Fido, Slavery, and Cinematic Doritos

FidoI’m a big fan of zombie films. Or at least I was until they became so mainstream. The great thing about zombie movies was that they could be made on a shoestring. And if the filmmakers were creative, a great film could be made. But some time ago, I was visiting my niece and got the chance to watch the first couple of episodes of The Walking Dead. It was okay. But then, in the second episode, it introduced a love triangle. Ugh. The beauty of the zombie genre is that it is not complicated. I understand that television shows need these kinds of things and this is why there shouldn’t be zombie television series.

After years of putting it off, I finally got around to watching Fido. It is a zombie comedy, which is no big deal. I’m not just talking about films like Shaun of the Dead and Dead Snow. Fundamentally, all zombie movies are comedies. Zombies are silly. And Fido takes the genre exactly as seriously as it deserves.

The film revolves around the Robinson family, who have just purchased their first zombie slave. The mother, Helen, got it because all her neighbors have zombies and she feels looked down upon. But the reason they don’t have zombies is because the father, Bill, has a quite reasonable fear of zombies because he had to kill his own father who had become one when Bill was still a child. The zombies now wear collars, which eliminate their desire to eat human flesh. But the collars malfunction all the time and one instance of this is the basis of the film.

What’s most striking in the film is the art direction. The film takes place in an idyllic 1950s world that, rather than coming about after World War II, came about as a result of of the Zombie War. And so everything is decorated with clear, strong colors. It looked to me very much like Tune in Tomorrow… — also supposedly taking place in the 1950s. But the colors here are a bit more harsh and bit more primary. They aren’t going to realism exactly.

This is contrasted with the zombies who are in varying states of decomposition. It acts as a kind of explicit metaphor of the oppressed underclass that the 1950s’ affluence was based upon. Sadly, the filmmakers do not understand this. So instead of seeing these zombies for the slaves they are, it sees them as pets. Hence, the Robinson family’s name for their zombie: Fido. There is even a scene where Fido rescues the Robinson boy a la Lassie. And the boy’s name? Timmy, of course.

Thematically, I really have problems with the film. It pushes a troubling idea of slavery right out of Gone With the Wind. Fido loves his captors so much that he doesn’t even eat them when his collar malfunctions. Another character — played brilliantly by Tim Blake Nelson — turns into a servant for his zombie after she is accidentally shot in the head. This all happens in the context of a narrative where we see that zombies are self-aware. I don’t appreciate it when films open up moral questions without engaging with them.

In this regard, the film really fails in comparison to Pleasantville. The two films are very similar, except that Fido uses zombies to upset the status quo while Pleasantville uses knowledge. But Gary Ross is extremely aware of what he’s doing. In Pleasantville, he created an allegory of the changes to sexual mores and the resulting disruption of the power structure. Andrew Currie and his colleagues are not at all aware what they are doing. In Fido, they flick images on the screen like cinematic Jackson Pollocks. And they succeed as well, creating something that is stunning, engaging, but devoid of any meaning.

Fido is a silly romp, which works remarkably well. Much of it is quite funny. But I do think it is the equivalent of junk food. Not that I’m complaining. I like Doritos as much as the next guy.

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