land of the Dead

Writing about Parasite sent my brain off on  a tangent about anti-capitalist movies.  Class struggle is a popular theme in movies. In recent years, as well as Parasite  we have recently has Jordan Peele’s Us, Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You and Rian Johnson’s Knives Out.  Hell, from The Wolf of Wall Street to The Hunger Games saga, class struggle is a perennial  theme for movies. 

Capitalism is a problem. Unfettered capitalism strives toward what Hobbes called “the state of nature”.  In that state the strong (read rich) subjugate the weak (read poor) and the mass of humanity lives lives that are “nasty, brutish and short”.  Perhaps the best filmic depiction of the state of nature appears in George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead.

In that film  we see the world some number of years after the apocalypse depicted in Romer’s Dead Trilogy (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead).  The story is centered on Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Romero’s favorite location). That city has devolved into a feudal state, with the wealthy and powerful living in an enormous skyscraper called Fiddler’s Green. The poor live in the slums that surround it. The underclasses toil in squalor and disease, their labor going to support and protect the rich denizens of The Green.

The film follows Riley Denbo (Simon Baker). Denbo  designed and captains an armored vehicle known as Dead Reckoning. Denbo works for Paul Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), the equivalent of a feudal lord. Dead Reckoning can move through the zombie hordes on supply runs.  Denbo is well liked by the regular people since he is known to go out of his way to help and protect them.

Dead Reckoning’s second in command is Cholo DeMora (John Leguizamo). Cholo has been saving up to buy an apartment if Fiddler’s Green. He ahs bought into the myth that the rich sell the poor.  If you work hard enough, they say, if you sacrifice and save, you can move up. You can be one of the favored class. It’s a meritocracy.

Cholo learns that this is a lie. He is denied entry into the beauty and safety of Fiddler’s Green despite having the entrance fee. It turns out that some animals are more equal than others afterall.  Cholo reacts by taking control of Dead Reckoning. He plans to use it to force Kaufman to give him what he believes that he is owed. 

Denbo just wants out.

Before he can run off, though, he has one last job to do. Denbo agrees to reclaim Dead Reckoning and stop the assault on the green. In truth, Denbo only agrees because he understand that a lot of poor folk will be injured and killed if Cholo goes through with his plan. He has no love for Kaufman and his ilk.

Land of the Dead is an almost perfect metaphor for class struggle in America.  Romero lays out the ways in which the 1% build and maintain their wealth and control. It is psychological warfare as much as violence that keeps people in their places. If the underclasses can be convinced that they too will one day be part of the overclass, they will fight to the death to protect their masters. 

Sometimes the Cholos of the world fight back by constructing guillotines. Sometimes they just die of malnutrition.