A standard zombie storyline about a few living humans trying to survive after most of America is overrun with a zombie apolcalypse after a virus outbreak. Particularly, it is the story of Columbus, a kid who is trying to get to his home town in Ohio to see if any of his family has survived. Along the way, he picks up loner, Woody Harrelson and a couple of girls, one with which he falls in love. The story follows Columbus as a young nerd who has managed to survive by following “rules,” of survival such as good cardio (to outrun the zombies), always check back seats of cars, always wear seatbelts and “double tap” (always make sure to shoot a zombie in the head to finish him off for sure), and never be a hero, it gets you killed. The point being that these are all rules of self protection because Columbus is living fearfully in life and unwilling to take a risk. When he meets Witchita, the girl he falls for, she draws him out to take risks like not wearing a seatbelt. Turns out she likes bad boys, so Columbus tries to rise to the occasion. Of course, he always comes to realize his family is not alive so he makes this new group his family as he says in voiceover. This seems to be a metaphor for leaving behind traditional notions of family in a corrupted world. But in the finale, the boys and girls split up, but Columbus realizes that he has to “go after the girl,” to seek her out by putting aside his fears and self protection and ultimately says, some rules you gotta break such as “don’t be a hero,” and he becomes a hero by saving the girls and ultimately his ability to love. Columbus becomes a man by putting aside his desire to survive and self protection and by risking himself sacrificially for another. Sacrifice over survival, but no real sense of danger in the entire movie.
A story of food, love and the meaning of life. I believe this movie is a tale of romantic existentialist redemption that proposes we find our significance in life through a quasi-religious notion of transcendence that we create for ourselves out of the stuff of this world.
It tells two tales in different time periods as sort of parallel universes. The first is the story of how Julia Child “became Julia Child,” the famous American cook. It shows her married to an American government diplomat in France starting in 1949, and charts her journey of emptiness at not being able to have children, with her subsequent search for a fulfilling meaningful productive life. She discovers her purpose through the one thing she loves to do more than anything: eat! She eventually learns how to cook French food and the rest is history, especially the story of how she got her first cook book of 524 recipes published with two French women.
The other story is about Julie, a modern day woman, played by Amy Adams, in search of significance in her life. She feels as if she has no meaning working in a cubicle for an insurance company dealing with human losses of 911. She is restless and can never seem to finish anything she starts, including a novel she only got halfway through writing. But she loves Julia Child, so her husband encourages her to cook her way through the 524 recipes of that very cook book of Julia Child’s, in 365 days, and to blog about it online. She takes the challenge and discovers that she begins to have significance in the world as eventually people read her blog and she shares her life lessons through food and Julia.
The language throughout is very religious. Julie explains to her friends how she is always wondering what Julia would do, or how she can please Julia, as if she were right there with her. She explains that she now has a sense of meaning and purpose to her life, that “Julia saved her”. It’s very much the salvific language of deity shifted to an imminent or “this worldly” creation. And that real world human proves to be as fickle as the anthropomorphic greek deities of old. When the 90-year old Julia Child discovers Julie’s blog, that has become very famous, she rejects her for being disrespectful and Julie never gets to meet her real world idol. But her husband encourages her that it’s better that way, because the “Julia in your mind is more important.” In other words, the real world cannot provide significance to our lives because it will fail us, only the transcendent deities we create in our minds to give us meaning are what matter. We create our own meaning and significance through our imagination.
A final touch at the end underscores the religious element of this worldview as Julie and her husband visit a museum that has a replica of Julia’s French kitchen. Julie walks up to a picture of Julia Child and places a pound of butter on the altar-like table beneath the picture, a very clear reference to the thank offerings of food given in many religions to pictures of ancestors or tribal deities.
The movie does have an unusually positive depiction of marriage in showing both Julie’s and Julia’s husbands as being entirely supportive of their personal quests for meaning, and showing marriage as a very positive element of their happiness, regardless of it being unable to provide ultimate significance, with which most religious people would agree.
The film also projects an anti-Republican political agenda in depicting the essence of Julia’s curmudgeonly unaccepting father as being connected with the political pariah of Communist “witch hunter” Joseph McCarthy. And it also reinforces this with a joke from Julie’s boss who says he won’t be like a Republican and fire her from her job for taking off a sick day when she wasn’t sick.
Be that as it may, Julie and Julia is a movie about finding transcendent significance in the imminence of our own imagination rooted in the “food” of this world.
An “alternate history” story of a group of commando Jewish-Americans led by Brad Pitt as Lt. Aldo Raine, who set out to kill as many Nazis as possible behind enemy lines in occupied France, and end up stumbling upon an opportunity to take out the major leadership of Germany, including Hitler, Goering, Goebels and Bormann. While this film has its share of exaggerated Tarantino violence, it’s rather restrained compared to his previous films, focusing more on long dialogue tension build-ups intended to mimic the spaghetti westerns he is trying to imitate, along with the melodramatic spaghetti western soundtrack film techniques. He remains a pastiche postmodern as well with his corny side-comment flashbacks and comic book title cards.
Brad Pitt’s cutesy uneducated hick accent turns every expression of violence he says into a joke, which adds to the dehumanizing aspect of the film. Interestingly, the film does not merely capture the dehumanization of the Jews by Nazis, but it apparently accuses all sides of such dehumanizing. The strongest sequence suggesting this is a very long sequence of an SS Officer describing how Jews are seen by the Germans as rats (but allegedly without malice), immediately followed by Pitt lecturing his squad about how much fun they are going to have killing and scalping “Gnatzis” because they are not human anyway. His cute hick accent turning his joy of violence into entertainment. Pitt’s lecture dehumanizing Nazis is no less dehumanizing than the Nazis, thus hinting at a suggestion by Tarantino that all races, even Jews, can be driven by racist hatred and violence. Perhaps to Tarantino, the grotesque violence against the Nazis by the Jewish commandos is justified because of how evil they are, climaxing in a shot of Hitler’s body and face being blown away by Eli Roth’s machine gun in a Bonnie and Clyde ending.
Hitler himself is depicted as a stereotypical raving madman rather than a deliberate calculating man of evil, thus trivializing evil and reducing it to insanity, which no doubt will be felt as an insult by those who know all too well the banality of evil. But the alternate history of actually assassinating Hitler seems to be a catharsis for all the 17 historical attempts we know of that ended in failures. Rather than playing to history and creating a tragic heroic failure, as in true stories like Valkyre, Tarantino surprises us and opts to satisfy our movie fantasy for once, just once, to dream the “what if” of one of those attempts actually succeeding. No doubt, it will be considered catharsis by moviegoers without concern for historical truth, but as the trivialization of evil by actual victims of history.