Wednesday, April 10, 2013

On Living Death

A bizarre post inspired by a bizarre dream.

The George Romero classic Night of the Living Dead (1968) spawned a whole genre of zombie apocalypse movies that have continued to grow in popularity to this day. Romero established, among other things, the movie precedent of killing zombies by destroying their brains. That zombie movie convention always puzzled me a bit. As a kid, I was accustomed to the Brahm Stoker version of living dead. Vampires could only be killed by mystical means: a rosewood stake through the heart, exposure to sunlight, or immersion in running water. This is because mystical forces had raised them from the dead. You couldn't kill a vampire by conventional means, by, say, shooting it through the brain or the heart with a gun.

Maybe that's because Brahm Stoker wrote his classic in that quaint period of history preceding our day, when most of his readers believed in God. Romero knew that if his living dead were empowered by mystical forces, no modern viewers would believe in them. So he relied on science to explain his living dead. Modern-day zombies are the result of genetically engineered super viruses, Haitian pharmacology, extraterrestrial mind control, or bizarre mutations. Since the modern, scientific human soul resides in the brain, that's how you kill zombies. By destroying their brains.

For what it's worth, modern-day movie vampires, despite the best efforts of Brahm Stoker and Montague Summers, have also been crammed into the modern scientific paradigm.  It used to be that good, old-fashioned vampires were literally immobilized by the rising of the sun, the celestial symbol of God's power.  A vampire during the day was dead, confined to his coffin, and could come back to life only with the waning of day and the return of night, symbol of the rising powers of darkness and evil.  Modern day vampires are not affected by the divine power of the sun, but rather, by U.V. radiation, an aspect of the sun's power that was revealed to us only by modern science. Give them a broad-brimmed hat and some SPF 30 suntan lotion, and they're good.  Modern day vampires like to hang out with their human friends during the day, and go shopping at the mall. They're sexy and chic and they live forever, and, hey! Who wouldn't want to be one? (We hates you forever, Stephenie Meyer. Forever.)

I generally prefer my horror movies to have a more supernatural or mystical twist to them. I'm not a big fan of the blood and gore that is stock fare for zombie apocalypse movies (and for most modern horror movies, for that matter), though I admit I have somewhat enjoyed the TV series Walking Dead, mostly for its human elements.  I love Hershel.

But there is a way of looking at the Romero-style zombie apocalypse genre in more mystical terms. I didn't discover it until I read Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Mysticism, written by an anonymous French Catholic mystic in the latter half of the 20th century. In his entries on "The Wheel" and "The Devil," he describes mortal existence as a serpentine coil, sort of like human intestines, or like the human brain. In his reading of tarot symbolism, he sees the brain as representing the summit of human achievement, both for good and for ill. This is where Romero and Christian mysticism meet: the brain is the summit of human achievement.  But for modern science, the brain is the highest summit we can hope for.  For Christians, the brain is the bottom-most rung in a ladder that ascends high into the Heavens, if we're willing to use it in God's service.  For Christians, there is life after the brain.


I had a zombie apocalypse dream last night.  Zombies were overrunning the world, dining on the flesh of the remaining living humans, who were badly outnumbered, and not faring so well even backed up by modern tanks, artillery, and special security forces.  The zombies were eating everybody: man, woman and child, soldier and civilian alike. Humans would soon lose the battle and then the zombies, presumably, would run out of food.

The zombies were eating everybody, that is, but me. Somehow they didn't seem to notice me. I glided past the battle front where people were being eaten, behind zombie lines.  For many long miles I sped along, until I reached the zombie apocalypse epicenter.  There the zombie forces were being commanded by a zombie general, who was 8 to 10 feet tall, and was dressed in full Nazi/SS regalia.  There were two living, uneaten humans there: a doctor in a white lab coat, and a woman who was being held prisoner by the doctor for some nefarious reason.  I then realized it was the doctor who had started all of this, and who was in control of the whole zombie military operation.  The giant Nazi Zombie General reported to him.

One thing I noticed about the zombies in my dream was that shooting them in the head or bashing their brains out would clearly have no impact, because their brains had already exploded, and were hanging out the sides of their skulls like pink, fleshy dreadlocks. Their guts were also exploded, their intestines draped out in front of them like aprons. These zombies would not be killed by any mundane, conventional means. (Sorry for the graphic imagery. I don't like watching it in movies, but apparently I dream about it.)

In another part of this dream, there was a conduit to Heaven, like a great, serene pillar of light between Heaven and earth, to which I had access.  Perhaps that's why I wasn't scared of the zombies or the Undead Nazi General or the doctor.  Though I knew it would be important to rescue the captive living woman.

I know.  Weird.  But I woke up strangely hopeful.

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