30 in 30: A MONTH OF HORROR. TRAIN TO BUSAN
TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016)
What can we learn about zombies in a zombie obsessed world?
Korean cinema has been growing exponentially for the last decade; this film is a perfect example of how complete their industry and their understanding of film as an entertaining and narrative tool has become.
TRAIN TO BUSAN stands shoulder to shoulder with any big-budget Hollywood zombie film. And it might even stand a little taller.
For those of you unfamiliar with the story, TRAIN TO BUSAN is about a man and his daughter getting trapped, among other passengers, on a train while a zombie outbreak is taking place in South Korea.
Zombies have been at the forefront of culture for almost a decade now. THE WALKING DEAD premiered (almost) eight years ago, WORLD WAR Z was published twelve years ago. Nearly every summer we get new zombie fiction to sink our teeth. Why did we become so suddenly obsessed? How did this monsters conquer our hearts (and brains)?
Artist and cultural analyst Jonathan Pageau says we have been obsessed with monsters for some time now. For him, we are stuck in some sort of “monster acceleration.” Monsters represent a mixture, something that falls in no category. It’s an emissary of chaos. What are Zombies a mixture of? Easy. Zombies are a mix of life and death.
The word “monster” comes from Latin — mon(ēre) — Which means “to warn.” Monsters have culturally and historically been emissaries of dangers. That’s why we had them at the corners of old nautical maps. “here be monsters.” meant “unknown and dangerous.”
So, if zombies have infected our Zeitgeist, what are they warning us about? A zombie apocalypse is a doomsday fantasy. Freud said we have a “Thanatos” drive inside of us, an impulse for death. These fantasies are that impulse applied, not to oneself, but to culture and society.
Zombies are a warning of an apocalypse caused by mindless action, mob behavior, and lack of care for one another. In TRAIN TO BUSAN, we meet a workaholic father who barely has time for his daughter. His closet is filled with the same outfits; he misses the daughter’s show at school, he even gets her the same birthday present he got her last year. This man is not alive in any way, a robot, or more accurate, a “zombie”.
Zombies work so well nowadays because they are a subconscious warning about how dehumanised we have become, how our activities have become so automated that we can’t tell yesterday from today.
The passengers in TRAIN TO BUSAN are fighting for their humanity; it’s a metaphorical struggle to keep their uniqueness from the crowd in a world that pushes them to be like everybody else.
It is no wonder that TRAIN TO BUSAN became such a box office success, this movie is produced, shot, and acted beautifully. And the themes it touches upon resonates with almost every modern culture.
TRAIN TO BUSAN is scary because that’s how we’ve imagined our future time and time again. Let’s hope our collective unconscious is somehow wrong.
Tomorrow: SUSPIRIA (1977)
Yesterday: EVENT HORIZON (1997)