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Pranks, Power and Pop Culture
This post contains “SPOILERS.”
I’ve just seen World War Z, and have some initial thoughts on the film’s politics. This is far from a comprehensive analysis, but I wanted to get these ideas down while the film is still fresh. It’s also submitted with the caveat that I have not read the novel on which it’s based.
The movie is about a sudden zombie pandemic. It follows Brad Pitt’s character Gerry, a weary UN investigator on a global hunt to discover the cause and find a cure.
Like all zombie movies, World War Z is an allegory. In this case, the zombies represent the threat of global terrorism. This is made explicit in two of the film’s set pieces, an early scene in Philadelphia that evokes the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center (as Spielberg’s War of the Worlds did before it) and a later scene on an airplane which references the doomed Flight 93. However, it is the film’s lengthy detour to Israel which is its most overtly allegorical and problematic sequence. In its analysis of the film, Mother Jones notes the Israel plotline but thoroughly misreads its politics.
Here’s my take on this section of the film.
First, Gerry learns that the Mossad had advance knowledge of the zombie threat and kept it a secret from the world. This seems to obliquely reference some of the more controversial 9/11 conspiracies about Israel’s supposed foreknowledge of the attacks.
Gerry flies to Jerusalem (identified in the film’s titles as “Jerusalem, Israel”) to meet a Mossad agent. The man initially mistrusts him, because Gerry as a UN investigator and good liberal, has written critical things about Israel in a book. The agent then gives a speech about the historical need for Jewish vigilance in the face of existential threats. He references the Holocaust, Munich and the 67 war, all of which are connected, in this fairly obvious dialogue, to the current zombie threat.
The agent then reveals that the walls around Israel (which in real life are apartheid walls), were actually designed to create a fortress to protect humanity from the coming zombie threat. Not just a fortress for Israelis, but for everyone. He shows Gerry the border where the benevolent Israelis are allowing Arabs to immigrate into Israel for safety. We see Arabs passing through an open border, warmly greeted in brotherhood by Israelis. Israeli flags and Palestinian flags fly in harmony. This is pure liberal fantasy– a point that Mother Jones acknowledges, without really unpacking. In this film, real-life walls of apartheid are shown to be not only necessary, but an act of tremendous benevolence, enabling racial harmony.
But the utopia is short-lived. This easing of borders becomes Jerusalem’s downfall. At the crossing, the noise of an Arab woman’s celebratory song attracts a zombie horde. The zombies form a pyramid to climb over the apartheid wall as the IDF tries to kill them. This is a very disturbing image. It is impossible not to see this scene as an apocalyptic evocation of Israeli fears of Arab invasion, whether through literal acts of violence or “demographic threat.” The city is finally overtaken by zombies. In compromising security for brotherhood, Israel’s worst fears are realized.
In the final escape from Jersualem, an IDF soldier sacrifices himself with a grenade to help Gerry get away (ironically, a suicide bombing). Gerry and a wounded female IDF soldier are the only survivors and become the film’s central heroes. The US and Israel (with a benevolent assist from the UN) working together to save civilization from a unknowable, unstoppable terror.