The research blog of Emma Frances Bloomfield, a communication scholar and PhD student.
Sunday, January 24, 2016
Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, oh my! Literature Classics and Film Appropriation
This past Thursday, I attended a film screening of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the latest film to be adapted from a book....that was itself adapted from a different book. I remember when the book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies came out, and I thought the book might lure unsuspecting youth into actually enjoying a literary matsterpiece and classic. I greatly enjoyed reading the original and admit that I snubbed the pop culture revival. Upon given the opportunity to go to a screening, however, I put my skepticism aside. As a film, I thought PPZ was excellent, extremely entertaining and just enough of the original to be a humorous homage. I have to say that Lily James and Matt Smith stole the show and created exciting and entertaining characters. This blog is not simply about movie reviews, however, so I feel compelled to discuss some elements of communication and rhetorical theory that, in this case, heightens my enjoyment of the film, and one cautionary note. I will first address what I felt were positive feminist inversions in the film through perspective by incongruity before discussing the future of orality and literacy. Suffice to say, this post will have comments about specific elements of the film. You have been warned.
Although many of the fighting scenes became repetitive, I never tired of the many scenes of the Bennet sisters pulling knives out of garter belts or revealing hidden weapons from underneath their dresses. The Bennet sisters were trained as Chinese warriors and often came to the aid of their family and male counterparts. In discussing these scenes, I am reminded of Kenneth Burke's perspective by incongruity, by which two disparate things are united to highlight the differences between them. In PPZ, I found this concept in play along multiple dimensions. The weaponry along the exaggerated feminity of the time period. Large skirts and corsets are made to restrict the movements of ladies, and yet the Bennet sisters move seemingly without pause to eliminate dozens of potential zombie threats. Furthermore, the juxtaposition of 19th century language and style with a contemporary horror fascination reflected the movie's unique narrative. One of my favorite parts was the puppeter-style history book that explained the relationship between the plague and the zombie outbreak - fascinating legitimization of a decidedly impossible occurrence.
Perspective by incongruity also laid a stark humor over the entire novel. The imminent zombie horde emphasizes how absurd the choice of husbands for Elizabeth is and the amount of time and attention given to such occasions. Even with zombies attacking and killing people at the balls, Mrs. Bennet and many of the people present are preoccupied with marriage and inheritances. The incongruence of these simultaneous acts highlights the odd traditions of the past and reignites the agency of Elizabeth in choosing her husband, despite the risks. I have recently paid much attention to the rise of feminist themes in horror movies (such as Teeth, It Follows, and Crimson Peak). I am happy to find these themes traversing genres and emerging in a more mainstream film. I hope these themes do not become overblown and trite, and keep their sincerity and calls for reconsidering the roles of women in narratives.
I did enjoy PPZ and found many instances of progressive film-making. I do wonder, however, if the creation of such films do not damage readership. When I first encountered the novel, I thought at least people would still be reading - what is there now? I do not mean to undermine film as a medium of communication, but I wonder what the long term effects are of children brought up watching the Lord of the Rings, Pride and Prejudice, Roald Dahl novels, the Great Gatsby, and Bride to Teribithia. Furthermoe, what happens when these film adaptations are perversions of the original text? Excellent movies, to be sure, but I wonder what components of visuality and literacy, minus orality, are lost on the current generation.