Zombieland Plot Synopsis
“Just two months and I might be the last cannibal non-freak in the country” – these lines uttered by Columbus, played by Jesse Eisenberg set the tone for the 2009 post-apocalyptic horror comedy film, Zombieland directed by Reuben Fleischer and starring Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin, with a brilliant cameo by Bill Murray.
This wickedly funny zom-com is a fun take on the zombie sub-genre with its witty dialogues and furiously positive outlook. In fact, Fleischer himself said that he was inspired by the undead comedy, Shaun of the Dead (2004).
Zombieland is a dystopian world run over by children of the living dead. It’s the typical zombie apocalypse, where pretty much everyone’s infected and the few survivors struggle to stay alive. Our hero, Columbus, a jumpy and paranoid college student ends up meeting the trigger-happy Tallahassee as he journeys through USA, whacking zombies. They cross paths with the con artists, Wichita and Little Rock who scam anyone and everyone which leads to chaos as they all have guns and nothing to do in this lawless world.
What is the origin of the zombies?
Unlike the traditional zombie genre, where zombies rose from the dead and slowly limped towards their targets, the infected in Zombieland are quick on their feet. It’s also worth noting that they are not actually undead but merely individuals infected with the disease.
Also in direct contrast to many contemporary zombie films, Zombieland is quite explicit about the birth of this epidemic. The first patient ate an infected hamburger, the mad cow virus mutated, jumped across species into humans and further mutated into a mad zombie virus, which caused in the victim a loss of reasoning and higher brain functions, and a craving for the flesh of non-infected humans.
Why do Wichita and Little Rock return for the men?
No matter their chaotic start, Tallahassee, Columbus, Little Rock and Wichita form a bond of friendship. You could even go so far as to call them a family… albeit a dysfunctional family. But their first few interactions were rooted in treachery and bullets.
When the girls ambush the men on the road the second time, they decide to leave them stranded and drive off with their guns and weapon. But Little Rock convinces Wichita to take them along because it’s advantageous to have slower and older people in the group because you can outrun them in case of a sudden zombie attack. The scene was deleted in the film but can be seen on the Blu-ray version. And while they may have had ulterior motives for allowing Tallahassee and Columbus to tag along, it ended up being the right decision.
Why do the zombies attack the amusement park?
As shown throughout Zombieland, the sisters have a hard time trusting people which is why when Wichita starts getting close to Columbus, she gets scared of getting hurt or hurting him. Instead of dealing with her feelings, she decides to run away. And what better way to get Little Rock to follow her than to tempt her with her lifelong dream of visiting Pacific Playland, an amusement park?
What she doesn’t take into account are the lights and the sounds that accompany an amusement park. So, while it is abandoned, once the girls turn on the electricity, carnival music starts playing and the whole place lights up, a beacon that can be seen and heard from miles away. This attracts all the zombies who are within range to hear and come running right when the girls are on one of the rides.
While they are barely able to fend them off, Columbus who was not ready to give up on them comes to their rescue with a begrudging Tallahassee and long story short, they save the day.
Is Zombieland a homage to the Western movies?
On the surface, the film is essentially a road-trip movie about a dysfunctional family travelling across the country in the backdrop of an apocalypse. But if you look closely, it draws inspiration from the Westerns. A ragtag band of strangers travelling west together, dealing with their various issues, while battling the external threat, sounds pretty familiar. In John Ford’s quintessential western, Stagecoach, the external threat was the Native Indian tribe on the warpath. In Zombieland, it’s the zombie brigade.
On top of that, we have John Wayne or even Clint Eastwood providing the template for Tallahassee’s gun-toting, hyper-masculine character. Columbus and Tallahassee’s first interaction on the highway also happen to be a face-off – a typical Sergio Leone-style ‘Mexican stand-off’ between the two, complete with close-up shots of eyes and weapons, and a pocket watch tune embedded in the background music, which is actually similar to the music in the final duel of Leone’s iconic film For a Few Dollars More (1965).
How is Zombieland different?
Typically zombie genre has certain prerequisites. It’s an apocalypse. Society has completely fallen apart. People betray and kill one another. Nothing is safe and death is around the corner. Important characters die in droves. There is significant emphasis on the grief of the loss of a loved one. And there is an all-pervasive sense of fear and hopelessness.
But that’s not the case in Zombieland. None of the important leads die. No one actually grieves apart for the hilarious death of Bill Murray. Killing and obliterating zombies along the way is a given and one would give as much thought to it as squashing bugs. Sure there’s plenty of danger in Zombieland, near misses and innocent lives lost but for our virtually indestructible protagonists, it’s a perverse kind of paradise.
The general mood is pretty upbeat. You can do anything you’ve ever wanted, take what you want, destroy cars, shoot guns wherever and whenever, and loot any store, there are no consequences to your action. Enter any mansion, that takes your fancy and live like a king… which happens to belong to Bill Murray, in an amazing cameo. And in line with the preposterously implausible scenario, the great Bill Murray is fine with strangers taking over his home. Now, how cool is that?
The ultimate fantasy for a Bill Murray fan – you even get to re-enact scenes from Ghostbusters with him. Until he gets killed accidentally (and it’s not the zombies). In fact, what sets Zombieland apart from other Z-thrillers is that, for the protagonists, zombies are the least of their worries. Up until the climax, when they are almost engulfed by a herd and things seem to go downhill. But the film is so optimistic, that there’s never any doubt as to the outcome of the battle.
The greatest tragedy is that all the Twinkies go extinct. But even then – Tallahassee still gets that one final piece. But on the whole, it’s a win-win situation. Columbus gets the super-hot girl, Tallahassee gets to indulge in his favourite sport – wipe out a whole bunch of zombies and eat a Twinkie, And we have the typical American happy ending. So, is this zombie apocalypse a kind of utopia?