Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Recent Commissions

I recently completed a commissioned article for the February Fantasy themed edition of MediaMagazine: Reading the Apocalypse is an overview of British post-apocalyptic film and television, covering The War Game, Threads, and both versions of Survivors. In the original draft there was a section concerning 28 Days Later but this was, eventually, cut due to the required word count.

Never one to waste words, it is included here...

28 Days Later (Danny Boyle, 2002)

While a nuclear assault destroys the physical landscape, a viral pandemic only destroys the populace, leaving in its deadly wake a litter of corpses but buildings, shops, and homes all still standing and untouched. Such a quality allows filmmakers to create desolate images of familiar locations, poignantly creating the horror of the consequences of a viral outbreak. The potential for these images to be so dramatic is validated by 28 Days Later: having woken from a comma, young bicycle courier Jimmy (Cillian Murphy) finds the British population virtually eradicated by the accidental release of the Rage Virus: stumbling outside, he finds a very familiar London totally devoid of people. There no corpses, just the empty streets, an overturned bus, and bank notes blowing in the wind. As he wanders through he streets, Jimmy passes familiar landmarks – Tower Bridge, the London Eye and Cenotaph – that are all rendered as if grave markers to the deceased population.

As Jimmy’s story of survival unfolds, the theme of family very quickly comes to the fore: being chased by a group of the Infected, Jimmy is saved by Selena and Mark. Taking him to their underground hideout, Jimmy is informed of the current national (if not global) situation. The three seem to form a family unit, but it is one cut very short when Selena thinks Mark might be infected and quickly – and rather brutally – kills him. From this act it would seem that the notion of the family has been totally voided by the pandemic but as the narrative unfolds, it becomes clear that the film is not just about surviving in a post-apocalyptic world but starting a new and better family in this new world. As a consequence, Jim’s personal narrative trajectory becomes the search for a father figure, which leads him into encounters with two ‘families’ – the normal domestic of past offered by Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and his daughter Hannah (Megan Burns) and that of the future represented by a military outpost. Soon, Jim has to make his choice between the two and, in a violently cathartic conclusion, takes on the role of the Father himself to eradicate the threat presented to him and those he cares for. For a violent and pessimistic film, 28 Days Later ends on a perversely optimistic end: the three survivors – Jim, Selena and Hannah – are seemingly rescued as the Infected slowly die of starvation.

The film’s writer, novelist Alex Garland, has stated that the influences upon 28 Days Later ranged from the classic texts by Wells and Wyndham as well as more recent American cinema, particularly the zombie films of George A. Romero. Using the realist elements of these texts to guide him, Garland created the fictional Rage Virus – a seemingly genetically engineered disease - as a blood borne disease. With such a construct, the Rage Virus becomes an obvious metaphor for the nation’s fears of Ebola, SARS, Avian Flu as well as the sustained awareness of AIDS.

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