Spoilers Ahead: This article contains advanced talking points for Marc Forster‘s World War Z. We recommend reading it after you see the film.
I know. It’s pretty futile starting up a list of unanswered questions regarding a popcorn flick about vaguely defined zombies co-written by Damon Lindelof. But just because something is futile doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. I haven’t read the original book by Max Brooks, which apparently doesn’t matter given how little the movie resembles the text. I also haven’t followed every little piece of the production, but that shouldn’t matter either since the movie on screen should stand alone. However, where there is some relevance to explaining something on screen by the issues of the rewrites and reshoots and such, so I do try to mention it if I’m aware of it.
Speaking of the infamous production problems, they do tend to factor into narrative flaws and holes and confusion like those I raise below. Additionally the expectation that the story of World War Z will continue in sequels means the filmmakers might be choosing to flesh out some stuff later on. And of course, as usual, some of the questions are not answerable at all because they’re more criticisms in the form of a hypothetical query or simply disagreements with how the movie was plotted or how the characters thought or acted. All in all, let these talking points first and foremost serve as a means to discuss the movie in full without concern for spoilers.
What actually caused the zombie outbreak?
There’s not really an explanation. There’s no mention of a probe returning from Venus with extraterrestrial contaminants, no accidentally leaked biological weapon or toxic chemicals, no voodoo magic. In the beginning of the film, news reports call the outbreak a form of rabies. Later the infected are just called zombies, in a sort of knowing nod to a pop culture tradition that seems to exist in this onscreen world. From what I’ve read, the closest thing to a source was initially mentioned in the script as having been based in China, but the line was eliminated in hopes of appealing to the country’s distribution censors (it seems not to have mattered anyway). So, I just assume the outbreak originated with a diseased pig in a kitchen in Macau, a la Contagion. As in the case of that film, the world never figures out the true cause (even if the audience is let in there at least), which is often the case in real life. Nobody knows for sure who Patient Zero was for many plagues and viruses nor the definite source of other epidemics. And as it so happens in the movie, it doesn’t really end up mattering what caused the outbreak.
What’s the point of the South Korea mission if the source isn’t important?
Given the history of epidemics and the difficulty of their origin being pinpointed, this is a very good question. At the point in which the world was ravaged by this zombie apocalypse, the real agenda should have been figuring out how the remaining humans could survive or otherwise avoid becoming infected. That partly means looking for a vaccine or cure, which is what the scientists at the World Health Organization were doing, and as with many diseases they could investigate or experiment just fine without knowing the origin. Perhaps more knowledge of what they were dealing with might have helped, but it doesn’t seem necessary. You just don’t need to find a Patient Zero to develop a vaccine. If anything the trip assigned to Gerry (Brad Pitt) to find out the source comes off as just the U.N.’s desire to know. Just because. It reminded me of the crew in Prometheus attempting to find out the origin of man just to find out. Other than that, the investigation structure provides for good storytelling.
What is the real significance of David Morse’s ex-CIA character?
Morse has a disappointingly small part in the film, but he’s far from unmemorable. But is he necessary? His nutty, traitorous CIA agent does provide Gerry with the information about Israel’s quarantined status in addition to less relevant details of North Korea’s solution for avoiding zombies by knocking out everyone’s teeth. Never mind the confusing circumstances of his gun-running and imprisonment and how he knows so much about Jerusalem being the best place for the investigation to go next, but couldn’t someone else have supplied this exposition? Why hasn’t the U.N. been in communication with Israel or otherwise aware of the situation there? The only real explanation for Morse’s appearance here is obviously service to us diehard 12 Monkeys fans who love the idea of seeing Jeffrey Goines talking with Dr. Peters about the origins of an apocalyptic outbreak. Even Morse’s tooth removal bit feels like a nod to the “crazy dentist” extraction from Terry Gilliam’s 1996 film. If only there was a Bruce Willis cameo among those soldiers.
Why don’t the soldiers in South Korea accompany Gerry to the safe haven of Jerusalem?
After Gerry learns that Israel has protected itself from the zombies and has become a walled-in quarantined area, it would make sense for him to invite everyone held up at the base in South Korea to join him on the giant plane and head to safety. I think he even does ask James Badge Dale‘s character, who declines. Why? In case any other investigators come looking for answers they don’t even really have? Because it’s their duty to hold their fort even though it’s in the middle of a zombie-filled zone? There’s a lot of questions left over about that whole sequence, including why the soldier with the bum leg who had already experienced his miracle of being undesirable by the zombies wasn’t the one sent out to handle the most dangerous tasks of fueling the plane and helping Gerry get away.
Why wasn’t there better security on the walls of Jerusalem?
For many days Israel remained a safe place, if only because of the huge security system of defensive walls already built on the border of the Gaza Strip. Political relevance notwithstanding, this was a clever aspect of the film. Unfortunately and ironically, celebratory chanting (was it Israelis and Palestinians united peacefully in song that was the downfall?) drew the attention of too many zombies outside the wall. Not that the speaker feedback could have been the loudest noise coming from the city given all the activity at the airport and from the helicopters in the sky and from the huge crowds in general. But even as sudden and quick as the zombie horde was able to pile against the wall and thereby breach the city, how did Israel’s leaders not foresee the chances of such an invasion? They had the helicopters monitoring the border, which didn’t help at all, but they should have had other forms of security watches and monitoring and defenses set up atop the walls. I saw someone mention somewhere that the walls should have been built with an outward extension to make it harder to climb over. My idea would have been to include a wall of wire at the peak of the structure, or maybe a moat. I know, it’s easier to imagine such plans after you’ve seen what was in place not work.
How did Gerry know he’d survive the plane crash?
One of the recurring ideas in the movie is that Gerry is a risk taker. For instance, after he amputates the arm of Segen (Daniella Kertesz), she asks how he knew it would work. He says he didn’t. Later on, he takes a very big risk in injecting himself with a terminal disease in the hopes it would prove to be the way to fight the zombies. Fortunately he is a very lucky man, because while those two situations were at least logically motivated, his plan to rid the plane he’s on of zombies with a grenade was anything but reasonable. Let’s pretend that the airline’s seats were definitely secure enough that he and Segen wouldn’t be sucked out of the explosion-generated hole along with the infected passengers. How could he have believed that at least he would survive the subsequent crash? Maybe he just didn’t care anymore because he thought his family was sent out to die? Wouldn’t the best plan have been to talk his and Segen’s way into the secure cockpit until they could land? He’d already generated a relationship and trust with the pilots, who he clearly didn’t worry about when he sabotaged the flight.