April 16, 2013

Look alive out there: How ‘Warm Bodies' compares from book to film

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion starts as strongly as any book I have ever read. The opening line of the novel should go down in popular culture as one of the best in our generation. In years to come, it should be read out in small-town pub trivia games along with “It is a truth universally acknowledged” and “Call me Ishmael” for the way it, in one simple line, sets the theme and tone of the entire novel.

“I am dead, but it’s not so bad. I’ve learnt to live with it.”

Direct, funny, clever and witty. And thankfully, with the bar set this high, the rest of the novel does not fall short.

Warm Bodies has been touted as a modern-day Romeo and Juliet, with an obvious paranormal twist. Our protagonist ‘R’ comes from the wrong side of tracks (in this case the decaying world of the walking dead) yet is somehow able to maintain a romantic and philosophic view of the world.

The ethereally beautiful Julie may as well come from the other side of the world (because she is still living and breathing) – and yet, despite the differences that keep them apart, Julie and R fall in love.

If you were ever in any doubt of the Shakespearean connection, Marion also has included a balcony scene – as if to (tactfully?) point out to the reader that he intended for the parallels to be obvious.

For any Twilight fans, this story will also be familiar. You see, R is a zombie with a conscience – he doesn’t like hurting people and falls in love with woman who should be a part of his primary food group. But R and Julie are no Edward and Bella – they are imperfect, embittered, and angry at the world and they are taking no prisoners.

There is so much more to Warm Bodies than the plight of star-crossed lovers.

The novel is about the ruthlessness and meaninglessness of life: “I don’t know why we have to kill people. I don’t know what chewing through a man’s neck accomplishes. I steal what he has to replace what I lack. I eat until I stop eating, then I eat again.”

It is about the evils of our modern age, and the inhumanity of the human race: “You and I are victims of the same disease. We’re fighting the same war, just different battles in different theatres.”

The ‘life’ that R lives in the airport with the boneys and the hoards of other zombies seems like the apocalypse. It doesn’t seem like things could get any worse, until you learn how the humans are living in the stadium. That’s real chaos.

By fighting to survive, the humans have lost all remnants of what makes them human. Ironically, the dead seem to have more of a life – they get married, send their zombie children to school, make friends, and fight to be alive once again.

Humanity is the real evil. The zombies, without any hope, fears or futures, have the luxury of a more peaceful existence than the humans who are still consumed by their own pride, ambitions and selfishness.

The underlying messages of the film are not so deep. All the clues are still there, but the focus has shifted more to the developing romance to R and Julie – how they got to know each other, and the quirky little parts of the days they shared together. There is less time for existentialism.

What the film does adapt perfectly is the wit, humour and heart of the book. The film is funny and touching in precisely the way that Marion intended.

Nicholas Hoult is incredible as R. It’s amazing how he can pull off looking so believably dead, while at the same time injecting so much life into the role. He walks the line perfectly between decay and delight.

Teresa Palmer also plays her part well, although it was a little distracting how much she resembled Kristen Stewart. It’s hard to forget the similarities to Twilight when you keep expecting Robert Pattinson to burst into the airport and save Bella from the zombies.

As a matter of course, I will have to list the key differences between the book and the film:

  • Rob Corddry’s character M (the Mercurio of the adaptation) is altered in appearance, and also slightly in nature. For example, in the book he has a penchant for pornography that is not translated to the big screen.
  • In the book, R’s last outfit before he died was a suit and tie, and he speculates that he may have been an office worker. In the film, he jokes that he may have been homeless, on account of his red hoodie.
  • The occasional zombie is the film is able to retain parts of its identity – the janitor and the security guards at the airport, for example – but the rest of the zombies have shed all remnants of human life. In the book, they keep up some semblance of tradition, by getting married and sending their little adopted zombie children to school.
  • Julie’s father in the film, General Grigio (who is wonderfully depicted by John Malkovich), is frightening in his severity – yet in the film he softens somewhat. He is eventually able to relent and see the truth, whereas in the book, he is too far gone – he refuses to fight, he prefers to let go of his life rather than accept that the world may be healing.
  • In the film, the zombies and the humans unite against the boneys – in the book, the end comes about by much more cosmic means.
  • A significant change is the Berlin-style wall that separates the land of the living from the land of the dead. In the book, the humans are all huddled in a makeshift city inside a stadium, living in tins shacks and their own filth. In the film they are living in comparative splendor – Julie lives in a mansion, and the abandoned stadium exists only for R and Julie to run through, as they sneak from one land to the other.
  • The way that R sneaks into the stadium is also different. In the book he acts like a human and deceives the guard who lets him stride right past. In the film, they are much less trusting – they use eye-scanning devices to test for infection on everyone who approaches the gates. In the film, R delves into Perry’s memories to find a secret entry through the wall.
  • In the film, R doesn’t slip up inside and attack a guard, as he does in the book. Julie and Nora don’t take him to a pub and he also doesn’t have the opportunity to injure some rude and ignorant men. Overall, R’s time inside the human world is much more limited in the film – he has less opportunity to experience human life, and therefore less opportunity to fail at it.
  • Perry doesn’t speak to R in the film, the way that he does in the book. In the film it is only Perry’s memories that R accesses, and he eventually finds even that too much. In the book, R is so connected to Perry’s mind and they have real or imagined conversations.
  • The way that Perry’s father dies is different. In the book he dies in a “stupid work accident” and Perry find it difficult to reason that his death was not for any noble cause. In the film, Julie and Perry come across the zombie version of his father and Julie shoots him in the head.
  • Similarly, the story about Julie’s mother is different. In the book she gives in, accepts that the world is over and walks out into the world to accept her fate. They never find out what actually happened to her, yet they imagine the worst. In the film, it is insinuated that her mother turned into a zombie, and Grigio shot her in the head.
  • As is perhaps inevitable when changing a book into a film, the value of literature is missing from the film. Perry did not have a love of writing; he did not leave behind a manuscript for Julie to find; R does not lament the loss of his ability to read and struggle to form letters together into words; and there is no talk of the importance of recording the end of humanity in words on a page.

The verdict:

How does the film rate? 4/5

How does the film rate as an adaptation? 4.5/5

Total score: 8.5/10

Book or Big Screen? Book

Coming soon: A review of 'The Host' by Stephenie Meyer


  1. Again, this is one I am curious about seeing. Been reading a lot of good things about it on my Twitter feed and dashboard. Glad you liked it, Danielle - and I'll look forward to your review of The Host. :)

  2. Thanks Rissi! 'The Host' and 'Warm Bodies' were released in cinemas within a week of each other here in Australia, so I've been busy! Just putting the finishing touches on 'The Host', should be able to publish within the week :)