Night of the Living Dead and the implications for society

Night of the Living Dead is different from the film noir in many aspects and yet similarly it addresses societal issues, perhaps even more effectively. Firstly, the film does not have narration, follows a linear structure of events and employs characters that are ordinary people as opposed to glamorous ideals. In addition to these factors, in my opinion, the fact that the movie is in black-and-white gives it a documentary feel – that it is really happening. Previously, I disagreed with the position in chapter 2, Monaco that reality is shown in black-and-white and color adds a quality of make-believe, Night of the Living Dead is the first film so far where this is so and color makes it similar to other zombie movies, where it is clearly imagination at work. (for comparison I provide the trailer of the film in color)

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The ending of the film is hopeless and depressing.  Although, the order is restored, it is done at the cost of violating a principle of social justice, and doesn’t leave the viewer optimistic. The relief of anxiety is within the grasp of the audience as the troops come to eliminate the living dead and rescue Ben, however the audience never feels it. As Phillips points out, the threat materialized into reality and “the end had begun.” After creating this feeling of dread in the viewer, the film finishes with pictures, which are reminiscent of the images of Vietnam War.

Night of the Living Dead does not leave much hope for humanity as it creates less differences and more resemblance between the living dead and the humans. As the humans fail to cooperate and communicate with each other, their end seems inevitable. While the characters are constantly listening to the news reports that turn out to be misleading.

The one aspect Night of the Living Dead has in common with film noir is that it reinforces strict gender roles: Barbara is catatonic and inactive, Judy is devoted to the male, which leads to her demise, and Helen is a middle-aged woman filled with dissatisfaction. All female characters display negative female stereotypes.

The film incorporates the issues of the period in which it was made and by using various techniques which remove the distance between the viewer and the film, thus impacting the audience in a closer and deeper way.

One psychology note on the film: research has shown that humans tend to cooperate and bond in a stressful situation when facing the same fate.

3 thoughts on “Night of the Living Dead and the implications for society

  1. About the psychology note on the film, I agree with that. And while I was watching the movie, this is exactly what I did not understand…just how come these people could not get along and stay on the same page? What is wrong with them? I realize that it was done this way to present more conflict and to show a point, but just didn’t seam realistic to me.

    • Now that I look back at the situation, Henry was trying to do what he thought was best for his family. He had a wife and a daughter, who was sick and defenseless; to some degree, I would empathize with him. I knew the basement would trap them but I could see why Henry would assume the zombies wouldn’t make a thorough search of the house when they might not be able to get through a locked door.

      And regarding the study, I think the study would be correct when there’s just one leader/main ego to lead the group. Once the 2nd ego enters, good luck trying to ever get anything done.

  2. I find it interesting that the zombies are able to work together to attack the humans and the humans are not able to come together to fight the zombies. This was the humans’ biggest flaw and this was a major part of the reason why the zombies were able to kill most of the them. I felt as if the humans spent more time fighting with each other than helping each other. Fear can bring out the best and the worst in people and in this situation, it brought out the worst. It also did not help that there were several domineering personalities. These personalities crashed, creating further tension in the house.

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