Update: Saw this moving again for the umpteenth time. It keeps getting better with each viewing.
George is a post-SHTF Ken Burns. He has thoroughly documented the course of events that led to the end of the old world and on into the establishment of a new one. While he has made many masterful movies, this one, by far, is the best. It documents the period when the public at large became aware of the problem through to the first inklings of what to do about it.
Romero's genius is such that I can easily overlook the liberties he has taken. For example, the use of tools by zombies to get at the living, their fear of fire and the eating of flesh other than human. While there is still debate on these topics in the academic study of the undead, they play just a minor role in the movie. The true worth of this piece lies in the characters, for they run the gamut of the typical personalities prevalent during the catastrophe.
They're coming to get you, Barbara!
Barbara is a woman who's mental map is completely out of sync with the real world. She will die unless she either snaps out of it or has someone to take care of her.
Therein lies the moral conundrum: Taking care of her will surely reduce your chances of survival. Not doing so makes you a passive accomplice to her death.
Don't you know what's goin' on out there? This is no Sunday School picnic!
Unlike Barbara, Ben quickly came to terms with what is happening and is willing to do what it takes, rationally, to survive. He's the kind of guy you want to team up with in a crisis. Alas, he clearly demonstrates that no matter how well you have your shit together, survival is never 100% certain. One little slip or piece of bad luck is enough to kill you.
The Ass Hole
We'll see, when they come begging me to let them in down here.
I understand that his motivation is to save his family, but he is too narrowly focused on the immediate issue and is unwilling to consider options offered by others. Sometimes long term survival requires you to take the riskier option now. Likewise, you have to constantly re-evaluate your options and adjust your plans as new information comes to light.
I feel for Harry Cooper. I certainly would have behaved differently if I had been with my family during the crisis. I dare say that I may not have survived for some of the same reasons that doomed him.
We may not enjoy living together, but dying together isn't going to solve anything.
My sympathies lie with this character. She has her head in the right place, is willing to help and soothes those – like Barbara – who are having problems coming to terms with reality. I want her on my team. The very thing, probably, that gives her this strength, though, is what leads to her downfall: her child. You cannot ask her to take the rational action. That would be too much.
Well... the television said that's the right thing to do.
Tom wants to do the right thing, he just can't figure out what that is for himself. He NEEDS a leader. I wouldn't want to team up with him if it was just the two of us because I cannot afford the time and effort it would take to tell him everything. However, in a large enough group, he would be quite useful. He's a hard worker with a strong back, he just ain't that smart.
You gonna let them get her too, huh?
This character comes in many variants, but Judy is the benign type. In general, she isn't a negative presence on the team. She assists where she can and it helps that she already has a mate. I've seen teams ripped apart by the competition to bed an available woman.
Like Helen Cooper, Judy suffers a brutal death because she let her emotions cloud her judgement. Unlike Helen, however, it truly was an irrational act. She was too young to know better.
This is a true nightmare: An infected child. You know what needs to be done, but who is cold enough to shoot a kid in the head? You certainly cannot ask the parents, though I have witnessed cases where one has done so and then turned the gun on themselves. I have euthanized kids in this condition and it haunts me still. Even today, I avoid babies and little children.
The berieved will have to forego the dubious comforts a funeral service will give. They're just dead flesh and dangerous.
It is possible to survive on your own for short periods of time. However, you will eventually need a team, if only to allow you to get some real rest. Assembling a team, though, is not like picking sides in kickball. They coalesce somewhat randomly and it's not always possible, or ethical, to pick and choose who to include or not. Romero cleverly demonstrates this in a small, Pennsylvanian farm house.
Last year, I wrote about the timeline and life cycle of a TEotWaWKI event. I'd like to provide a more depth to this.
The first ingredient to any end of the world scenario is the affected population. This could range from a single individual all the way up to the human race. Whose world is ending? In this approach, nearly every story has a TEotWaWKI element to it. Not only that, but every individual proceeds through the course of events at their own pace.
The other main ingredient is an event that changes the rules by which the affected population lives. It could be the diagnosis of cancer in a spouse or the start of a nuclear war. The key is that the phenomenon is one that requires those impacted to rediscover how to survive in this world. As an added complication, multiple events may be in play at once either through the first event triggering others or just plain bad luck.
So, to assess the state of the TEotWaWKI, you must ask the following questions on a continual basis:
Is there an event?
The event could cease to be an issue for no apparent reason whatsoever. However, that may just uncover a new event that's about to wreak havoc.
Is the affected population aware of the event?
While, effectively, for the world at large, this is no different than no event at all, it makes for a great story and after-the-fact second guessing. "If only..."
Do those impacted know what the problem is?
The level of fear is several orders of magnitude greater if you have no idea what you're facing or how to deal with it.
Do they know how to solve it?
Just because you know what to do doesn't mean you know how to d o it or that you even have the capacity to act.
Do they succeed?
When you have multiple such events, the one in the most critical state is what monopolizes people's attention. This is indicated by the state with the highest number.
For example, human society understands the problem of the dead rising to eat the living and are working toward a resolution. However, all of those responsible for maintaining the world's nuclear power plants have been zombified, so the world is annihilated when those plants melt down.
While the specifics vary greatly within the context of the event in question, in general, the transition events fall into these categories:
The event is born.
The event has busted loose.
The problem is understood and possible solutions may be implemented.
The world returns to normality.
The world ends in a big bang.
The world ends in a whimper.
Wheels within Wheels
This can get quite complex if you think of every single person cycling through this state machine. Individual's awareness of the problem and how to solve it varies. Indeed, the problems themselves vary for each person. The deft story-teller will weave multiple threads form an astounding, yet believable tale.
I was at a birthday feast for that old geezer Javi. I kid! He's 5 years younger than me, but I'm far better looking. We go way back, having served together in the final clearing operations on the east coast.
Anyways, we were all digging into some excellent Rognons de Veau like it was our last meal. — That's veal kidneys for you philistines out there. — I noted that, in the old days, this probably wouldn't have been on the menu since most people turned their noses up at offal. In fact, I commented, there does not seem to be any picky eaters or even vegetarians these days. Well, what a conversation that sparked! Several interesting tidbits came out of this.
First, about half the people present claimed to be former picky eaters, one was even a vegan, but they changed their habits out of necessity. If survival means having to eat that piece of cow liver, you will hold your nose and do it. For many, their dietary restrictions were a result of not wanting to try new stuff. They discovered that most formerly avoided foods were actually quite good.
Second, and most surprising, several at the table new of people who died as an indirect result of their pickiness. It was never a direct choice of death over okra. Rather, having passed up nutritious oddities, they either didn't have the strength when it was needed or took ill. Their inability to master the gag reflex cost them their lives.
Finally, the conversation ended when I asked if anyone partook of human flesh. All quickly said no, but there were a few downcast eyes and talk changed to the upcoming home stand of the Rappahannock Raiders.
For the record, I never ate people. However, I was never in a position where my life depended on that choice. I don't think I'd have a problem doing it. I will eat anything. And I am a leg man. I'd get hung up, though, on how to ethically harvest that food.