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Night of the Living Dead Analysis

Night of the Living Dead was a ground-breaking apocalyptic horror film co-written by George Romero and Jack Russo and released in 1968. The film covers a country in terror beginning with mass murder on the Eastern Coast of the United States of America. Set in rural Pennsylvania, Barbara and Johnny, brother and sister, visit a member of their family's grave to pay their respects. The two travel by car through curvy country roads with eerie music playing in the background alluding to the despair that will follow. This is when the viewer is first introduced to the Ghouls. A Ghoul staggers through the graveyard attacking Barbara, Johnny tries to defend her, but the Ghoul kills him. The Ghoul doesn’t look dead, he very much looks like “us.” He walks almost normally, is well dressed, has the capability of full body motion, and doesn’t moan and groan as the typical zombie would. However, he is different from “us.”  


The movie has an overarching theme of them vs. us. What “they” are in comparison to “us.” Barbara is traumatized when she reaches sanctuary in the house alongside Ben. Ben is a black man and while the film was initially shot in black and white, I watched it in color. Ben is everything a black man at the given time in America, wouldn’t be portrayed as. He’s strong, strategic, innovative, and trustworthy to Barbara. To provide further context the Civil Rights Act was passed the same year this movie debuted. Black men and women were demonized, dehumanized, and hated by most White Christian Americans. The initial relationship between Barbara and Ben made me question whether an apocalypse was the only factor that could diminish differences and get people to trust each other as racism is still a prevalent issue in the United States today. However, even in an apocalypse, there is a racial divide.  


After Ben finishes boarding up the house as protection from Ghouls, Mr. Cooper and Tom emerge from the basement cellar. Guns ablaze Ben demands to know why they didn’t come up and help board the house. Mr. Cooper argues he didn’t want to put himself in danger for the sake of strangers. The theme of “them” vs. “us” returns but is racially charged. Mr. Cooper doesn’t want to help others for fear of the loss of his life or his family’s. It’s a reasonable fear to have an apocalypse as even the government can’t understand or admit, at this point in the movie, the cause of these mass murders and cannibalism. If you can’t trust your own government to protect you, who can you trust? During Covid people ran to grocery stores as soon as possible to buy toilet paper, water, and nonperishable foods. The majority of White America blamed Asian Americans for the spread of the disease, justifying xenophobia in a time of crisis. White Americans acted similarly to Mr. Cooper. We created a “them” and became an “us.”  


The conflict of “them,” vs. “us” ends up getting all the characters killed. Mr. Cooper's inability to assist Ben, whom he views as “them” and not “us” causes the plan to collapse. He further betrays Ben by almost letting him die at the hands of the Ghouls. Mr. Cooper, in my opinion, is a piece of shit but also perfectly sums up the mindset of what “us” encapsulates. Christians often have this view of “us” and every other religion as “them.” White Americans have a view that we are the standard and everyone else is “them.” While Mr. Cooper's racial bias against Ben portrays an “us” vs. “them” mindset, so does everyone's reaction towards the Ghouls. They are still people at the end of the day who have fallen victim to a tragic event. Yet, they are disgusting creatures who need to be immediately put down not because they may be suffering but because of the possible suffering they could cause to others. Barbara is the only one who sees that the Ghouls used to be people due to her connection with Johnny. However, everyone else doesn’t see them as victims but as instigators. Which again is like the mindset a majority of America had against Asian Americans during COVID-19.  


In totality, Night of the Living Dead brings attention to how past and modern America tends to blame a certain group of people, usually a minority group. Whether it is Black Americans being blamed for inciting violence when they are systematically targeted by police or Muslims facing extreme Islamophobia following 9/11 for an action they didn’t commit, Americans frequently create the mindset of “them” vs. “us.” Whites are never the “them” but always the “us.” Mr. Cooper's character exaggerates how little trust or empathy White Americans had for Black Americans in the past and how we still exhibit that behavior today. Night of the Living Dead is a testament to how in all things, religion, race, socioeconomic status, sexuality, etc.… if it doesn’t fit the western white Christian view of what “us” looks like you become “them.” 

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10 de abr.


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