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Why You Shouldn't Be Surprised by the Muddled Politics of "World War Z"

ReelPolitik By Anthony Kaufman | ReelPolitik March 30, 2013 at 2:40PM

Some folks around the web are shocked and astonished -- astonished! -- that word comes from Brad Pitt that the political subtext of "World War Z," the actor's upcoming apocalyptic epic, has been neutered. In an interview from Entertainment Weekly that has been oft-quoted, Pitt says, "I was really interested in a more political film, using the zombie trope as a kind of Trojan horse for asking, 'What would happen to sociopolitical lines if there was a pandemic like this?... But it was just too much. We got bogged down in it.... It gutted the fun of what these films are meant to be." But come on, folks, aside from the occasional "V for Vendetta," when has Hollywood ever provided penetrating social critique?
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Some folks around the web are shocked and astonished -- astonished! -- that word comes from Brad Pitt that the political subtext of "World War Z," the actor's upcoming apocalyptic epic, has been neutered. In an interview from Entertainment Weekly that has been oft-quoted, Pitt says, "I was really interested in a more political film, using the zombie trope as a kind of Trojan horse for asking, 'What would happen to sociopolitical lines if there was a pandemic like this?... But it was just too much. We got bogged down in it.... It gutted the fun of what these films are meant to be." But come on, folks, aside from the occasional "V for Vendetta," when has Hollywood ever provided penetrating social critique?

World War Z

It doesn't take much time to dig up the weighty political themes that could have existed in a film adaptation that didn't emerge from Hollywood's middlebrow system. According to Wikipedia, there are several loaded political moments in the book and criticisms of government bureaucracy and ineptitude, with comparisons to Hurricane Katrina and now, you can bet, pundits will be adding Bengazi, Libya to the list.

Alden Utter, a reviewer for The Eagle, writes, "Early warnings are missed, crucial reports go unheeded, profiteers make millions selling placebos, the army equips itself with tools perfect for the last war they fought and populations ignore the extent of threat until it is staring them in the face — this is, surprisingly, a post-Katrina zombie tale."

Max Brooks, the author of "World War Z," has admitted that he wanted to criticize the "national flaws" of "isolationism." "Yes, in 'World War Z' some nations come out as winners and some as losers, but isn't that the case in real life as well? I wanted to base my stories on the historical actions of the countries in question, and if it offends some individuals, then maybe they should reexamine their own nation's history."

Like many Hollywood offerings that traffic in political themes, I'll bet we're in store for a similarly muddled political perspective as "The Dark Knight Rises," Christopher Nolan's ideological hodgepodge that combines harsh critiques of anarchist collectives with direct attacks on the capitalist and corrupt societal elite. Hollywood always has its cake, and devours it, too: That's how they sell the most tickets imaginable, by appealing across a broad spectrum, and combining so many ideas that everyone can walk away feeling like they got what they wanted.

My guess is that "World War Z" will be pitched and/or criticized as either an attack on neoliberal economic geopolitics or, alternately, as a Tea-Party-esque warning against Big Government. Either way, everyone wins--or loses, depending on your point of view.

This article is related to: Anti-Hollywood, Brad Pitt