Thu, 1 May 2008
Over the last couple of weeks, as Bren' begins her exploration of the zombie genre, you guys have raised several interesting questions. One of them is, "Do zombies have souls?" This could become a deep, metaphysical discussion and it would also change from movie to movie. I had a few brief thoughts to share.
First, on Mail Order Zombie, we seem to be using the baseline on of the Romero zombies as a baseline for judging if the assailants in other films are truly "zombies". This is ironic, since Romero (and Russo) never used the word "zombie" in the original "Night of the Living Dead" film. The basic premise is that the recently dead are becoming re-animated. This is one of the reasons many do not believe the Rage-infected from "28 Days Later/28 Weeks Later" count as zombies. This may also be something to consider about the T-virus zombies of the "Resident Evil" films.
It is this belief that zombies are the re-animated dead which lead many to prefer the slow-moving creatures of the Romero films to the fast-moving creatures from the "Return of the Living Dead" movies or the "Dawn" and "Day" remakes. However, all of these examples still share the attribute that the creatures were either dead, or killed, before re-animating as zombies.
So what is "dead"? This is where the metaphysics begins. Depending on your spiritual, cultural and political background, you'll have a very different definition of "dead". However, people generally agree that when the heart stops beating, the lungs stop breathing and the brain stops working... beyond the point of resuscitation... you are dead. The "life force" leaves the body. The soul is no longer in the shell.
When a zombie is re-an imated, is it re-imbued with a soul? I'm going to stop for a moment to talk about another breed of the undead, vampires. In Joss Whedon's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", vampires have no souls. The soul left the body at death and was replaced with a demon. This is how Whedon explained the sentience of the vampire over the zombie. The character Angel (and later Spike) was a vampire whose soul was put back into his undead body. Again, sentience and now conscience in the body of the undead.
From "Dawn of the Dead" on, zombies start to remember things from their lives. They come to the mall because they did so in life. They remember how to use basic tools and eventually guns. They even begin to become self-aware. In the "Return of the Living Dead" films, the zombies can talk and even problem-solve. In the first film, the zombies can use a police radio to tell a dispatcher to send more cops. In the third film, a character learns that pain can stave off the hunger. But does having access to memory equal having a soul?
If someone has amnesia, a total loss of memory, do they still have a soul? Most would answer yes. As long as you are alive, even if you lose your sense of self, you still have a soul. So, your memory, even your personality, is separate from your soul. It is possible to have a soul without memory, therefore it may be possible to have memory without a soul.
While Romero-type zombies don't breathe, they do use their nervous systems, their brains, to move their bodies. This is what makes the brain their weak spot. The electrical activity in the brain that makes it possible for them to sense, move and attack must also be activating the memory centers, at least in some small way, allowing them some awareness of memory.
To summarize, it is my belief that the soul (the spark of life) leaves the body at death . Zombies are re-animated corpses without souls. Some may have access to their memories to varying degrees, but this is as vestigial to a zombie as its heart or lungs. The soul has departed. Just as zombies can eat without gaining sustenance, they can remember without having a soul.
Category:general -- posted at: 12:18am PST