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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.