I’m going to be honest with you: I don’t think much of post-apocalyptic dramas that include zombies. I mean, who’s going to root for the zombies in any battle between them and humans? I find human conflict so much more intriguing and dangerous, whether in fiction or film. Maybe it’s because zombies are so… so… mindless… at least in most of the dramas that I’ve seen. When I rented the 2013 film Open Grave, nothing in its description mentioned “zombies,” and the film never uses that word — not even once.
Instead, the closest any of the characters come to an explanation of the post-apocalyptic world in Open Grave is “plague,” specifically, “the plague that cast the world into darkness,” and even that line comes near the end of the film. Call me intrigued-against-my-will if you wish, but a “plague that cast the world into darkness” and masses of dead bodies in open graves with no explanation — even to the characters in the film — is much more perplexing than plain old zombies. Open Grave is one of the few “zombie-like” films that earns kudos from me.
Open Grave begins with an amnesiac guy who awakes in an open grave, surrounded by countless dead bodies. As you can imagine, he’s totally freaked out, and not just because he can’t remember how he got there. I mean, there are hundreds of dead bodies in this mass grave, and he’s in there with them. Yeah, how’s that for a gripping start?
Our amnesiac manages to get out of the grave with help from a mysterious woman who doesn’t speak. He follows the Mute (Josie Ho) to a house, where he eventually learns that his name is probably John (Sharlto Copley). Once at the house, John meets other victims, most of whom have some degree of amnesia, among them Lukas (Thomas Kretschmann, below L), who has some anger issues, and Nathan (Joseph Morgan, below R), who is terribly scared of everything,
Most of the people in the house are really good at using weapons, which seem to be stored all over the place, and that scares just about every single one of them. Even more scary, however, is a calendar with the 18th marked, and which the Mute points out, frantically and repeatedly. Since the calendar is marked with Xs almost to the 18th, which is only two days away, John and the others realize that something very important — even ominous — must be happening on that date.
So there’s that open mass grave, amnesia that’s affecting everyone, and now some scary deadline that only the Mute seems to understand… spookiness to the max.
Though some of the amnesiacs have this feeling that they know some of the others, they’re not sure, so nobody feels safe. When they begin to explore the surrounding countryside, they find creepy “scarecrows” tied to or hanging from trees, and, as you can imagine, that makes them more stressed.
When they find a guy trapped in a barbed-wire fence, calling for help, things go bad quickly, and the members of the group turn on each other in their desperation to survive and in their fear of what’s happened, which they can’t even remember.
They can’t shake the feeling that there’s some “big picture” they seem to have forgotten, and that something really super-monstrously big — like bigger than BIG — is going to happen in a couple of days, and not just because of that calendar with all the days marked off and with the 18th circled. They need to regain their memories quicker than quick if they’re going to discover why the 18th is so important to their survival and to their discovering why there are mass open graves filled with dead bodies.
Are those dead bodies in the open grave the result of an attack? Of a plague? Of mass murder? Of vicious and unethical medical experimentation? Was John involved in that unethical medical experimentation? Were Sharon and the others helping him, or trying to stop him?
I don’t know, and I’ve seen the film more than once.
You watch Open Grave, and let me know what you think.
One of the best post-apocalypse movies ever made, Open Grave is available for purchase or rent ($2.99-3.99) on Amazon, on YouTube, on iTunes, on Vudu, and more.
Pandora, whose name means either “all-gifted” or “all-giving,” was ostensibly the first human female created by the Greek gods. Each of the gods helps create Pandora by giving her specific gifts. According to Hesiod’s myth,
Pandora opened a jar (pithos), in modern accounts sometimes mistranslated as “Pandora’s box,” releasing all the evils of humanity — although the particular evils, aside from plagues and diseases, are not specified in detail by writer Hesiod — leaving only elpis [the personification and spirit of Hope] inside once she had closed it again.
The mistranslation of the Greek pithos (“jar”) to the Latin pyxis (“box”) is usually attributed to Erasmus when he translated the tale into Latin. It is important to return to the original, however, since Hesiod’s pithos refers to a large storage jar, sometimes half-buried in the ground, used for wine, oil or grain; more important, pithos can also refer to a funerary jar.
Hesiod does not indicate where this jar of evils came from, why Pandora has it, nor why Hope remains in the jar, but it is the last omission that has raised so many philosophical and moral questions over the centuries.
Is the imprisonment of Hope inside a jar full of evils for humanity a benefit for humanity, or a further bane? [According to] M. L. West: “[Hope’s retention in the jar] is comforting, and we are to be thankful for this antidote to our present ills.” [But some scholars, such as Mark Griffith] take the opposite view: “[Hope] seems to be a blessing withheld from men so that their life should be the more dreary and depressing.”
Does Pandora’s jar/box preserve Hope for mankind to deal with the evils released, or does it keep Hope away from man by trapping it inside the jar/box?
This philosophical question about Hope, trapped in the pithos by Pandora, along with the symbolism of Pandora’s pithos as a “funerary jar,” is important for understanding the 2016 post-apocalyptic, dystopian film The Girl with All the Gifts, written by M.R. Carey, who wrote the novel of the same name simultaneously. While most of us might not think of zombies and the Greek goddess Pandora in the same sentence, this film attempts to put them all in the same box, so to speak. If you don’t pay enough attention to the brief story of Pandora early in the film, you might not get the full import of the symbolism. Is the “girl with all the gifts” releasing torments upon mankind and then retaining hope for them, or is she releasing the torments and then keeping hope from mankind?
In the film, the girl with all the gifts, the Pandora, is a little girl named Melanie, brilliantly played by Sennia Nanua in her first role. She is imprisoned, and treated like some dangerous, depraved criminal, despite the fact that she greets her armed gaurds and captors with the utmost courtesy and respect. She is taken to a classroom, along with many others children who seem to be just like her.
Once there, however, Melanie reveals more intelligence than the other children. Further, her teacher, Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton), clearly favors her, discarding the usual lessons to tell stories from Greek myths at Melanie’s request, letting the students write their own fictional stories, and even, at one point, touching Melanie lightly on the head.
It is when Miss Justineau touches Melanie that we learn why these young children are treated worse than rabid animals. Seargeant Eddie Parks (Paddy Considine) rushes into the classroom to “remind” the teacher why these children are restrained in the first place: they are infected with a fungus that makes them flesh-eating Zombies, or “Hungries” in this film version.
Unlike the Hungries that exist beyond the fenced and guarded bouandaries of this research facility, however, these children are able to speak, think, and, perhaps, feel. Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close) is studying the children, and she is especially interested in Melanie.
Though Dr. Caldwell believes Melanie is merely “mimicking’ human emotions and behaviors, Caldwell also hopes that Melanie might provide the raw material for a vaccine to protect the human survivors.
That is, Melanie’s brain and spinal cord — dissected — might provide the raw material for such a vaccine.
Therein lies the rub: Dr. Caldwell is more than willing to sacrifice Melanie for the good of the remaining humans, but Miss Justineau sees real — not mimicked — humanity in Melanie, and wants to protect her.
Of course, no zombie film would be complete without an invasion by the mindless flesh-eaters, and the research station soon gets overrun by Hungries, causing Dr. Caldwell, Miss Justineau, and Sgt Parks to flee the compromised facility — with a masked Melanie in tow.
Lest you think The Girl with All the Gifts is standard Zombie fare, however, recall that the infected Melanie can speak, think, reason, and love. She clearly loves and protects Miss Justineau, and seems to care for the others as well (less for Dr. Caldwell, perhaps, who constantly eyes Melanie as a brain-donor rather than as a sentient being).
Further, Melanie is the “girl with all the gifts” — the Pandora who has the jar with the evils and with Hope. On first viewing, I missed the Pandora allusion completely until nearly the end of the film. I thought Melanie was going to have some intellectual gifts that would give mankind Hope. When she proved to be smart but not a genius, I assumed she was going to give mankind the Hope of saving the Hungries, or, at the very least, of preventing the spread of the virus (called a “fungus” in this version of the story) by “donating” her brain and spinal cord to help Dr. Caldwell make the vaccine.
When Melanie finally proves that she does, indeed, have emotions and morals, they are not what you might expect, and her behavior recalls the philosophical questions raised by Hesiod’s original Pandora story. Is Hope trapped in the jar to give mankind optimism, or to torment them?
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