The marketing campaign for the movie was unavoidable. With the preponderance of supernatural romance in the media today—Twilight, The Vampire Diaries, Beautiful Creatures, etc.—of course Warm Bodies would be advertised to appeal to that ready-made audience.
But if the adaptation is anything like its source material, a lot of people are going to be surprised when they step into theatres. Because Isaac Marion’s novel Warm Bodies is not Twilight with zombies.
Yes, there’s a love story. And it’s a delirious and grand one, full of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. He’s R, a zombie, and she’s Julie, a living girl. He’s just eaten her boyfriend—she’s just thrown a knife into his forehead. This is certainly not a match that seems feasible, at least not at first.
But what makes Warm Bodies absolutely mind-blowing and incredible is its heart. The story isn’t rooted simply in a starcrossed love story; at its core, Warm Bodies is a truly moving tale of redemption.
Our narrator, R, has fallen as far as a person can. He’s a monster, a decaying and shambling thing that seeks out and kills the living, driven by an instinct to destroy and consume. But he longs to be more. Wants to reshape himself into something nobler and recover his fragmented humanity. He wishes for dreams and memories, struggles valiantly to communicate, wants to read and write and express his inner thoughts—which are sprawling and grand things. The tragedy of R is that his interior life is a beautiful, poignant one; he’s simply trapped in a monster’s body and unable to share his thoughts with the world.
Enter Julie, a whirlwind that blows down the walls that had trapped R. With her, he begins to claw his way out of the pit and back into the light. He remembers words, rediscovers dreams, learns how to sing. Her optimism and joy for life challenges R until the lines between what is monster and what is human are blurred completely. Julie isn’t just an object of desire or a girlfriend in R’s eyes: she’s a reason to be better, a reason to fight, a reason to live.
I’ve read the book twice now, and was equally blown away each time. The characters pulse with life—especially R, as ironic as that is. There’s humor in this grim post-apocalyptic landscape, and shatteringly beautiful prose. Much of the book reads as elaborate poetry, with even the most violent and macabre elements rendered gorgeous by Marion’s sublime words.
This isn’t just a zombie novel, and it’s certainly not just a love story. It’s a meditation on what it is to be human and all of those finer things that make us human: music and words and art and dreams and love of every shape. As is made abundantly clear in the story’s second act, living is not enough. Humans need the intangible, too. And even someone who seems beyond redemption can find salvation with courage and love.
Don’t think me hyperbolic when I say that Warm Bodies is a book that can change your life. It absolutely can. I know people who, going through impossibly rough times, read this book and came out on the other side stronger people. That’s the mark of a truly great story: when it can make you think, make you dream, and give you hope even in the darkest moments.
Isaac Marion has woven a stunning tapestry with R and Julie’s threads, and crafted one of the most emotionally resonant and sincere tales that proves that a post-apocalyptic landscape does not always have to be nihilistic. There’s horror in the breakdown; but there can be beauty in the rebuilding.
And so it is that I await Friday’s release of the movie adaptation with bated breath and my heart in my throat. I can only hope, as R learns to, that the story that plays out on the big screen is true to the spirit of the one that unfolded across the page. This isn’t just a tale of monster meets girl—it’s a story of the sweeping strength of humanity in the bloody teeth of destruction.
Angie Barry wrote her thesis on the socio-political commentary in zombie films. Meeting George Romero is high on her bucket list, and she has spent hours putting together her zombie apocalypse survival plan. She also writes horror and fantasy in her spare time, and watches far too much Doctor Who. You can find her at Livejournal.com under the handle “zombres.”
Read all posts by Angie Barry at Criminal Element.