People of a nation expect their government and other institutions of the law to honor their rights, protect them and, most importantly, to maintain a structured society. Ideally, should a catastrophic event cost the lives of citizens and threaten to crumble social order; people rely on the solidarity of their communities and expect swift and efficient intervention from government powers. Films and television shows depicting the zombie apocalypse such as Night of the Living Dead (1968), 28 Days Later (2002), and the Walking Dead (2010) challenge the notion that the government and military are capable of maintaining order and that communities are able to thrive in chaos. In fact, the zombie apocalypse symbolizes the devolution of civilization and the destruction of governmental, familial, and educational institutions, ultimately depicting a dismal future for humanity while simultaneously revealing the fragility of society. In Marc Forster’s World War Z (2013), Jerry Lane, a former employee of the UN, cooperates with the United Nations military, and the World Health Organization to investigate a possible solution to the zombie epidemic. Whereas an ineffective government and hopeless isolation are typical elements for many zombie films, World War Z illustrates the utility of government and military on a global scale in times of crisis.
The opening titles, in which images of nature are intercut with shots of day-to-day human society, demonstrates the dichotomous nature of civilization. Shots of undulating ocean waves, clouds floating lazily in the sky, and the sun rising behind a quiet cityscape invoke a sense of tranquility. The film connects the peaceful picture of the natural world to human society with subsequent images of beautiful suburban homes and people commuting on trains, buses, and busy city streets. The juxtaposition of commuters with shots of an ant community marching in an orderly cluster implies social order within a structured, functioning society. As news and TV talk show segments flash on the screen, the sounds of various radio and TV media dialogues overlap. The trivial, less dire media information overshadows a grim message about a possible viral outbreak. In spite of the troubling information the people portrayed appear undaunted, continuing their commute even as reports of the virus become more frequent and prominently featured in the sequence—denoting a collective ignorance of impending danger. As if in response to the gravity of the message, the rhythm of intercutting increases, simulating a frenzied heartbeat, with each cut lasting no more than a second. The sudden onslaught of images represents the way in which social order can rapidly decay. Images of an aggressive ocean current, ants devouring a carcass, and wolves tearing other animals apart, supersede the serenity of nature. The transition from order and tranquility to violence and chaos represents the deterioration of social order and foreshadows the ensuing chaos of the zombie outbreak. The necessary response to the social turmoil—as suggested by the news broadcast on Jerry’s kitchen television—is martial law, which Jerry explains to his daughter is “like house rules, but for everybody.” Jerry’s “house rules” metaphor indicates his belief that government aid and military action can bring peace and order to an unstable world.
When the zombie outbreak occurs later in the film, local authorities prove to be ineffective—their movement restricted by the general chaos of cars and panicking civilians. In contrast, the UN military demonstrates its mobility by moving freely above the pandemonium in secure helicopters. The UN’s apparent mobility compels Jerry to entrust his family’s protection to the military, whose presence and authority Jerry must rely on throughout the film. In other zombie-related tales, a military helicopter extraction is nothing but a pipedream, ultimately leading to disappointment. However, for Jerry and his family the military helicopter signifies salvation, as it not only rescues them from the tumultuous infection site it brings them to a haven completely removed from the outbreak. The haven, a U.S. Navy vessel is an even more unlikely occurrence in the pessimistic zombie genre. Fully stocked with supplies, military personnel, and experts monitoring the outbreak the ship symbolizes the resilience of the government and its attempt to maintain order and control. Even as an officer reports that Washington D.C., the very center of American government, has been wiped out by the outbreak, other naval officers transport paintings and historical artifacts, symbolically preserving American culture. Jerry’s association with the UN and military affords him the mobility to investigate the apocalypse not only locally, but also internationally, making him one of the most mobile protagonists of the zombie apocalypse genre. The support of the United Nations and military combined with Jerry’s ingenuity and determination exemplify the indomitable fortitude of humanity and imply that society’s hope for deliverance is not lost.