Summary: R is not your average zombie. He has coherent thoughts, can speak (sort of), is an avid collector of human memorabilia, and most importantly, has the ability to fall in love. Everything in R’s life is altered one day when he rashly decides to bring a human girl back to live in his 747. Her name is Julie, and she and R have the power to change the post-apocalyptic world forever. The weapon they have is [zombie] love.
Warm Bodies is the modern Romeo and Juliet. And I don’t say that because they have a modern romantic love story, or that as a zombie and a human they are star-crossed, I say that because the novel Warm Bodies is literally inspired by Romeo and Juliet. Main character R is obviously Romeo and love interest Julie is his Juliet. R’s hilarious best friend M stands in for Mercutio and Juliet’s friend Nora (with her aspirations to be a nurse) represents Juliet’s nurse, merely called the Nurse. See? I wasn’t just pumping up the love story aspect.
The novel and the film, while telling the same story, are two completely different beasts. The book is barely a young adult novel, despite the filming marketing the story to the Twilight fandom (shakes fist in anger) and is instead a much more in-depth look at a crumbling post-apocalyptic world and how we as a society while alive are still more dead inside than the zombie scourge. This is all viewed through the lens of R and Julie’s love story. The movie explores how technology makes society into zombies in a much more light-hearted way, but still through the romance of R and Julie. To sum it up, the novel is more zom-rom (zombie romance) with touches of humor and the film is more zom-rom-com (zombie romantic comedy) plus Rob Corddry.
Both mediums work well in their own way. Warm Bodies is great because it can rely on cute music, sight gags, the intonations of the actors and montages to tell the story. For example, the film can have an adorable zombie makeover scene set to “Pretty Woman”. The book can only have the now meta commentary from R, “I would like my life to be a movie so I could cut to a montage. A quick sequence of shots set to some trite pops song…” Add this to my list of even more reasons to love Jonathan Levine’s script.
Since Warm Bodies can’t be visually appealing, its strengths lie in developing a richer back story into how the apocalypse came about. This is explored even further in the eBook novella/prequel from Isaac Marion called The New Hunger, available exclusively through Zola books. Basically, the world was a messed up place full of wars, sickness and economic downfall long before the zombies showed up. Insert some zombie Republican yelling, “Thanks a lot zombie Obama!” here.
The main villains (besides Julie’s father, the dead inside General Grigio/John Malkovich and other close-minded, damaged humans) are the Boneys. In the film, they’re what zombies become when they give up. They’re voracious killers who are determined to stop the evolution of the zombie species when they begin to cure themselves. In the novel, they are revered as the elders of the zombie community. They hold church, pair off zombies in marriage ceremonies, and assign them children (young zombies) to care for. Yup, even in death you’re responsible for the lives of others.
As R thinks of them, “Quod tu es, ego fui, quod ego sum, tu eris… As you are now, we once were, as we are now, you shall become.” The Latin phrase is typically used as a reminder that all humans will one day die, but here, Isaac Marion has re-purposed it as a reminder to the zombies that they will one day become Boneys. Oh metaphors for death, you’re so funny. Thanks for not making me think about my own mortality.
Nicholas Hoult (or as I like to call him, the best part of “Skins” series one) did an amazing job in his evolution as the zombified R learning how to be human again. He and Teresa Palmer have great chemistry, and even had me awwwing when they did their adorable thing.
Another standout actor was the former “Daily Show” correspondent/best Hot Tub Time Machine character and singer of Mötley Lüe, Rob Corddry, who brought the character M to life. Pun not originally intended, but let’s go with it. In the novel, M is another advanced zombie much like R who has the ability of speech and reason. He also still watches porn and is one of the only zombies with a sense of humor. Which is great, because it meant Corddry got to ad lib a bunch of his lines and added a lot of much needed humor to the film. If you have never seen a zombie moan out, “Bitches, man,” then your life is incomplete.
Not much media has sympathetic zombie figures, much less a story from the POV of one, so Warm Bodies is a great new take on the genre. For other similar looks at zombies you want to hug, check out S.G. Browne’s Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament and the now ended comic book series iZombie from Chris Roberson. I recommend iZombie alone for its talking chimpanzee.
So if you want to see a completely new view of zombies, aside from ones that are mindless eating machines that attractive people must escape from, check out, Warm Bodies. Then read the book. Just don’t expect the same exact light-hearted tone. Isaac Marion’s original creation is a much darker story that explores the parallels between the living dead. Specifically, the zombie R and the true living dead, like Julie’s boyfriend, Perry and her father. People who are literally alive, but are so dead inside that they’re no more than the walking dead. When the zombies have more heart than you, you know something’s wrong.
Warm Bodies: Movie Trailer
If that trailer doesn’t make you want to see this movie, then I don’t know what will. It had me at, “Oh right, it’s cause I’m dead.” Who am I kidding, it had me at penned by 50/50 screenwriter Jonathan Levine, featuring “Davie” Franco and starring zombie Nicholas Hoult.