The End of Everything followed by a zombie apocalypse: Book/movie review

Recently, I’ve discovered a love for apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic entertainment, which are not oxymoronic terms, though one might think so.  I’m not sure when it started, but from The Walking Dead to the Divergent youth fiction series, I LOVE all that what-happens-when-the-world-is-ending/has-ended stuff.  I think the dramatic situational tensions and moral questions are awesome to ponder (and hopefully never have to experience for real). 

Having just returned from seeing World War Z, I found myself staring at the book I just finished last night…er…early this morning, called The End of Everything, which sounds more like an apocalyptic movie than the psychological thriller it is.  The guy at the bookstore said he loves the author, Megan Abbott.  I’d never heard of her, but the title and the ominous cover drew me in, as did the rapturous quotes in the “Praise” section, which seemed to indicate that this author has melded complex 3-d characters with a gripping plot.  The gist of the story is one of two 13 year old best friends goes missing.  Naturally, the people around her proceed to go quietly nuts trying to find her.

True to the quotes, I couldn’t put the book down, but that was mostly because it was so awful.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not badly written at all, but the characters are so more-than-tragically flawed that I couldn’t stop reading, mostly because I wanted to get to the end so the author would put me out of their misery.  

Reading this book made me wonder if I was a completely clueless teenager (entirely possible) because I did not relate to the hyper sexualization of the girls at all.  I did relate to the heady power one feels when one is at the center of some kind of dramatic event, which is brilliantly illustrated in the book.  Overall, I’m glad I bought The End of Everything, and I recommend it if you like your summer reading tense and character-driven and more than a little creepy.  

Likewise, I recommend World War Z, but for the opposite reason.  No need for much plot explanation here; basically the zombies are cominghave arrived, that’s a very, very bad thing and our reluctant hero, Gerry, played by Brad Pitt, has to try to save the day.

I read a review on RogerEbert.com that describe Brad Pitt’s character as:

noble, brave, calm in a crisis, endlessly resourceful, kind to his spouse and children, respectful of authority but not slavishly so, independent-minded by [sic] not arrogant; a snooze. 

I agree with all of this, except the last bit.  In my book, good doesn’t necessarily equal boring.  Gerry’s a good guy who just wants to protect his family, and the movie’s a good movie that wants to take the audience on a ride, and I think it succeeds.  The story is well-paced and tense and the zombies are what they should be; scary as heck.  There’s no spewing gore a la the Walking Dead (fine with me), and there’s not a lot of moral posturing to get in the way of the action.  But there is tension of the hold your breath variety, and Brad Pitt is likeable and strong. About midway through he gets a sidekick who is one of the more interesting female characters in an action movie that I’ve seen.  Plus, I love any action movie that does the final “hero tries to save the day” moment without guns or punches.  I can’t say more or I’ll spoil it. 

It was only after I saw the movie that I learned it’s based on a book with the deliriously great subtitle “An Oral History of the Zombie Apocalypse” (Yeah, that one is waiting on my Kindle for me already), which explains the weirdly anticlimactic final voice over.  I honestly wonder if they ran out of money before they wrote the denouement. But that was a small flaw in an otherwise enjoyable flick.

I’m struck, putting this book and this movie next to each other, by something about myself.  At the risk of surrendering some of my intellectual cred, I confess that I’m not sure I want/need my popular entertainment to consist of deeply layered and gnarly character studies. Yes, that probably makes me shallower than most, but to be honest, I would rather have a story that drives me forward and takes me on a journey, instead of a slow, agonizing exploration of the ways that people are screwed up, which leaves me with nothing of certainly other than the sure knowledge that people are indeed screwed up.  It’s not that I don’t love the tragic hero.  Oh no, when done right, he/she adds hugely to a good story, but sometimes, I just want to see the nice guy win. 

Because let’s face it; when the world is being overrun by zombies, we won’t really have time to deal with our daddy issues.

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