Living the zombie life in Super 8
When you have a movie inside a movie, you really need to pay close attention how one influences the other, and in this case, the zombie movie the kids are trying to make in Super 8 appears to have a huge influence on the external story, and in no better place does this show most in the nearly constant resurrection of people, objects and ideas in the main story.
The most obvious of these is the locket which Joe carries throughout the movie.
The locket – which is the central symbol of Joe’s mother, Elizabeth, who died after being crushed by a steel beam.
Somehow the locket survived this intact, so that Joe can carry it around through nearly all of the movie as a remembrance of her.
This was a gift to Elizabeth from Joe’s father, Jackson, when Joe was born and it contains a photo of Joe as an infant and his mother.
As an infant, later home movies show, Joe suckled on the locket while in his mother’s arms, and so that his attachment to the locket seems tied firmly to his relationship with his mother.
Early on in the film, when he is mourning her on the swings just after her death, he has the locket.
At moments of stress, Joe handles the locket suggesting that it contains something of his mother.
Then later, when he is taken prisoner by the military, the locket is taken from him.
Just when the solider took it remains unclear, but he puts it in his breast pocket, a kind of second death for Joe, who makes a point when the alien kills the soldier to recover it, and again, amazingly, after the soldier has been tossed around like a bean bag, the locket remains unharmed.
In the final scene, after Joe and the alien have bonded and the alien has rebuilt his ship and begins taking off, the alien calls for the locket again, drawing it up as if it is returning to its rightful owner.
The concept of a zombie is that he or she has cheated death, but has come back in a grim, lifeless form bent on seeking out flesh and creating more zombies – as described by Joe when explaining the role to Alice.
Alice was brought on to play the love interest in the mini film, and it is unclear from the plot how her character becomes a zombie.
These were apparently additional lines added after the original scene where she was beginning her husband the reporter not to try and fight the zombies, but to come away with her.
This decision to turn her into a zombie may have been a kind of angry response from the writer and director, Charles, after he saw his plans for getting to know her better evaporating as she started to come to like Joe instead.
Rage in outer movie has turned a number of the characters into living dead – Joe’s father, Jackson, who is angry about his wife’s death, especially at Lewis, who got drunk the day of the accident forcing Elizabeth to take his place at the mill. Lewis, himself, has become a zombie like character, numbing his senses through drink as he mourns the fact that his wife left him and forced him to raise Alice.
Joe and Lewis are both pathetic, zombie-like fathers, who go through the motions of being parents, but in reality do not know how or will not risk opening themselves up to any emotions.
There are a lot of zombies in the external film, people who isolate themselves from emotion and truth, minor characters who cut off the real world either with a set of headphones for their walkman, or through prejudices such as the woman who is convinced the Russians must be behind the theft of her microwave ovens.
The Zombie is a perversion of the very sacred concept of rebirth.
In this film, the mother seems to have been reborn in some way as the alien – since it arrives at a critical time in the film when Alice as the wife gives voice to one of the central themes of the film, about how people has choice in their lives to do what they need to do, and they do not have to be tied to some compulsion.
As admirable as Charles is, he is obsessed, first with making the movie, and later using the movie to obtain love, when that is not how it works, and his plans go array in a terrible, monstrous way with the arrival of the alien.
This is a film that is all about death and rebirth. We are constantly seeing images of repetition, even in tiny, apparently insignificant images. Charles’ twin siblings are clearly monsters, totally out of control each time they come onto the scene. In one scene, one of them is banging the breakfast table with a plastic baseball bat. When his mother snatches it away, the twin immediately finds another bat and continues its rampage.
The camera which is a hugely important symbol in his film dies in the train crash scene, living just long enough to record the arrival of the alien, and then is reborn when Joe borrows his father’s camera so that they can continue making the film.
Charles to add to the train crash scenes wants to blow up one of Joe’s train models, and this becomes an important symbol, too, when Alice tells Joe not to let Charles do it. As a compromise, Joe offers to build another model – a kind of zombie – that Charles can blow up instead.
Alice herself goes through several deaths and rebirths, just as the alien does. After the train crash, the boys mistake the fake blood for hers, when she suddenly reappears. She later dies symbolically when the alien abducts her, and Charles had to go into the underworld to rescue her.
Over and over we get death of objects and their rebirth, often changing uses, such as all the junk the alien collects as part of its effort to rebuild its space ship.
Perhaps as significant as the locket yet subtly disguised are the swings on which Joe is first seen when morning his mother. He is on those same swings later in the home movies with his mother, and in the rush towards the end of the movie, an out of control tank rolls over a whole playground including the swings. This comes at a critical time when Joe has vowed to rescue Alice.
The photo guy noticed the changed a short time earlier asking “when did he become so bossy?”
While I haven’t quite figured it all out, death is a natural process, and there is also a proper way to die and become reborn.
But much of what this movie is about it has to do with living, and rejecting the shutting off of part of ones self simply because bad things have happened.
The point of life is to live, and in an important way, Joe, Alice, Jackson and Lewis learn go live and in doing so are reborn in a way that is more than just acceptable, but a powerful statement on life itself.