What is the deal with Romero's sympathy for the zombies?

In the last three movies there have been moments where the characters expressed some sort of sympathy for the zombies. Why is this? They are all man-eating monsters. Sure, he gives them some rudimentary thinking abilities latter on and the apparent ability to have empathy for other zombies, but still they care only to mutilate and eat humans. Why should I give a damn about the zombies?

“Such as I was you are, and such as I am you will be. Wealth, honor and power are of no value at the hour of your death.”

It is difficult for people to lose the sentimental attachment to ex-humans and human remains. This is well-proven in the many and varied burial and postmortem rituals observed by all cultures and in all places, but it is exacerbated when the dearly departed exhibit volition, movement, and even rudimentary intelligence.

On the other side of the divide, zombies in Romero films are trapped between realms, neither living nor dead. The radioactive satellite or space probe is a rationalization for what has really happened: The natural order has been disturbed and the dead no longer have the peace of the tomb. We see in the zombies a physical manifestation of how lost all humans feel at one time or another. Their moans are our moans, their lust for flesh is our lust for comfort, and their final head-splattering shotgun blast is our own inevitable physical mortality.

August “Universal Life Church of Zombification” Derleth

The zombies represent the hoi polloi, performing essentially meanless tasks.

I don’t understand why you object to this. It adds depth and complexity. In other words it makes the movies more interesting.

But to answer why I think the primary reason is because Romero’s movies are partly allegorical. The classic example of this is in the original dawn of the dead the zombie in the mall are directly compared to zombified consumers who wander the malls purposelessly. So the zombies aren’t just “monsters.” They’re often meant to represent us in one way or another.

Also what Romero likes to do undercut an easy sense of who is the monster and who are the good guys. He likes to show that “normal” human nature is in the end more monstrous than his monster’s behavior. As an example, at the end of the original Night of the Living Dead you see the “good guys”, e.g. the normal humans gleefully slaughtering zombies in barbaric ways - reminiscent of KKK lynchings or war atrocities.

Not only do they represent us, they are us. But for the grace of God and a head-shot, there go I, after I die.

I don’t know the reason, but I do hear rumors that you should never let him invite you to lunch.

Yeah, I got that, but it did not make any sense. They really were the “good guys” they were killing mindless man-eating monsters, not innocent jews or other minorities. The juxtapostion does not really make sense.

I know that the zombies were the bad guys, but the way it was done. The Zombies being hung while they twiched. Two zombies in a ring being prodded to fight each other.

The zombies are mindless things. The humans are supposed to be rational and civilized…and they’re acting like barbarians. I felt sympathy for the damn zombies and find zombies to be creepy.

Or as one could say, what’s the point of being human if you aren’t acting like one? The zombies at least have an excuse…

No, that is how humans act. All though history with no exception, only brief respites and diversions.

Or at least that is probably what Romero would say. I get the impression he doesn’t like most people very much.

Well, to be scrupulously accurate, [spoiler]they do kill an innocent minority, Ben. In the end, the presumptive “good guys” are attacking anything that moves, without stopping to determine if the threat is genuine. After all Ben endures, it’s not the zombies that kill him in the end, but his “rescuers.”

“That’s another one for the fire.”[/spoiler]
It seems to me that in Romero’s movies, the zombies are ultimately more pitiable than most of the living characters. Yes, they kill, but more in the manner of a force of nature. They don’t seem to have a choice in the matter, nor do they appear to gain any joy or satisfaction from the act. They don’t seem particularly happy to be zombies. Live humans are the real danger in Romero’s universe: they are panicky, willfully destructive, generally untrustworthy creatures. It’s no accident that Romero’s zombies are such pathetic monsters. They’re dumb, and slow, and really don’t provide much of a threat individually. It’s only collectively that they become a danger…not unlike the militias, military forces and biker gangs in the films. I would guess that this is very intentional on Romero’s part, comparing the mindless nature of the undead with the pack instinct of the living.

I don’t remember that from the original NoTLD. I remember at the end of the movie we saw a picket line of men with rifles. In the remake I remember zombie cock fights and hanging though.


I think maybe Romero has a dim view of human nature. I just don’t see how the plodding zombies could bring about the downfall of civilization as we know it. I don’t doubt that there would be panic (zombies would sure scare me), casualties, and some hand wringing when it came to deciding how to handle the threat. As with any disaster there would be those who seek to take advantage of the situation but as a whole I think humans would pull together until the crisis is over.

I didn’t find the potrayal of zombies to be all that sympathetic. At least not any more sympathetic then a tornado, a fire, or an earthquake.


MGibson, in your first paragraph you’ve summarized two things I’ve said in the past in this forum, only you used a lot fewer words. Well said.

Don’t sell yourself short, Darleth. I found your first post in this thread remarkably astute and well-articulated. :slight_smile:

I guess I understand the message, somewhat, but the straightforward logic of Land’s ending was just irritating to me.

“Don’t kill them, they’re just looking for some place to go, like us.”
No, actually, they’re trying to rip you limb from limb and eat you, and they will never stop. The fact that they’re getting smarter doesn’t make them more pitiable so much as it makes them more of a threat to you.


Ah. Maybe I’m confusing the two. I know you get the same sense at least in the original. Maybe its more exaggerated in the second.

The sense I got from the original was “work together when facing a crisis or you’re screwed.” On the other hand it’s been a while since I’ve seen the original NoTLD so it’s possible they were screwed no matter what they did. At the end of the movie they were pretty indifferent to shooting Ben and might have congratulated him on the good shot. I can’t chalk that up to malicious intent though since all those men had been through a traumatic experience and mistook Ben for a zombie.

After watching the original Dawn of the Dead recently on IFC I discovered the movie wasn’t as good as I thought. I’m not even sure if compring shoppers to the zombies in the mall was intentional since Romero used the mall because a friend hooked him up. I like the movie because it had zombies in it not because it had all that much artistic merit. I think NoTLD was probably the best zombie movie Romero ever made though I haven’t seen Land of the Dead.


Slight hijack here, but I wanted to share the shocking news that The New Yorker gave Land of the Dead a good review, which is quite an accomplishment considering that the magazine gives negative reviews to most of the films they review. Hell, they thoroughly trashed** Revenge of the Sith**, War of the Worlds, Batman Begins and Sin City, but of Land of the Dead, they wrote:

Good for George!

Yeah that was a bit of a thudding line. The only way I could make it work for me is by looking at the character’s motivations through out. He wants to go North away from it all and never have to kill again. Maybe he just thinks after it was all over there was no need to bother. Whether they blew away all the Zombies or not… the threat would always be there. Perhaps he just realizes juat that.
He seems more reluctant to kill when it isn’t necessary.