Director Danny Boyle's 2003 movie, 28 Days Later, is an insightful reflection of societal fears of bioterrorism, terrorism and catastrophic warfare. In the movie, Boyle uses a variety of techniques, including plot, cinematography, theme, and characters in order to reveal society's uneasiness.
In recent years, the world has been rocked by the growth of fears over a diverse set of growing threats to global political and economic stability and world health. The tragedy of September 11th brought the world into a new era of fear over terrorist acts. Since then, public uneasiness has only been heightened by the train bombings in Madrid, the Bali bombings, and continued governmental appeals for constant vigilance against terrorism. The fear of bioterrorism has also grown in recent years, with the release of sarin nerve gas on a Tokyo subway, and the presence of anthrax in the U.S. mail. Adding to this climate of fear was President Bush's assertion that Iraq possessed of weapons of mass destruction (including biological weapons), an assertion that provided a justification for the Bush administration's entry into Iraq. Today, societal fears of catastrophic warfare that took root during the Cold War era continue to escalate, as tensions in the Middle East deepen and the United States warns its citizens to avoid traveling to Israel (BBC News), concerns over nuclear arms dominate talks with North Korea, and the usually peaceful nation of Thailand is rocked by the deaths of over 100 suspected Islamic militants (CBC News).
In 28 Days Later, Danny Boyle masterfully manipulates these fears of catastrophic warfare, terrorism, and bioterrorism. Through his effective use of story structure, characterization, cinematography and theme, Boyle creates a fictional world that plays to society's fears. The post-apocalyptic world of 28 Days later is characterized by brutality that is brought on by man's unthinking arrogance, playing out some of society's worst fears over warfare and terrorism.
The plot of 28 Days Later is aggressive in addressing society's fears about catastrophic warfare. Clearly an end-of -- the world movie, 28 Days Later tells the story of Jim (Cillian Murphy) who wakes up from a coma in an empty hospital ward only to find society decimated by a viral plague. He wanders the eerie, deserted streets of London, only to be attacked by the slavering, feral human survivors of the plague. Society has crumbled in less than a month since the plague struck, revealing the fragile and transient nature of civilization. In 28 Days Later, Boyle depicts a world that is characterized by fear and paranoia, and where characters must confront real dangers in an attempt to find someplace safe after civilization has crumbled around them.
In 28 Days Later, the end of the civilized world as we know it comes through the release of a killer viral plague, playing to society's uneasiness about bioterrorism. Specifically, the end of the world in 28 Days Later has come through the unintentional release of a virus by misguided animal rights activists who unknowingly release monkeys that are contaminated with a virulent "rage" virus. This misguided release of this genetically engineered virus speaks clearly to society's feelings about the dangers of tampering with nature, and the dangers of bioterrorism. This fear of "playing God" and the repercussions that can follow have been seen in literature and movies that trace back to Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, and lead up to similar movies like 12 Monkeys.
Despite the unintentional release of the virus in 28 Days Later, the viewer cannot help but draw the conclusion that such a horrific end could come deliberately. Here, Boyle is playing on the audience's underlying fear of terrorism. In an America where orange and yellow terrorism alerts are a common occurrence, there is a strong underlying feeling that terrorist acts may be inevitable. Boyle clearly understands this fear, and while the end of the world in his movie comes unintentionally, it nonetheless plays on the audience's uneasiness over the ever-present danger of terrorist acts.
Boyle's effective characterization in 28 Days also reveals a great deal about society's fears of bioterrorism, terrorism and catastrophic warfare. The lead character, Jim, is convincing as a befuddled, horrified post-apocalyptic survivor. He is stunned by the death of civilization, and is appalled as he is attacked by one of the slavering, undead "infecteds" (a person who has been infected by the virus and who has been turned into a feral, bloodthirsty beast intent only on destruction). Jim represents civilized society's fears and reaction to the idea of such a scenario. As such, Jim is a representation of society's conscience and insight into the dangers of terrorism and catastrophe. Similarly, characters like Selena, Hannah and Mark also represent society's struggle to deal with the potential aftermath of terrorist actions, and hold onto their humanity while faced with the need to potentially take actions that would normally violate their moral codes of behavior.
In contrast, Boyle's characterization of the rabid, violent "infecteds" represents mankind's fall from civilization into bestiality. Here, the audience sees the danger of terrorism in all its forms, and how this terrorism can bring about not only the end of the world, but the downfall of mankind through the reduction of man into a mindless, animalistic, creature that acts purely out of desire and instinct. The "infecteds" symbolize mankind's loss of basic humanity through the loss of love, compassion, and kindness.
In short, the "infecteds" are a reflection of the brutal, basic side of human nature that lies behind the need to destroy - they are the very force that exists behind violent terrorist acts and acts of war. Boyle reveals society's uneasiness with terrorism and acts of war by showing their potentially devastating and dehumanizing effect on the "infecteds."
Anthony Dod Mantle's often stunning cinematography also plays a key role in illustrating society's uneasiness with bioterrorism, terrorism and catastrophic warfare. In some of the most visually stunning and eerie images of the movie, Jim wanders through the deserted streets of London. He crosses Westminster Bridge and wanders through Piccadilly Circus against the backdrop of the wind and the haunting silence. It is only through reading some old, windblown newspapers that Jim learns the truth about the plague's appearance, and why London has been transformed into a silent, empty husk. The juxtaposition of the post-apocalyptic emptiness of London with many viewer's recollections or projections of the familiarly busy bustle of London streets provides one of the most shocking visual reminders of the impact of terrorism and catastrophic warfare. It is through these images of London's eerie emptiness that director Boyle perhaps most effectively plays to the audience's fear of the horrors of bioterrorism and the end of the world.
The documentary feel of 28 Days Later serves to better draw the audience into the horror of the movie, and illustrate the potential reality of bioterrorism and war. The movie was shot on digital video, providing a dark, gritty and grainy look that gives the movie an almost documentary feel. In mimicking the feeling of a documentary, cinematographer Mantle effectively brings a feeling of "reality" to the movie, rather than a feeling of disbelief that is often engendered by the slick, special-effects and high quality of many Hollywood movies. In the end, the reader is drawn more deeply into the movie through its documentary feel, and the action feels much more immediate and raw.
The themes of 28 Days Later comment clearly on our current fears about bioterrorism, terrorism, and catastrophic warfare. 28 Days Later is clearly both a denunciation of the potential dangers of genetic engineering, and a warning about man's capacity to sink into brutality. In the movie, the survivors who have managed to remain infected must descend into brutality in order to survive. The only escape from the "infecteds" is to kill them, and the survivors have 20…