Sunday, 7 July 2013

World War Z - how I liked the movie AND the book, and how it COULD happen


When World War Z was advertised, I had no idea what it was about.  It didn't even occur to me that Z stood for Zombie until somebody told me.  It's not even that obvious from the trailers.  I do like seeing the major cities though in the posters that were out.  Of course, I like the Sydney one best.

Sydney, Australia
Berlin, Germany
Rome, Italy
Barcelona, Spain
Paris, France
Mexico City, Mexico
New York, USA
London, UK
Rio, Brazil
Moscow, Soviet Union
In the movie, the human race is infected by a saliva/blood borne virus that kills the host and animates it into a zombie. United Nations representative, Gerry Lane, has been asked by the government to try to track down the origin of the infection, and thus help find a vaccine to save the remaining population, and the rest of it plays out like Dawn of the Dead or Resident Evil or any of those other zombie movies with your fill of zombie action and scary moments.  Ultimately the solution lies in the zombies only attacking healthy people, so Gerry innoculates himself with a deadly virus and finds that the zombies largely ignore him.  There are some aspects from the book in it, but really, it's quite dissimilar.

There are some moments in the movie which I thought were great insights into human nature.  Jerusalem, Israel, was free from infection and when Gerry goes to investigate, they had early warning and their walls which were already high, were built even higher.  The whole city was built to repel attacks and so it survived quite well.  They also let in all refugees and Gerry found this a surprise, but they said "For every person we save, it's one less zombie to fight."  A really great sentiment, in my opinion.  Very different from the other perspective of saving a few people and then shutting out the rest so that they don't possibly contaminate the healthy population.

It's not a wonderful movie, but it's not bad for a zombie movie.  Entertaining, eye candy (in the form of Brad Pitt) and a bit of token science thrown in for an attempt at reality.

The book on the other hand (by Max Brooks), is a collection of war stories, collected 10 years after the Zombie war.  The interviewer is a United Nations agent, and the book is a wonderful insight into humanity in different cultures, as well as the different political methods which are unique to each country.  Zombies in the book walk, and don't run, and are relentless in their assault (unlike the movie where they chase you down).  They are also mindless in that they can't open doors, undo seatbelts - they are just automatons without reasoning, logic or learning who just seek and bite.  Zombies freeze in the cold, so many people went to the snow, but they reanimate when the snows melt.   They also are found in the ocean, walking along the ocean floor and can pop up on beaches after walking for long distances.  It is the brain which has to be destroyed for the zombie to stop, for even dismemebered, they will still come at a victim.

One recount of an organ transplant causing a zombie to rise was interesting - no doubt because of the organ trafficking that comes from China.  Another account by the someone in Tibet smuggling people out of China and how families would take their infected out seeking a cure was also quite interesting - it showed how the infection broke out in other places.  Another account of the Americans using chemical warfare in attempt to kill the healthy AND the undead merely provided more hosts for zombies - disastrous!  The Jerusalem story was very similar to the movie (obviously in a culture that had been constantly attacked for genocide multiple times), and in India, a place where people would make a pilgrimage to die became a zombie hot zone because people kept going there to die and then becoming zombies.  Another interesting facet of human behaviour was seen in a Palestinian refugee who was heading to Jerusalem, being dragged their by his father, thought that the zombie infection was some kind of cover-up or ruse, and even when inside the safety of Jerusalem, when he saw Israeli's fighting other Israeli's, he thought that it was a civil war and actually rejoiced for a moment before he saw the zombies for himself.

I really enjoyed the book.  I never thought war recounts could be interesting, but in this war story it was fighting an enemy that was relentless and unstoppable, with no agenda except human decimation.  It also dealt with the aftermath and rebuilding of civilisation.  How useful professions such health, farming, construction, engineering became the cornerstones for rebuilding society - and other professions which we value so highly in the current era such as banking, finance, and information technology suddenly became redundant.  Even the psychological aspect was dealt with in a really interesting manner - people were dying from "giving up" or "lack of hope" and someone went out and made movies of stories of hope which reduced the number of those sorts of deaths.

But the scary thing is that this COULD become possible - if mother nature decided to make it that way.  There are a number of mind controlling mechanisms between other species in nature that sound quite terrifying if they occurred in vertebrates or humans (information taken from io9).

The wasp Hymenoepimecis argyraphaga preys on the spider Plesiometa argyra in an Alien-like manner.  The female wasp stings the spider to paralyse it then lays an egg in its abdomen.  When the larva hatches, it feeds upon its host and the spider continues to go about its business as if nothing is wrong.  After a few weeks, the larva releases a chemical to build a web totally different from its normal web - basically just threads bonded together and the spider sits there waiting to die.  When the larva emerges, it kills its host with poison and sucks it dry, and then makes a cocoon which hangs from the web and the wasp will eventually emerge.  That the parasite can emit chemicals that can control the host's mind... creepy!

The Cordyceps family of fungi are all endoparasitic on insects and spiders.  The Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus attacks ants of the Camponotus leonardi species.  Once infected, the ant is compelled to go away from the nest to an area with specific types of conditions for the fungus to grow - and then clamps down with its jaws to the leaf to die there.  The fungus consumes all the ants tissues (except the muscles for clamping down with its mandibles) fortifying it structurally and once the fungus is ready to reproduce, the fruiting bodies erupt from the ant's head.  These ants when infected are commonly known as "zombie ants".  You can see an example of Cordyceps attacking ants on BBC here.  The Last of Us, a FPS game about zombies, the zombie infection is based upon Cordyceps.

Destroying the reproductive capabilities of its host is another nasty way for parasites to work.  The female larvae of the barnacle Sacculina carcini seek out crabs as their host.  They attach to the underside of her shell, creating a bulge which eventually becomes a knot.  Tendrils are then spread inside the host to draw nutrients.  A male Sacculina comes along and implants inside the female barnacle, and they continually reproduce.  The crab is now infertile and its behaviour is also modified by them - it stops growing and moulting and even cares for the barnacles' eggs.  If the crab infected was a male, the barnacle sterilises it and then causes changes in the crab to make it more like a female crab's body by widening and flattening the abdomen.  It forces hormone changes in the crab so that it acts more like a female, and also takes care of the barnacle's eggs.

The article details a great number of other interesting parasitic mind controlling infections - if you're into that kind of thing, I recommend reading it.

So my mind has been turning over these things since I watched the movie and read the book.  What if this happened?  What if I was a survivor?  What are the REALLY important things in life?  How can I be make my life a more productive and useful one?  I wonder if everyone who read the book ended up thinking these things - maybe not - but it is a really good example of how decadent and self indulgent our society has become, and maybe a good war would bring us back to the values which truly define the human spirit.


  1. The set-pieces are amazing and still scare me a bit right now, but was taken down by the lame script we have here. Good review Navimie.

    1. Thanks Dan the Man. A great honour that you visited :)