to even more anger at a harsh truth: medicine needs testing, and the grim reality is that this can’t be tested on people, so the next best bet is a chimp. The animal rights activists (and let me tell you, I was most certainly muttering, “Fucking hippies,” to myself during the tunnel scene) do have good intentions: they want to stop the animals from being tortured, which is understandable and noble. Nothing on this earth should be held captive and tormented. However, it’s their anger at this system that causes a type of hysterical blindness to an explicit warning from a stranger that’s designed to keep them safe: even then they’re told of the danger contained within the saliva and blood of the chimps, they still set the infected chimp free. It’s anger at the system that effectively causes the identified disease to spread to a much larger populace, effectively damning the world to their own hatred of an unfair process.
|Dammit, why wouldn’t they listen?!
This leaves the strongest individuals standing, who then band together in hopes of survival; however, mere survival is not enough if it lacks human connection. When we first meet Selena (Naomie Harris), she’s survived, but she is a hardened individual: she states that she would kill an infected companion in “a heartbeat,” and lets Jim (Cillian Murphy, whom I adore in every way) know in no uncertain terms that she would leave him behind if he hindered her ability to get away from the infected. Selena makes good on this will to survive, as evidenced when she kills Mark (Noah Huntley) without a second thought after he is infected; the arc of the character means that she needs to learn how to re-adapt to human connection, as emotional attachment is considered a hinderance to survival. This detachment isn’t present in just her: Major West (Christopher Eccleston) has it as well, which draws a disturbing parallel between the two characters. West tells Jim, “I promised [my soldiers] women” because the men were losing hope. “Women mean a future,” he insists, revealing the intent to let a group of men rape a pair of women in order to keep them from wanting to kill themselves. Stop and think about that for a moment: in order to survive, this man is willing to let a pair of women – presumably, the mothers of a new generation – undergo physical and mental trauma in order to make sure that the group he led were able to carry on. Constant rape in exchange for life is not a life; that’s a living hell.
What truly allows the survivors of this epidemic to really get out alive are the bonds they create between human beings, proving the necessity of human emotion in order to survive. Mark shares the pain of watching his family turn into zombies, bonding with the grieving Jim, who has found his parents dead of suicide; this is the first step toward becoming part of something larger, which ultimately saves him. Jim connects with Selena through walks and talks, to the point that there is a romantic attachment on both ends. We have it pointed out to us that Hannah and Frank have each other to lean on, and they readily accept Jim and Selena into their family. And when the prospect of rape is close to being realized for Hannah (Megan Burns) and Selena, the elder woman feeds the terrified young girl pills, telling her, “I’m making you not care.” These actions render the group able to survive because they have something for which to fight. Rage is all around us; without something to hold onto, basic survival is the only thing to do. However, if the connections exist, rage can be channeled to fight for that which you love and are connected. This is evident when Jim kills the soldiers: he isn’t defending “his” women. Jim is making sure that the people he cares about are safe.
|Slight hestitation: check.
When Jim first wakes up in the hospital at the beginning of the film, he’s completely naked, fully exposed in full-frontal nudity in a hospital bed. He’s completely alone, with dead parents and no friends. Jim has nothing to keep him going, not even a shred of clothes. We get a similar shot at the tail end of the film, but this time, Jim is covered up. He’s not as exposed, and he’s not hooked up to machines. This isn’t accidental. By virute of the bonds he has created, Jim has ceased to merely survive. By bonding with those around him, Jim not only lives: he thrives during his recovery from a near-fatal injury. We could all stand to meditate on this idea for a few minutes.