28 Weeks Later: Social Fears in a Post-September 11th World

Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s film, 28 Weeks Later evokes contemporary fears in a post September 11th world. The film plays heavily on imagery remiscent of the events, while also hinting at a post-war nation, not unlike Iraq, plagued by a troubled rebuilding stage. It plays with a growing distrust in figures of authority, down from fathers up to high ranking millitary officials, who cam in the form of U.S. lead NATO troops.

The first indication that England has begun to recover since the introduction of the rage virus, is the shot of a plane flying overhead. What begins as a hopeful image, descends quickly as the plane dissapears behind a tall skyscraper and the film establishes an immediate sense of doom. Further juxtaposed against imagery of a devastated London, the image takes on added meaning to anyone who watched the events of September 11th unfold on their television sets. As the film progresses the images become more overt and increasingly powerful. Doyle, a soldier who is outraged by the actions of his leaders sides with the civilians, acts as a guide to the ins and outs of military procedure. Before his death, the military in an attempt to eradicate anyone who may have survived (a Code Red was earlier signaled, which essentially is the green light to destroy the civilian populace to prevent the spread of the virus), sends out an unidentified poison gas into the streets. The gas can be best described as dust coloured, and even it’s slow movement through the streets is more like the after-effects of an explosion or collapse then any gas. It does not simply sit on the city, but rather engulfs it, invoking claustorphobia. The claustorphobia is not only physical, as the gas surrounds the car, but as it slowly cuts off all the streets the sense there is of being surrounded by an unstoppeable force with nowhere left to go.

This hopelessness is tied directly with a lack of faith, and outright fear of figures of authority. The film furthers this anxiety, by compromising the victims’ trust of all those in power, by having them betray and destroy those in positions of dependence. This idea is reinforced early in the film through the actions of the central father figure, Don (Robert Carlyle). His position as leader is established within the house of those hiding out, as he takes authority over the situation and comforts his wife as she contemplates what might of been had her children remained in England. However, once those infected with rage enter the house, he quickly retreats into a mode of self-preservation, leaving his wife and a young boy to fend for themselves. His negligence only grows in the film, as he lies to his children about what happened, and then breaches rules in order to see his wife, which causes the virus to spread once again through London. He becomes the alpha “zombie”, seemingly more evolved than the rest, as he is able to focus his attention and retains memories of his past life. Giving his character this added nuance furthers an almost conscious decision on his part to inflict destruction, while also reinforcing his children’s and wife’s fear of his abused power over them.

This idea of untrustworthy figures of authority is further reinforced by the military’s actions in lieu of the new outbreak. It is difficult to pin down the first instance where the viewer’s trust in the military is dispelled. Is it the infantile conversation of soldiers brandishing their guns while talking about jerking off? Or the condescending and reductive attitude they have towards the re-patrioted brits? Maybe it’s when they start shooting without prejudice at anyone who enters their field of view (although to be fair, this is a progressive scene, and there are several objectors to this place of action)? Regardless of the exact turning point, it is clear that once the virus has broken out that the military is no longer to be trusted. Their outright disregard for human life is somewhat dispelled by a few sympathetic characters, but overall the message is clear: when things turn for the worst, no one can be trusted. The fear that anyone, even those you trust most will turn against you, creates a uniquely paranoid atmosphere. This reflects not only a distrust of a nation in it’s leaders, but a wider fear of an unknown and invisible enemy. The film dares to associate the two, almost as members of the same kin. In a way, this equates those who are meant to be our protectors, with the very destructors of order and peace.

Using imagery strongly reminscent of the terrorist attacks on September 11th, Fresnadillo is able to tap into pervading social fears and anxieties relating to those in positions of power. Working from an inverted pyramid, the focus begins with a father who fails to protect his family, to a military turning on the very people they were charged to protect. The line between human and monster becomes increasingly blurred, as soon even some infected with the rage virus stop exihibiting symtoms. The world presented in 28 Weeks Later is one where no one can be trusted, and doom is unavoidable, if only because of the human error and lack of foresight.

8 responses to “28 Weeks Later: Social Fears in a Post-September 11th World

  1. Nicely put, Rouge. It is true that this revokes fear and anxiety. The whole shooting at the civilians scene is done so well; it kinda reminds me of a similar scene from Schindler’s list, when people were targeted at random outside Amon Goethe’s window. What struck me as the main message of the film was the failure of love, because that was ultimately what brought about the destruction once again. Instead of forgiveness – if there was any love left, forgiveness would’ve prevented the spread – what we left with was vengeance and the deterioration of genuine, deeply felt connections. We brought about destruction because of this disconnect. I thought this point was very well done in this respect in the film.

  2. I actually seem to have had a recent conversation about religion, and someone mentioned that for people the most difficult thing in the world is forgiveness. We have a difficult time looking at our fellow human beings, our brothers and sisters, and saying that we “forgive them”. Your example of Schindler’s List is also very apt, and similarly the film is focused on a lack of love, and on the inverse Schindler’s abundance of it (albeit, with reluctance again… loving your fellow human being is more difficult that we sometimes want to acknowledge, although it shouldn’t be). I think List is a film that succeeds in revealing the two sides of this idea, without pandering or over-emphasising the point. Perhaps what we need is another film that not only shows the horrors, but also the possibility for redemption and forgiveness in the modern world. Unless there are examples I simply am forgetting.

  3. Skillful analysis. I’m still cringing, though, at the prospect of this one. 28 Days Later was interesting, but– SO MANY plot holes!!! And anyone I’ve seen who’s the least bit negative on this one admits the exact same is true here. Plus (yeah, I ate too many “rotten tomatoes” when this hit theatres!) the ending and all seems so trite and manipulative. Not to be heinously cynical, but when a bunch of willful little moppets are running around, unleashing armageddon, I’d be tempted (at least as a viewer of a fiction!) to root for putting them down!

    — But speaking of zombie apocalypse, there’s this little matter of a film called “Diary of the Dead” I’m still waiting to see (and trying to keep myself free of plot-spoilers for!) Oooo, can it be the 2nd coming of Dawn of the Dead? Be still my heart! . . .

  4. This film, as with Days is far from perfect, I am more than willing to agree with you there. Especially from the technical side (script, notably), some short-cuts were taken somewhere down the line, and there are definete plot holes. I wrote this after a second viewing, and the first time around I really disliked the film. The structure of the plot especially annoyed me, as something of a tense family drama divolved in what seemed to be little more than a video game mentality. The last act is still the weakest, but I think the film is worth appreciating on another level entirely. I think it’s wonderfully visceral, and it does capture that paranoid “post 9/11” energy better than most horrors I’ve seen (especially Cloverfield, a huge dissapointment).

    I haven’t seen Diary yet, I would probably lower your expectations a little. I know a few people who’ve seen it who think it’s easily Romero’s worst. Then again, I also know 2 or 3 who think it’s a great film. I’m not sure when I’ll personally get around to it, but I’ll probably post something when I do.

  5. I’m keeping my hopes up!– the Toronto Festival crowd supposedly gave it a standing ovation! (was Robin Wood in that crowd, I wonder?!?).

    Well, even “Day” and “Land” have their virtues, with their classical compositions and occasional bits of Dantean fury. [speaking of structural problems– you can practically map out Day of the Dead minute-by-minute: here a great film, here it sucks, etc.]. So I don’t think it can be THAT bad. At the least, it has to be more interesting than Land (again, a lovely little film in its way!0 and I’m dying to see how Romero, with his great classical chops, handles the whole post-it-on-the-net quizzinart style of filmmaking. Obnoxious film geeks! Katrina/Baghdad IS the zombie apocalypse! [itself, it sounds like, taking the implicit suggestion of the opening of 28 Days Later– the world is teetering on the edge of apocalyptic chaos already, just look on CNN– and making it literal]– oh, Diary of the Dead just HAS to be great!!!

  6. Hopefully I’m very wrong, I always want a film to be good, especially by such a talent as Romero. I actually still haven’t seen Land, and I don’t remember Day at all. I should get around to both. From what I’ve heard of Diary it has the potential to be interesting, the word of mouth I’ve gotten is that it isn’t. I’ll still probably see it eventually.

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