Jesse Benjamin suggests that World War Z is a propaganda piece for Zionism:
I went to the Drive-In in Atlanta Friday night, to celebrate a friend’s birthday, a beautiful night under an almost full moon. We watched This is The End and Fast and Furious 6, and two of us stayed for the 2:00 am screening of World War Z. I’m not a zombie fanatic, so other than watching the Walking Dead, I had few expectations beyond the trailers that have been on TV since the Super Bowl. So I was surprised, jarred out of the movie really, when right in the middle of the narrative, Brad Pitt’s character, Gerry Lane, travels to Israel and spends more than 10 minutes in a full-on pro-Israel propaganda piece that was as corny as it was crazy.
The Times of Israel may be only slightly exaggerating when it calls this “the greatest piece of cinematic propaganda for Israel since Otto Preminger’s “Exodus.” Not only is Israel’s fanatical Wall Building proven to be justified, against the hordes of undead invaders, and not only are Jewish victimizations paraded to justify the aggrandizement of Israeli military prowess, but it’s Israel’s supposed humanism, and multicultural inclusiveness, which in the end weakens the fragile post-apocalyptic state and allows the zombies to overrun everything. Its pretty heady stuff.
Spoiler Alert: In order to deconstruct this bizarre interlude into politics at the movies, I will need to reveal most of the plot points, so read on at your own risk. Apparently, WWZ is based on the book of the same name, by Max Brooks, Mel’s son. It took many years to produce, cost about 200 million to make, and has a respectable 67% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which ensures a wide audience and broad cultural impact for this summer blockbuster. The story centers on an unexplained global zombie pandemic that starts suddenly and engulfs the world rapidly with an onslaught of sprint-inclined zombies that rush toward their prey in huge mindless swarms. What people seem to like about the book is that it engages the global geo-politics of the zombie fall out, but it quickly reverts to neo-conservative assumptions that are played out with far less scope in the film. While the film sticks with the super fast zombies, and the compelling immersion narrative technique, its international scope is greatly curtailed, with Israel the only country besides the US that is featured in any substantive way, beyond very brief forays into Korea, Wales, and at the very end, Canada.
Pitt plays Gerry Lane, a semi-retired UN worker who reluctantly is drawn back into the field to save his family and all of humanity. His zombie-readiness credentials are listed by his agency head as field experience in the conflict zones of Kosovo, Chechnya, and especially Liberia; and with this, the racialized naturalizing of interpersonal human violence begins. After zombies suddenly swarm through New Jersey, Gerry gets his family to the safety of offshore naval vessels and then embarks on a search for patient zero, in hopes of finding a cure. In the book, this would be the outbreak of disease in China, but in the film this is South Korea, which we never really see, beyond a mostly white military unit on a US base besieged by walkers. Gerry immediately loses his South Asian medical investigator to a panic-induced, self inflicted gunshot to the head, runs several harrowing zombie gauntlets, and picks up vital intel from a deranged CIA officer who suggest that answers lie in Israel, which has somehow managed to wall itself off from the plague, and also mysteriously seems to have known in advance that it was coming. Gerry says something about “they’ve been building wall for two millennia,” and then he’s off.
Before the viewer can process whether the film is about to go down some post-9/11 Jewish conspiracy path, Gerry is landing in the Holy Land fortress-state to the site of slowly fluttering Israeli flag close-ups, triumphant marshal music, and confident IDF soldiers speaking in Hebrew, rushing around, smiling in soft filtered light close-ups. It’s the first glimpse of order, military control, and calm since the disaster has started, and its so overtly pro-military that its reminiscent of the armed forces segments in Transformers, looking almost like a commercial shot by the media wing of the armed services. Filmed in Malta, the aerial and long distance wide shots do a passable job of conveying Jerusalem to an unfamiliar audience, and Gerry is soon talking to the Mossad chief, Jurgen Warmbrunn, played by a somewhat Tevya-like caricature that really is redolent of Exodus.
Gerry’s already informed the audience that wall building is natural to Israel, so the reinforcement of ancient and Separation Walls is plausible, and comes as not at all veiled justification of Israel’s current and widely condemned Apartheid Wall. He questions the Mossad chief on how he knew the threat was coming, and gets a lesson in revisionist Zionist history, starting with the legitimate failure to take the threat in 30s Germany seriously, and then the same failure from similar or greater threat in 1973, when “we were almost washed into the sea,” and at the 1978 Olypmics, both of which “we did not see coming.” It’s the classic, and academically disproven myth that Israel was always on the defense in its wars, and also the conflation of Palestinians and Arabs with Nazis, as ever-present existential threats to peace-loving Jews. Then we are treated to a quasi-mystical “10th Man” theorem, in which any time there is too much consensus, a 10th man in the hierarchy must consider the impossible, as a form of protection from this repeated failure to see the inevitable next assault on the Jewish people. This throw-away theory is never returned to in the film, but briefly justifies Israel’s aggressive military posture, and suggests that others in the world must follow suit to survive the coming Armageddon.
In the book, unlike the film, Cuba is portrayed as ascendant during the disaster, due to its supposedly fascist state military control of the society. Worse, South Africa rehabilitates apartheid era tactics and leaders, at the request of Nelson Mandela himself, in an effort to stave off the zombies. It creates survivalist Bantustans for the privileged, and fake safe zones where lesser humans are fed to biters/zombies to buy time for the others to regroup. So the defense-of-apartheid trope is neither accidental nor limited to Israel. While the fate of North Korea is a mystery in the book, in the film we are told it survived by the largest feat of social engineering ever: it knocked the teeth of all 13 million inhabitants out in one day, thereby preventing zombies from biting and spreading their virus after they’ve shifted. Viva totalitarianism.
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