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Zombies in the Mineshaft

There’s a message here, but what is it?

Jul 8, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 41 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
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So I saw World War Z, the new Brad Pitt movie about a worldwide zombie outbreak, and here’s the surprising thing: I can’t decide whether it’s the most anti-Semitic movie ever made, or the most Zionist movie ever made. 

Zombies scaling the wall .  .  .

Zombies scaling the wall .  .  .

paramount pictures

I know what you’re thinking: Isn’t that the way with a deeply profound work of art—that it makes you question your assumptions and goes beyond narrow ideological categories? Well, yes. It is the way of a deeply profound work of art. But World War Z isn’t a deeply profound work of art. It’s not deep, it’s not profound, and it’s not art. It’s actually pretty dumb, as you can tell when you learn that the people who made it think the United Nations possesses its own deepwater navy and aircraft carrier. (If that were actually the case, I would probably support a zombie takeover of the earth.)

World War Z is a combination horror movie, disaster movie, war movie, and spy movie. It’s both very scary and very boring, though, I must confess, not at the same time. Which is to say, when it’s not frightening it’s incredibly dull, and when it’s not tedious it makes you gnaw on your fingernails and cover your eyes in horrified anticipation. It’s probably more boring than scary; but if you like scary, you’ll love it.

Okay—enough with the consumer guidance, and back to the anti-Semitism/Zionism question. About an hour into the movie, Brad Pitt is told by a CIA agent that the only place on earth where the zombies have been stymied is Israel. This led my friend Kyle Smith in the New York Post to say that the movie “takes a pernicious turn when Israel, alone, is said to have known about the zombie apocalypse in advance. In a world where perhaps hundreds of millions believe Israel knew about 9/11 beforehand, this shows poor judgment, to put it mildly.” So that’s the anti-Semitic part.

But then comes the Zionist part. Brad Pitt goes to Israel and discovers that yes, indeed, the Jewish state has solved the zombie onslaught by .  .  . building a wall that separates Jerusalem from the West Bank. Inside, everybody is fine; outside, everybody is a zombie. In other words, the model for the protection of the world from zombies is Israel’s method of stopping Palestinian terror: the construction of a wall.

How did the Israelis come to understand the threat and to act against it? Because, an Israeli tells Brad Pitt, after the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, and the surprise attack that began the Yom Kippur War in 1973, Israel changed its approach to existential threats. It would simply not allow them to develop again. So that’s the Zionist part.

I think, on balance, the Zionist stuff outweighs the anti-Semitic stuff, especially since I didn’t quite get the plot point Kyle Smith talks about until I read his review. But maybe this whole debate actually misses the real point. Because here’s what happens in Jerusalem: The Israelis are letting all the Palestinians (who aren’t zombies) into the city on the grounds that no matter who you are, as long as you’re not a zombie, you’re on the same side. The Palestinians are delighted to be saved from zombiedom and delighted to be welcomed into Israel. Israelis are delighted to be welcoming them. 

Together they begin to sing a song in Hebrew. The song is actually part of a biblical prayer: oseh shalom bimromav. The movie doesn’t translate the words, but they go like this: “He who makes peace in His high places, He shall make peace upon us and upon all of Israel, and say amen.”

Since the 1970s, well-meaning Israelis and others have substituted “salaam”—the Arabic word for “shalom,” or “peace”—at one point in the song to be all nicely universalist. And so that happens in World War Z, too. Overcome by emotion, the giant throng in Jerusalem sings louder and louder. But it turns out that loud sound stimulates the zombies. The joyful noise drives the zombies on the other side of the wall into collective action. In the most stunning shot in the film, they use each others’ bodies as ladders to climb hundreds of feet to surmount the wall and fall on the other side to begin the carnage.

What does this teach us? Simple. Warble a peace song and zombies will rise to see to your destruction. So maybe the truth is that World War Z is actually the most virulently anti-peacenik movie ever made! Brad Pitt wants you to come away from his $200 million movie with this one message: Singing “Kumbaya” will kill us all.

John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary, is The Weekly Standard’s movie critic.

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