31 Days of Halloween 5: Dawn of the Dead Mall Shoppers
Isolated from civilization, the mall claims its place as a consumer paradise and a shelter from the apocalypse. A perfect combination. Dawn of the Dead (1978) plays with social commentary better than any George Romero movie I’ve ever seen, and delivers scenes that transcend simple consumerism, becoming even deeper and more meaningful. It’s true. Really. Here’s how:
This movie’s themes has been discussed for many years. The main characters we meet in the movie survive because they hold up in a mall, a place where the undead have come back to. Why are they there? The characters seem to think it is something instinctive, something habitual that the zombies remember from their past lives. In terms of social commentary, people wander malls just like the zombies in Dawn of the Dead. It is a comment on consumerism, the blind obedience to shopping and the consumption of goods.
Still further, the main characters are consumers too. They consume goods. They need goods to survive. So they go to the mall too. The consume the mall’s goods and become stuck in a lifeless paradigm, where nothing goes anywhere and nothing changes. The mall provides them all they need, so there’s no need for them to do anything more anyway. There’s no need for them to grow anything or go find anything. Or anybody. The mall has ground their lives to a halt.
I think one of the greatest scenes is when Francine realizes their lifeless existence. Everyone is as bored and as comatose as a zombie. You can see it on Stephen’s face. He gives the best reactions. He certainly knows how to look apathetic. As they both sit in bed, Francine and Stephen look very uninterested. No one cares about anything; not sex, not relationships, not the zombies, not society. Nothing. They just consume their goods and go on. Later, Francine snaps everyone out of it.
The real apocalypse then, is the end of capitalism. There’s no new products to get excited about, nothing to talk about or debate over. There’s nothing new to see in the mall and nothing in it the main characters haven’t experienced before. The mall has become stagnant and dead.
Imagine if there was nothing new ever produced ever again. That would certainly be scary. Even in the media, we search for new things all the time, on television, in the paper, and at the movies. We are drawn to new things like a bug to flame. We are satisfied and enjoy it when we find something new we like. In general, humanity celebrates ANYTHING new, jumping at it like a hungry dog, before we even know anything about it. We delude ourselves with consumer internet sites and talk over reviews, but I think we instinctively want to be that zombie at the mall. We want that product to be good. We want the joy or satisfaction it brings. It’s only natural, after all.
No one wants a bad product. No one says: you know what, I wish I had a bad car. No one says that. We have an instinct to consume, and the zombies have as much instinct to objectify and horde as we do. The zombies devour human flesh on sight. The Apple iPhone sells out in 60 minutes. As far as objectifying, I can remember the characters in the movie hording goods. Fran refuses to share her cigarettes with others as she boards the helicopter early in the movie. Stephen later gets upset that the mall has been invaded. “It’s ours. We took it,” he says. He worries over the loss of his goods.
The new social order in the apocalypse is frightening. Dawn of the Dead (1978) cleverly presents us with our worst fears, where consumerism ends and human progress has ground to a halt. People in Dawn of the Dead will never develop and grow, and the characters will never experience anything new, not like they did before. That’s why they are so depressed and apathetic. They’ve won the mall, but what does it all mean? Nothing, because happiness comes through work and community, labor and production.
31 Days of Halloween Movie Marathon
1 – Frankenstein and the Monster from HELL (1974)
2 – Dracula has risen from the grave (1968)
3 – The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964)
4 – Evil Dead II (1987)
5 – Dawn of the Dead (1978)
6 – Les Diaboliques (1955)
7 – The Howling (1981)
8 – Friday the 13th (1980)
9 – Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
10 – Hellraiser (1987)
11 – Let the Right One in (2008)
12 – Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1984)
13 – House of 1000 Corpses (2003)
14 – The Strangers (2008)
15 – The House of the Devil (2009)
16 – Psycho (1960)
17 – The Orphanage (2007)
18 – The Amityville Horror (1979)
19 – The Raven (1963)
20 – Blue Velvet (1986)
21 – Repulsion (1965)
22 – Dementia 13 (1963)
23 – The Vanishing (2008)
24 – Halloween (1978)
25 – Shaun of the Dead (2004)
26 – The Silence of the Lambs (1988)
27 – An American Werewolf in London (1981)
28 – Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
29 – The Exorcist (1973)
30 – The Ring (2002)
31 – Night of the Living Dead (1968)