Zombieland: Whose Skills are Valued in the Post-Apocalypse?

After the fall of civilization, I will be of little use. I don’t know much about farming or preserving food, and I doubt I could catch or shoot anything worth eating. I used a bow one summer when I was in 7th grade, but I doubt I mastered any skills. Or that I’ll be able to find a bow lying around. Any shelter I try to build will probably collapse. If I hang onto my keys, I may be able to scratch a marauder if they try to grab me, but that’s about it for self-defense.

Knowing that I will be at the end of my personal road in the post-apocalpyse, I’m always interested to see who IS going to prosper according to the movies, and what skills they’re using. Attack the Block, for me, was a sweet little reversal of the social prejudice against poor youth of color and their chances for success in life. Add an alien invasion, and they’re suddenly the most qualified people around.

Zombieland, on the other hand, is a demonstration of how badly some people’s survival skills can be devalued once a virus has devastated the human population across the United States and survivors wander somewhat aimlessly, chopping up zombies when they feel like it.

In this film, the female characters Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) are cliches, only existing to provide plot points for main character Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg.) Columbus and his quasi-partner Tallahassee (the jaw-droppingly amazing Woody Harrelson) first encounter these young women in a grocery store, where they pretend to be helpless in order to steal the guys’ weapons and vehicle. Can’t trust a woman? Check! The film adds to the women’s betrayal by showing a slice of their past pre-zombie, where they made their money running cons on unsuspecting victims.

Now, I’m a pessimist about the end of life as we know it. I believe that the weak will be preyed on by the strong, and there are a lot of men who are physically stronger than a lot of women, or who have a lot more confidence in their strength and a willingness to use it. This negative attitude is part of what leads to so many cinematic depictions of women being abused in the post-apocalyptic future (along with filmmakers’ sexism) – and my own personal pessimism is why it took me a reallly long time to realize how much of a problem that is. (How many more depictions of women being abused does our entertainment really need? Certainly not so many that we should produce them at this rate.)

My pessimism, though, is why I feel like Wichita and Little Rock’s behavior towards Columbus and Tallahassee is completely rational. Why should two young women with no combat training immediately agree to travel with two random heavily armed men? If these are the last four non-zombie living people, it STILL might be better to stay on your own.

It doesn’t make a lot of sense that the gals wouldn’t just get their own arms and transportation, given how little competition there is for either. The theft, however, isn’t what bothers Columbus. He consistently frames the problem as a lack of trust on Wichita’s and Little Rock’s parts. The only reasonable choice, from his point of view, is for the women to team up with them so they can all travel together. It never seems to occur to him, or the filmmakers, that the women may be making a good decision to safeguard their own well-being.

So unlike in Attack the Block, the women’s survival skills are never validated. Instead, they must be rehabilitated, learn to trust and bond, get saved by the men with guns after they make a stupid decision – and most importantly, Wichita has to hook up with Columbus. To be fair, Columbus also leans heavily on Tallahassee to trust and bond. But Tallahassee brings firepower to the team, whereas the women only bring touchy feely stuff. This is such a contrast with Attack the Block where the white woman who represents “mainstream society” acknowledges the skills of the group of young men she attaches herself to for survival, and begins to see them as people instead of predators. (And it’s in stark contrast to the effective use of deception to procure transportation in an early episode of Walking Dead.)

Zombieland is kind of like a man who’s never thought about how women feel when they walk down dark streets at night. Wichita and Little Rock aren’t portrayed as fearful, but that actually makes it worse – it makes their behavior seem just willfully bad, instead of a calculated decision based on realistic risk assessment.

A few more few words of warning. There are six characters with speaking roles, and all of them are white. Zombieland is full of hate for fat people. It’s not subtle, so if that’s going to ruin the film for you, don’t even start watching it. Anyone fat who got killed by a zombie? Totally their fault for not exercising. It’s such a shame, because the screenwriters are extremely funny, so there’s no reason for them to resort to such cheap cop outs. The other thing that may alienate you right from the start is part of the opening credits, where the women who work at a strip club have become zombies and are chasing the male patrons. At least one of the women is topless. And it’s in slow motion. You get what I’m saying here, right?

At the end of the day, I love so much about this movie – on a pure entertainment basis – that I own it. But I obviously can’t recommend it from a feminist, anti-racist, and general anti-oppression perspective.

8 thoughts on “Zombieland: Whose Skills are Valued in the Post-Apocalypse?

  1. decoybetty

    This bothered me about Zombieland as well, like surely they’d handled themselves and survived for awhile by themselves, why change what’s working?

    That being said, I also really enjoyed the movie and found it quite funny. And how AMAZING is Woody Harrelson.

  2. Skye

    I was absolutely blown away by Woody Harrelson! Thinking of him as that guy from Cheers + this movie = my brain explodes.

  3. andrea

    I’ve never seen this movie and am now thinking that’s probably a good thing. Definitely won’t be one I’ll be picking up in the future. Thanks for the info.

  4. Skye

    Andrea and Louida, it’s definitely not for everyone! Even if you like zombies, clearly it’s a mixed bag and everyone has different tolerances for different kinds of b.s. (To say it politely.)

    Jessica, I still do love it, definitely a case of “how to be a fan of problematic things”!

  5. Skye

    I can’t believe I haven’t re-watched it lately and it’s Halloween already! Perfect time of year for it.

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