We got to talking about this on the Hollywood Worldviews Group, and I watched it again. So here is the post I wrote on it a while back, with a couple additions.
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. Zombies are the metaphor for what we become when we become loners in this world to protect ourselves. Everyone avoids personal names because they don’t want to get too involved in case they have to kill them as zombies later. So everyone goes by the name of the town they come from.
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 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. And of course, the girl whispers her real name in his ear at the end, signifying that they make the human connection needed to love another person.
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.