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Shaun of the Dead

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I watched Shaun of the Dead for the first time a couple of days ago. It was funny and profane and not at all horrifying. I had seen Hot Fuzz, so I was looking forward to seeing Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in this film, encouraged by my older kids who thought I would like it. Shaun of the Dead follows the fortunes of a young retail clerk who has just come to realize that his life is at a standstill. His career is a dead end, his girlfriend has just dumped him, and his flatmate is holding him back. He decides to retake control of his life just as his community is overrun by zombies. Shaun must rescue his friends while fighting off the undead.

The humor in Shaun of the Dead is what I would call frat boy humor. Much of it consists of profanity and crude references to sex. According to IMDB, the f-word occurs 77 times in the film. No word on who did the counting, but it was certainly prominent. Nevertheless, the funniest parts are when the characters are finally laying bare their own desires in their relationships in dialogue made ludicrous by the backdrop of zombie hands at the windows and the sounds of zombie moaning. It was also funny to see one of the characters literally disemboweled and torn limb from limb.  (On a side note, the next day after seeing Shaun, I saw Euripides’ The Bacchae, which also features a man being torn to pieces at the bare hands of other humans. The Bacchae makes zombie movies seem rather tame.)

What really got me thinking, however, was the character of Ed. Ed is Shaun’s flatmate. They were best friends at school. Ed is crude and dirty, lazy, slovenly, and disgusting. Shaun’s other friends can’t understand why Shaun sticks with him. In fact, Ed is Shaun’s Id, the infantile part of Shaun that revels in whatever is disgusting or shocking. In order for Shaun to bring order to his life, he has to have some control over Ed. As the movie is ending, we think at first that Ed is dead. Shaun, reunited with Liz, has taken control of his life. But the last scene shows him going out to the shed where he has Ed, now a zombie, chained and under control but still able to play video games and make him laugh. The Id is not gone but tamed.

Long before Freud described the Id, Saint Paul described the flesh (often called the sinful nature in modern translations), that part of a person that continues in rebellion against God even when the person has made every conscious effort to surrender. Saint Paul’s prescription for the flesh is death. It cannot be tamed, and even when killed, keeps returning to a semblance of life and trying to regain control. The flesh is the zombie in each of us. The trouble with the flesh is not merely that it does things unacceptable in polite society. It is hostile to God and tries continuously to undermine the work of the Holy Spirit. As often as it raises itself up, it must be killed again—not tamed or kept in chains but put to death. Only constant vigilance with the grace of God can protect us from the flesh.

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Best Romantic Comedy

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My all-time favorite romantic comedy has got to be While You Were Sleeping directed by Jon Turteltaub. It is very nearly flawless. The main characters are all likable; the plot moves forward through happenstance and misunderstanding rather than through intentional deception and maliciousness.

I’m not much of a fan of Sandra Bullock. I hated Miss Congeniality, both times. I never watched Forces of Nature because I didn’t like the look of it, and even Speed owes more to its plot than to its actors (except Dennis Hopper, who is brilliant). But Ms Bullock as Lucy Moderatz is perfect in While You Were Sleeping. As with most rom com stars, it’s really impossible to believe in Lucy’s loneliness. She’s attractive, sensible, and pleasant. Why should she have trouble finding love? Anyway, we like her right away, and she never does anything to betray our trust. She is never malicious and stumbles  into deception rather than plotting it.

What really makes While You Were Sleeping so enjoyable, however, is the marvelous cast of other characters. Peter Gallagher plays the perfectly handsome and thoroughly shallow Peter Callaghan. Peter Boyle is on hand doing the  lovable, cantankerous giant he did so well. Bill Pullman is perfect as Jack Callaghan, the rapscallion second son, who turns out to be more decent than his older brother. There are wonderful performances by Jack Warden, Glynis Johns, Micole Mercurio, Michael Rispoli, and Ally Walker. The musical score by Randy Edelman underscores every new complication with a kind of mischievous merriment that keeps us from taking any of it too seriously. I love the daffy banter in the family scenes where everyone talks at once, interrupts, misinterprets, and explains. Maybe it reminds me of my own family.

Most romantic comedies start with instant dislike that gradually turns to love as in Pride and Prejudice. Many recent rom coms feature characters who are just mean or vindictive. You end up wondering how they can possibly think they’ll ever make it together when they are so dysfunctional alone. But in While You Were Sleeping, the characters are all kind and well-intentioned. Lucy and Jack are never spiteful. Even Peter is merely selfish, never cruel. Jack’s family is loving and welcoming. As Lucy says, “I fell in love with you…. All of you. I went from being all alone to being a fiancee, a daughter a granddaughter, a sister and a friend.” That’s why I like it. It’s a romantic comedy where family is at the center.

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