Recently I came across a thought-provoking quote taken from an old interview given by director Danny Boyle (a particular favorite of mine). In this quote Boyle mentions that he, along with fellow directors Martin Scorsese and John Woo, initially intended to become a priest (a Protestant minister in Woo's case) before directing his career path towards film-making. Boyle goes on to relate the two seemingly disparate professions by claiming that they both involve heavy drama and the duty of lecturing to an audience. Honestly, Boyle's comfortable comparison of film-making to preaching didn't immediately resonate with me as a viewer who typically likes to let sleeping dogs lie when it comes to religious symbolism in film. However, the more familiar I've become with the works of the (almost) priests-cum-directors (having only just seen John Woo's The Killer and Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver this year), the more willing I am to explore the remarkably dark violence in their films under the cast of a new, "divine" light.
My experimental attempt to find religion leads me to a reexamination of the first movie from Danny Boyle that I expressly remember falling in love with: 28 Days Later (2002). Although marketed to the mass public as another gory, zombie apocalypse flick, 28 Days Later instantly impressed me as a film that transcends its narrow genre. Revisiting this film now allows me to apply my new-found knowledge of director Boyle's strong Irish Catholic background and devotion, and as a result, give a credible explanation of how this zombie film touches upon quality subject matter. For example, an important distinction can easily be made between 28 Days Later and all other zombie apocalypses filmed to date by explaining that 28 Days Later focuses almost exclusively on the "apocalypse" angle of the genre. In other words, while most zombie movies prominently feature the mindless flesh-eaters as they munch their way through the remainder of the human population, Boyle's 28 Days Later is a marked departure in its unique emphasis of a post-apocalyptic absence of life, whether it be human, animal, or the animated undead.
Pushing the suspicious lack of abundant zombie predators and human fodder in 28 Days Later further into the realm of religious allegory, one can even speculate that this movie serves as an updated representation of the Old Testament flood, which supposedly cleansed the world of nearly all its inhabitants. In the film, a "flood" of disease wipes our modern world clean of civilization, leaving death (constituted by the occasional appearances of the roaming undead) and an all-consuming emptiness, as conveyed to the viewer in the striking opening scenes. From a high-angle/heavenly standpoint, the viewer experiences a series of extreme long shots that altogether show the progression of a lone survivor (played by Irish actor Cillian Murphy) as he slowly makes his way through the abandoned streets of London. Instead of being submerged in floodwater, the city is smothered by a blanket of deafening silence that is maintained throughout the duration of these poignant long shots/takes.
Meanwhile, Murphy's lone survivor doesn't amble aimlessly around town for too long before eventually assuming a greater responsibility outside of his own survival. This responsibility is comparable to that which was bestowed upon Noah by his Holy Father. Just as Noah was charged with choosing who would survive with him in the Ark, so too does Murphy's character decide who will live alongside him and who will fall prey to the zombie's lethal bite. More specifically, Murphy's character unleashes a hungry zombie within the bowels of a military compound (functions as the Ark, or the last standing refuge of humanity during the scourge) in order to kill the corrupt men hiding there. Fast-paced cuts and dim lighting make it practically impossible to distinguish between the wild zombie and Murphy's rampaging young man as they jointly indulge in an unchecked killing spree throughout the compound. Both the zombie and the young man appear to equally represent executing agents of the cleansing "flood"/disease through their gratuitously bloody slaying of the wicked soldiers.
Interestingly enough, the gruesome crusade of Boyle's blood-splattered Noah is closely matched in terms of its violent display of righteous fury by the actions of Robert DeNiro's Travis Bickle in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver. Underneath the surface view of Bickle being nothing more significant than a paranoid vigilante, exists the possibility of Bickle being another divine crusader charged with carrying out tough justice against the "scum" of New York City. One can potentially suggest that Bickle embodies a New Testament Christ-like figure in his attempted life sacrifice to free the prostitute Iris from her pimp and from her sins. Evil and sin are once again fought with grotesque violence implemented by a lone purveyor of "divine" justice. Of course, this "divinity" is ultimately administered by the omnipotent director--especially often by fire and brimstone-minded Catholics like Boyle and Scorsese--as he channels it through the dramatic scenarios he imagines and directs.