Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Yea, Verily, He is Risen (From the Dead)!

I'm truly bad at updating regularly. So, in an effort to revive my flatlined blog, let's talk about the resurrected dead. Nice segue, huh?

What do Jesus Christ, zombies, and Frankenstein's Monster all have in common? Well, apart from their devilish good looks, they're all undead. This brilliant, if blasphemous, diagram was sent to me by RL, an old family friend:
I could teach a semester at Geek U on this diagram, and I salute its author, whoever (s)he may be. The zombie-Christ joke is an old one, and, between Mary Shelley and James Whale, Frankenstein's Monster has been linked to Biblical lore since his inception, so this is nothing new, but it's still fun to talk about. I'll eschew the pitfalls of an outright affirmation of JC's followers being called "mindless," or the notion of JC himself being "feared." By a similar token, I'm not so sure we can call zombies "followers" (wouldn't that require will?). Nevertheless, the gist of this diagram is undeniably sound, and would make Mr. Venn proud.

The central premise of the image is perhaps the most interesting/controversial: it presupposes that Christ is a monster, or, at the very least, an entity which logically can be mentioned in the same breath as three commonly accepted monster tropes (walking dead, reanimated cadaver, vampire). The devout Christian will, no doubt, initially reject such a notion. But let's not be so hasty. What, after all, is a monster? Dictionaries offer pretty concrete, if a bit pedestrian, definitions, the mean average of which seems to be something like Random House's no. 2:

any creature so ugly or monstrous as to frighten people.

Basic, sure. But does this include a sexy, genteel vampire? How about an invisible man? What about a pod person from
Body Snatchers? And is "creature" only animal? Isn't the Terminator or a golem a monster? How about a triffid? We could debate all of these, but isn't "an ugly living thing" a bit narrow? Broadening the definition has its problems too. Film theorist Noël Carroll wrote a whole book, The Philosophy of Horror, in an attempt to tackle the question, and calls a "monster":

a being in violation of the natural order, where the perimeter of the natural order is determined by contemporary science.

I like this, but it means that Superman is a monster, and a great white shark isn't. So we have problems again, at least as concerns horror fiction. I'll side-track here, and mention that Yours Truly's father, a frequent commentator on NPR, just discussed movie monsters on-air, and spent much of his time wrestling with definitions. It's worth a listen:

Guess who his personal researcher was. Anyway, let's, for the sake of argument, take the Carrollian view and just agree that a Monster (with a capital M), is just
the other. It could be animal, vegetable, or mineral, and it may even look human, but it is somehow not human. By that notion, The Christ surely is a Monster, even if he is a good one (Monsters, Inc, anyone? Don't forget Superman). Endowed with supernatural powers by an omnipotent force, he is humanoid (if not actually part human), but unnatural. A zombie, once human, has been transmuted by infection into something no longer human (at least, as long as zombism remains a fictional medical condition). Dracula, once human, has been transmuted by supernatural forces into something no longer human. Frank (as I'll call him, after his father), once human (or parts from various humans), has been transmuted by science fiction into something no longer human. So yes, to all you who've got religion: JC is a Monster, logically consistent with zombies, vampires, and science fair projects gone wrong.

Now, I'll ask all you vampire fiends to forgive me, because I'm most interested in the blue circle. Sorry, but "resurrected from the dead" is just the most fun unifying trait on the diagram. So I'm sorry, Count Dracula, if I don't discuss you much. The undead is just more fun for me to talk about, and Frank has been grossly ignored by today's Vampire and zombie-crazed media. Indeed, Victor Frankenstein's creation is more social castaway than are zombies (who have no will to integrate into society... only the will to eat it) or Dracula (who ostracizes himself from society, and is generally agoraphobic). Frank longs for humanity's company. He loves man. Shelley's original Monster has an aesthete's soul, an articulate tongue, and a deep sense of morality (though his rage may get the better of him). Rage aside, does that sound like anyone you know?
An outcast and scapegoat during his own time, JC turned his cheek to his adversaries, tormentors, and those who just didn't like him. Frank, on the other hand, was more prone to opening his can of whoop-ass (as Berni Wrightson so beautifully illustrates):Apart from Frank's violent tendencies, he has a poignancy and a loveability that is somehow Christ-like. Created by a force greater and wiser than himself, he is set forth into a world that does not fully understand him, by which he will be shunned. James Whale took the Christ metaphor to very obvious extremes, especially in Bride of Frankenstein (see first picture, above). Whale's Monster is even less prone to violence than is Shelley's, and only causes people harm by accident or in self-defense. Shelley likens the Monster to Adam rather than JC, but either way, Frank does seem to have a lot in common with the Judeo-Christian notion of one of God's special projects. As Colin Clive's scenery-chewing Dr. Frankenstein cries, "In the name of God, now I know what it feels like to be God!"

And what does JC have in common with the flesh-chewing living dead? Come on... he's just
asking to be bitten by the masses: "Eat of this, for it is my body." We could take that further, if you like. We could consider infected zombie flesh the Eucharist. "Eat of this, and through it find redemption." In this state of [mindless] redemption, you feel no more pain, no want, no worldly woes, and you are compelled to spread your newfound freedom to as many as possible (there's your pink circle on the chart). I have no idea who generated the image below, but it seems relevant here:
How good is that? Of course, eating-JC-to-become-a-zombie isn't the main association made by the diagram. The more basic premise is that JC, like a zombie, rises from the dead. If that's all a zombie is (which, granted, is a contemporary, Romero-inspired definition), then JC certainly counts. And if that's the case, then 2004 was a great year for zombie films, between Shaun of the Dead, Snyder's Dawn of the Dead, and The Passion of the Christ. The last shot of Gibson's Passion sees the dead Christ stand up in his tomb and walk out of frame. Whether by undead infection or divine intervention, the dead comes back to life. I buy it.

So what's my point? Hasn't all this been rehashed on the web for years? Sure. I guess I just needed something to blog about. I wish I could spin some deeper connection between Frankenstein's Monster and zombies. But, apart from the general "resurrected from the dead" label, I don't really see it. If nothing else, JC and Frank are sentient beings. Zombies, on the other hand, despite Maestro Romero's recent forays into "self-aware" zombie territory in his last few Dead films, are most frightening and effective when the attack is a wave of mindless, hungry walking dead. JC, too, comes with his apostles, and seeks to create a movement. But Frank, poor Frank, is definitely a loner. He can't convert the masses as can a zombie, and no one loves him as they love JC. No respect... he's the Rodney Dangerfield of the resurrected dead.