Sunday, August 21, 2016

Jane Austen's Satire, a Batman wannabe, & Zombies

Years ago, when I heard about the book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I was horrified. How dare Seth Grahame-Smith take Austen's classic and splatter the blood of the undead across it's precious words? Later on, when I discovered that a movie adaptation of the book was going to be created, my reaction was similar. But then I heard that the extremely awkward character of Mr. Collins was going to be portrayed by the delightful Matt Smith. So, my thinking altered slightly.

I figured, fine, I'll watch the movie-but ONLY for the parts with Matt Smith, I'll skip the rest. However, at some point I watched the movie trailer, and I was genuinely interested. This looks like it actually could be a really interesting movie, I thought. 

But wait! Wouldn't Jane Austen be rolling in her grave at the thought of zombies walking through one of her classics? Shouldn't any fan of Jane Austen stay far, far away from such a movie? 

I mulled this dilemma over long and hard, and as I thought about it, I realized that many people tend to fit Jane Austen into one image: She is the prim and proper woman who delicately fits into the elegant backdrop of Netherfield, or sits alongside Emma Woodhouse for a good gossip. We see her as "the woman who wrote the great romance of Pride and Prejudice." This may be a comforting picture, but it's not the full picture of Jane Austen. In fact, when I really thought about the larger image of Jane, I began to wonder if she might not actually be so shocked with a zombie story. 

After all, this is the woman who-as a 15-year-old girl-wrote a satirical history of England. Furthermore, her Juvenilia is full of parodies and satires that Jane wrote throughout her childhood. Furthermore, Jane did not outgrow the use of satire or parody, but instead she brought it into her novels. Kathryn Sutherland argues that:
"Jane Austen did not simply outgrow her juvenile notebooks. There is ample evidence that the same critical intelligence that created these satirical depictions of the conventions and stereotypes of late 18th-century fiction, conduct books and stage farce, continued to work within the more realistic framework of her mature novels. First drafts of books eventually published as Sense and SensibilityPride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey were written soon after the last of the juvenilia."
In fact, according to one timeline, her fantastically hilarious and dark Northanger Abbey was begun after the initial work she did on First Impressions (known later as Pride and Prejudice). In pretty much all of her novels, Jane Austen employs some type of satire. 

Suffice to say, the more I thought about how Jane Austen used satire and parody in her own work, the less odd I felt for wanting to see Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. 
I wasn't sure if the movie was worth spending any money on, so I waited until it reached the local library. When my husband's friends crowded our apartment one evening to play video games, I seized the opportunity and took refuge in the bedroom with this movie in hand, excited to finally experience it. And, since I have been going off on tangent after tangent, perhaps you're curious to know what my take on the movie is? It's complicated. 
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.”
This movie is not trying to be The Walking Dead; it is an Austen-esque frolic through a Regency Era zombie apocalypse. The opening credits-which include Mr. Bennet narrating the history of the plague and zombie infestation of England as a bedtime story to his girls-was melodramatic and fantastic (you can watch the opening sequence here). As I viewed this excellent sequence, my expectations (which were initially very low) began to rise, and I continued to watch the movie. This film retains much of the dialogue from Austen's novel, and the setting is lovely England, just as we're used to. Except, instead of sitting around with embroidery or playing the piano, we see the Bennet sisters sitting around while they care for their weapons.  After all, what was it that Mr. Bennet said in the opening sequence?
"Remember this: Keep your swords as sharp as your wit, for the ultimate battle between the living and the undead has yet to be staged." 
The Bennet sisters know their moves, and aren't afraid to battle it out, even at a fancy ball. Among the Bennet sisters, without a doubt, Liz was done the best. Portrayed by the incredible Lily James (who was wonderful in both Cinderella and Downton Abbey), Liz was spirited, elegant, caring, and passionate. The other Bennet sisters seemed to be cast decently well, but I wanted to see more of them. I understand that the P&P story centers around Liz, but it seems as if in the book and in other adaptations, I've gotten to see the other sisters characterized more than I did in P&P&Z. In this movie, they seemed to be too much in the background. 
Lydia, Jane, and Liz looking their best at the ball. 
And then there's Colonel Darcy, zombie-hunter extraordinaire.
Sam Riley, who portrays Darcy, said that
"I wanted the voice to be somewhere between James Mason or Peter O'Toole, and the character somewhere between Sean Connery in Dr. No and the guy from A Clockwork Orange. All of those-that was my thinking. I had this epiphany while reading it drunk." 
Well, things make a lot more sense if Sam came up with all this while drunk. Note to Sam Riley-please, please do not come up with your character while drunk. It just doesn't work. Anyways. From my perspective, when Darcy walked into a Whist party on the hunt for zombies, the only thing I could think of when he spoke was:  

The entire movie, whenever Darcy introduced himself, all I could hear was Christian Bale saying "I'm Batman." I love Batman, but I just wasn't expecting this, and was not sure I wanted Batman running around with Liz Bennet in the zombie apocalypse. However, upon further reflection, I think the he and Darcy could easily become a fantastic mashup. Both lost their fathers, both experienced great tragedy in life, both are ridiculously rich with no superpowers...I'm thinking A Dark Knight in Pemberley would be a great working title. Anyone want to make this happen? Anyways, back to P&P...

A very Batman-ish image along the lines of
 Christian Bale's Batman, except for the gun, of course. 
Colonel Darcy hunts for zombies, as well as people who have been infected and will turn into full-fledged zombies. He has a little glass vial of carrion flies which he'll send into rooms-since the flies can detect dead flesh, they will direct him to the infected-who still look like normal people-so that Darcy can deal with them.

The first time I saw the movie, I wasn't a huge fan of how Darcy was portrayed. He just seemed kind of flat to me. Darcy is an aloof, proud character, but this portrayal didn't show me as much of his spirit as I would have liked. When I re-watched parts of the movie a second time (I simply had to re-watch the scenes with Mr. Collins. I'll get to him in a minute), I didn't dislike the portrayal of Darcy as much, but I still wasn't a huge fan of it. Darcy is a huge part of Pride and Prejudice, so I really wish he would have been better portrayed. 
I thought it was pretty funny that they threw in a short scene of Darcy
in his white shirt, for no reason other than as a tribute to Colin Firth.
Wickham was...Wickham, disturbing and dashing. I didn't really have many strong feelings about how he was portrayed, except that I appreciated how they made him more of a creep.

Lady Catherine de Bourgh was pretty fun. In this movie, Lady Catherine is a famous former zombie-slayer who wears an epic eye patch. Aloof, domineering, and menacing, I enjoyed how she was portrayed.

The zombies were...confusing? Yes, I suppose that's the right word. I know that this movie isn't The Walking Dead, but since that show is my only information on zombies, it's the only thing I can use as a point of zombie-reference. The zombies in P&P&Z were so human, which I did not expect. They could talk normally, and aside from splatters of blood here and there and maybe a few guts hanging out, they did not seem very undead-like for the most part. It was quite odd to me.

Enough about all those other characters; it's time we talk about Mr. Collins. The illustrious, creepy, awkward Mr. Collins. 

 Matt Smith surpassed any and all expectations I had for him in this role. It was a joy to see him portray Mister-I mean, Parson-Collins.

Everyone's least favorite companion at dances and tea parties, Collins stole the show.

I thought it was very interesting how the presence of zombies brought even more conflict into Collins' part of the story. He clearly makes it known to the sword-wielding Liz that a woman's place is only in the home, and never on the fields of battle. Yes, in dangerous times-when zombies can pop up at balls or during walks to the village-a woman should not wield a weapon, at least according to "appearances are everything" Parson Collins.
"Miss Elizabeth, how charming you look today.
Let us look in the shop windows of Meryton and
we can buy some new pots and pans
to take the place of your swords and daggers."
In general, the characters were hit-and-miss. 
Liz, Collins, and de Bourgh were all great--but the others weren't as memorable. The plot followed the "normal" plot of P&P at the beginning, but the zombie theme caused the plot to take a couple of twists and turns, which was pretty cool. Unfortunately, these twists and turns seemed scattered and under-developed. A character would toss out a piece of information that seemed like it should be meaningful but it would never develop in a way that made a lot of sense. In fact, the whole movie seemed a bit rushed and chaotic at times, with bits and pieces thrown together in a hope to make a cohesive whole. I honestly would not recommend watching this movie if one does not know at least the simple plot of Pride and Prejudice, because this movie makes a lot of assumptions and rushes around here and there, trying to tie up the most major of the loose ends. The movie is under 2 hours, so perhaps these problems could have been fixed if some scenes were lengthened or added? I don't know, it's hard to say.

I love the idea behind the movie, and I love some of the characters. I do not love the movie itself, though I had fun watching it. It's an entertaining flick that I like, but I think it fundamentally falls short in the way the plot was constructed. I have not read the book (though I'm planning to in the future), so I'm not sure if the book does a better job at tying things together or not. 

I wouldn't recommend spending money on this movie (unless you really, really love it after you see it). It's fun, but not a movie I would re-watch all the time. Skip the movie store and get it from the library for a lighthearted girls' night.

Elements worth noting regarding content and age appropriateness:
 Age-wise, I think high school is a pretty good range. The zombies aren't horribly gruesome, but they're still bloody, especially in the battle scenes. There's also a scene in a zombie-filled church where-SPOILER-the zombies are having a service where they eat and drink pig's brains and blood. So if you're just not into seeing that, look away (but you might want to listen, so you hear important plot information). The women wear low-cut dresses (expected) and you see them hiding daggers in their garters under their clothes, and when Liz gets in a fight with someone the front of her dress pops open a little bit. 

This has been way longer and more tangent-y than I initially planned, but I hope that you enjoyed reading some of my thoughts on this movie! 


  1. I doubt I'd ever watch this movie given my low tolerance for gore/creepy things like zombies, but I giggled throughout your description. I actually, on the whole, like the idea of twisting classic stories into something a little bit odd or different, I just don't enjoy the zombie angle in particular. Batman-meets-Darcy? That could be interesting!

    1. I'm glad that you enjoyed reading about this! Ever since I thought of Batman-meets-Darcy, I really want it to happen haha.

  2. So, I read the book. And giggled, but actually really enjoyed it, In knowing the story of Pride and
    Prejudice, the fun w seeing how and what the changes would be. It was fun, stupid fun. So then I was all excited to check out the movie. I COMPLETELY FORGOT that I do NOT do gore. I didn't make it more than eight minutes into it before I turned it off. I just don't do scary images. They have a way of sticking in my brain and I don't want them there, so I don't put them in. But I super enjoyed reading your thoughts, because I was curious how it all played out.

    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed reading my thoughts since you couldn't see the movie! Oh my, that must have been awful to see the beginning of it when you don't do gore. I'd say that was a good call on your part to turn it off. I'm glad that you enjoyed the book! I'm very excited to get it from the library (I have to finish my current book first haha) and read it.