R is Dead. Capital D. He's a cold body. Julie is Living. Capital L. She's a warm body. R wants to be living, to have a heart beat, a pulse. He doesn't get this feeling from his inherently destructive behavior of killing people and eating their brains, as fun and tasty as that is.
He gets that feeling from lurv. Only by loving Julie does he get all filled with ooey-gooey warmth and become a warm body himself. "I feel it. A movement deep inside me. A pulse" (2.8.239). He's a real boy!
We've seen a lot of zombie movies: Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead, The Walking Dead. Lots of dead, and lots of dead. One thing never crossed out minds—what would happen if we started making out with a zombie? That's exactly what Julie thinks in Warm Bodies, and it ends up saving the day.
When they kiss, R fights his zombie nature to devour her, "and something happens. It changes. […] it becomes something altogether different. Something new" (2.8.179). And then Julie turns into some sort of necrophiliac superwoman with golden eyes. (We did not make that up.) Just her mere existence starts curing zombies of their bad cases of the blahs.
So, when zombies attack, get out your lipstick not your shotgun. We'll be waiting over there behind all the guys with guns, and we'll see how that works out for you.
R's nest of zombies shambles aimlessly around an abandoned airport day after day after day. It's kind of like that time that dude from Twilight peed all over LAX times a thousand.
The airport is thematically appropriate because it's like a holding cell, a purgatory, between one part of life and another. There is no movement within the airport itself. The zombies are stuck, stagnant. They ride escalators and moving walkways for fun, showing how lazy and apathetic they are. They cannot move themselves; they need machinery to do it for them.
At the end of the novel, R says, "to fix a problem that spans the globe, an airport seems like a good place to start" (3.1.61). But does it really? R's airport has no flights, ever. And you thought delays today were bad. These guys are permanently grounded, and we wonder if they ever will get up in the air again.
A stadium is a symbol of recreation and community. Neither of those things is happening in the stadium where Julie lives. The stadium of the Living is a microcosm of our society... and everything that's wrong with it. After the zombie apocalypse, they planned to rebuild society anew! Glorious change! But it didn't take long before society ended up right back in it's own traps—literally.
Democracy isn't quite working out for starters. "We enthroned the majority and ignored all other voices" (2.2.23), says Julie. It doesn't help that her dad is in charge and has implemented prohibition, which seems like a pretty awful way to go about the apocalypse. Plus, kids are taught valuable survival skills, which is great, at the expense of reading and the arts, which is not. It's all work and no play here, and after slaving all day you can hit the bar... the juice bar.
The stadium shows what happens when we give up freedom for safety. It takes safety measures enacted after 9/11 and takes them to the extreme. Julie says it best when she says, "We think we're surviving in there but we're not" (2.7.229). They may be surviving, but are they living? And which is preferable?
You have known, O Gilgamesh,
What interests me,
To drink from the Well of Immortality.
Which means to make the dead
Rise from their graves
And the prisoners from their cells
The sinners from their sins.
I think love's kiss kills our heart of flesh.
It is the only way to eternal life,
Which should be unbearable if lived
Among the dying flowers
And the shrieking farewells
Of the overstretched arms of our spoiled hopes.
—Herbert Mason, Gilgamesh: A Verse Narrative
—The Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet II,
lines 147, 153, 154, 278, 279
So, that epigraph. You've pretty much read the entire Epic of Gilgamesh after reading it. The too-long-didn't-read version is, "Is eternal life worth it?"
As a zombie, R pretty much has eternal life (as long as he doesn't lose his head). But it's all gray and total dullsville. As the epigraph says "eternal life, which should be unbearable if lived." You'd think R would give up eternal life in exchange for a brief, colorful, human existence. But he doesn't. No, he's still determined to have eternal life. He just wants it to not be so boring. Because of love or something.
The second epigraph is much, much shorter. We're not sure if this ellipsis is a reference to visible silence or just part of the tablet that has been lost over the millennia. If you ask us, we'll just shrug. The ellipsis is pretty punctuation shrugging is shoulders at you.
The shrug is R's favorite gesture, though, so it's fitting: "[the shrug] while easy to abuse, does have its place. It may even be vital vocabulary in a world as unspeakable as ours" (2.2.67). Sometimes there are things beyond our comprehension, or beyond our ability to voice. Instead of overthinking them, it might be best to just shrug them off.
Zombies aren't exactly known for their brainpower. Brain-eating power, yes. Brain power, no. Still, while R, our zombie narrator, isn't the most articulate speaker, he has a wonderful way with words. But since he's a zombie, they're very easy to follow. Getting lost in his world is a lot easier than trying to fend off a zombie apocalypse, that's for sure.
This is a zombie book, so we're all about the brains up in here. Even if you haven't read a page of this book, you can guess as to what these brains might represent: memory. When a zombie in Warm Bodies dines on a juicy hunk of human brain, they have access to their memories, for just a moment.
This quick glimpse of memory is like a drug to a zombie. They have no memories of their own, and they get addicted to this memory rush. In one scene, R and M pass a brain back and forth between each other, taking a bite and pretty much tripping on the visions that result. The brain is the ultimate hallucinogen.
By doing this, the zombies are doing the opposite of what live humans are doing. They are actually putting these brains to work while we Living seem to try our hardest to turn them off. Oh, the cruel, cruel irony. When talking about drug use and other self-harming activities, Julie says, "All the shitty stuff people do to themselves... it can all be the same thing, you know? Just a way to drown out your own voice. To kill your memories without having to kill yourself" (1.7.60). It's the zombies who are bringing that voice back to life, as strange as that sounds.
Finally, we'd be remiss if we didn't point out all the brain puns that Marion works into the text. Let's just say that the phrase "pick his brain" (1.2.3) ends up with an entirely new meaning.
The very first thing we learn about R is that he doesn't have a name. "I can't properly introduce myself, but I don't have a name anymore" (1.1.1). The second or third thing we learn about him is that this makes him sad: "I miss my own [name] and I mourn for everyone else's, because I'd like to love them, but I don't know who they are" (1.1.7). None of his zombie friends have names, either, and this lack makes it impossible for R to truly love them. This is one of the main reasons he falls for Julie so hard: she has a name and knows it. Hey, if that's all it takes to fall in love, why aren't we all married with kids by now?
A lack of names isn't unique to the zombie community either. While in the stadium, R notes that "there are no names on the street signs" (2.2.4). All the street names have been replaced with symbols. Could these be so that everyone can find their way, regardless of language? Or is it a sign of everyone's dwindling literacy?
When R and Julie's lip-locking voodoo magic starts making zombies alive again, the Dead have to reintegrate into Living society. Step one to making them feel more comfortable? "Tell them your name and ask them theirs" (3.1.11). After all, can you call yourself a person if you don't have a name? And when in doubt, just make one up, like Marcus.
The Living exist in a world without a big picture, says Julie: "the big picture is gone and the people who drew it are all dead" (1.8.52). Now everyone is feeling lost. The Living need a big picture to guide them.
The Dead, on the other hand, totally have that covered. The Boneys are quite fond of pictures, because the he Dead have no memories, so they depend on photographs to remember. The thing with them is that they remember death. Death of the Living and death of the Dead. They keep stacks of photos of dead people and use them to manipulate the Dead. In a way, they're making a big picture out of smaller ones, by using them to give the Dead purpose and drive to keep on being Dead. In that sense, their big picture is their perspective, one in which death is inevitable. And if death is unavoidable, what's the point of life?
When the Living get back to really living, they have to counteract this. At the end of the novel, children tape up photos of life: "A girl climbing an apple tree. A kid spraying his brother with a hose. A woman playing a cello. A newborn deep in sleep" (3.1.38). Now, like the dead, they've got some perspective. They're creating a big picture of life.
Julie says, "You should always be taking pictures, if not with a camera then with your mind" (1.10.14), but Warm Bodies seems to be saying that we shouldn't keep pictures of death and destruction. Which raises a question: do we need to be selective about our memories in order to thrive?
Did you notice that all the characters in the book are orphans? All of them. R doesn't ever mention parents, you know, being a zombie and all. Perry's mother is dead, then his father dies. Nora's parents are dead. Julie's mother is dead, then her father dies. Pretty much the second her father dies, R remarks, "Julie has become an orphan. […] Her grief will catch up to her eventually and demand its due" (2.8.225).
That's sad. But if we're being honest, we have to say that there is no grief about lost parents anywhere in the book. So what's with all the orphans? Isaac Marion even dedicates this book, "For the foster kids I've met." Is this just a shout-out to all the orphans out there, or is there a greater point to the recurring symbol?
We've seen and read a million zombie stories before, but Warm Bodies does something different. It makes a zombie the narrator. Pretty much every other zombie story is told from the point of view of living people trying to survive (and clubbing zombies in the head while they're at it). The zombies are the Others, frightening and foreign. Julie explains it best when she says "We don't understand their thoughts so we assume they don't have any" (2.7.174). As a result, we humans do what we always do when we don't understand things: we shoot them.
But Warm Bodies shows us that some zombies, like R, our narrator, do have thoughts. And we're privy to them. As a result we kind of empathize with the guy. R is self-deprecating and as charming as a walking corpse can be. Even though he's killing people and eating their brains, we still kind of feel for the guy. How would the story be different if it were told from Julie's perspective? Or Perry's? Would you still have the same level of empathy with R? (Our answer? Probably not.)
Music is a big deal to R and Julie. Take a listen to the songs that change their lives.