Reading Isaac Marion’s Warm Bodies, I realized just how many escapist, donuts-for-dinner books I’ve been reading. After all those donuts, it felt great to sit down to a real meat-and-potatoes dinner, the type of book that begs literary analysis of a classroom level—which Warm Bodies did despite being a zombie romance made recently into a motion picture.
Warm Bodies is a retelling of Romeo and Juliet, but also combines elements of “Beauty and the Beast” and of course the zombie apocalypse/post-apocalypse genre. I saw the film before I read the book. The Romeo and Juliet storyline did not fully register—though it did niggle—in my mind in the film till “the balcony scene.” In the film, the balcony scene was subtly done, with camera angles echoing other, truer Romeo and Juliet adaptations mostly, though Julie echoes Juliet’s “if they do see thee, they will murder thee” (2.2.70) sentiment. Marion’s book was a bit more blunt about the connection it wanted the reader to draw from this scene, where Julie uses a tape recorder to soliloquize to and wonders aloud what R is, what zombies are: “isn’t ‘zombie’ just a silly name we came up with for a state of being we don’t understand? What’s in a name, right?” (127). In this scene, I preferred the film to the book, but I wonder if that would still be the case had I not seen the movie already and already connected the story to Romeo and Juliet.
The film catered to its medium—as it should have done. The plot was simplified, though it still asked the questions of “what is living?”, “what is death?” and all that must come up when a zombie begins to think about itself and its place in the pre-apocalypse and post-apocalypse world.
Prior to this story, I’d not seen any zombie films or read any zombie fiction, but I know enough about the genre to recognize that Marion has done something different with the zombie concept. R is a zombie who questions himself and questions the structured zombie society of which he is a part. Where the Boneys in the film were eaters of everything with a heartbeat, creatures of chaos and destruction, in the book they were priests more than anything else. In Marion’s book they led the zombie church, preformed weddings, and reminded the undead about the dangers of the Living, a force for structure.
Yet ultimately, the Boneys are the enemy of both mediums. Unable to return from the undead as R and the Fleshies are, they seek to destroy R and Julie and their hope and love for the threat that they pose to the new world order that the Boneys have created among the zombie hives.
I could not say that either medium presented the better story. The humor of the film gave the action/adventure/zombie apocalypse a romantic comedy tone. The mix of the genres was very appealing. The book asked more of the deeper questions with more force than the film did and was more tragic ultimately than the film, though both ended with hope. The book ventures more deeply into the effects of a zombpocalypse on humanity and on individuals and more dramatically portrays how the Living can be made dead by fear.
for the book
Marion, Isaac. Warm Bodies. New York: Emily Bestler/Atria-Simon & Schuster, 2012.
Warm Bodies. Dir. Jonathan Levine. Summit, Make Movies, Mandeville. 2012.
This review is not endorsed by Isaac Marion, Emily Bestler Books, Atria Paperback, or Simon & Schuster, Inc or Summit Entertainment, Make Movies, or Mandeville Films. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.