Night of the Living Dead, which was directed by George Romero, has long become a classical example of such a cinematographic genre as thriller. The plot of this film revolves around a group of people, who are forced to barricade themselves in a farmhouse in effort to save their lives from re-animated zombies. The film starts, when siblings Johnny and Barbara go to an old cemetery in Pennsylvania in order to see the grave of their father. Yet, when the brother and sister arrive at the cemetery, they are attacked by a stranger, who subsequently kills Johnny. Barbara escapes from him into a farmhouse, where several other people take shelter: a married couple with their daughter, two teenagers, and a young man, called Ben. They have been driven into this place by ghouls, who have been re-animated by some unknown force. All of them have to hide in the cellar as it is too dangerous to go outside. By listening to radio reports they learn that this area is teaming with zombies, whose bite is contagious. They begin to argue over the plan of action. Ben insists that they should not stay in the cellar, as the zombies can break into it at any moment. Eventually, they do try to flee the house; yet, nearly all of them perish in this attempt. Ben, the only survivor, retreats into the cellar and waits through the night. When the posses come to the rescue, they mistakenly take Ben for a zombie and shoot him. The film ends with the scene of pyre, in which the bodies of ghouls are being burnt.
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Since the time of its release, Night of Living Dead came under the close scrutiny of critics throughout the world. George Romero explores a great number of social and political issues in this film, for instance, the sufferings of American soldiers in Vietnam, the anxiety of the society that lives in the Cold-War world. Yet, it seems that the overarching idea of this film is that there are no pure forms of good and evil and that such a worldview inevitably leads to isolation and fatal mistakes. George Romero tries to prove this argument in different ways: first of all, he shows how seemingly good and decent people can transform into monsters, especially if they are put into extreme conditions. To a great extent, the ghoul’s bite, which turns a person into monster, is supposed to demonstrate that each of us has a darker side that can reveal itself against our will.
Ben’s accidental death is another detail, which indicates that good and evil do not exist in absolute form. The posses, who come to the farmhouse, are willing to slaughter every zombie that they find in this area. It does not even occur to them that there may be survivals. In fact, Ben falls victim to their haste and indiscrimination. Inability to see good qualities in other people results in death and destruction, and this is the core idea, which George Romero wanted to emphasize. One should bear in mind that horror movies and thrillers traditionally have happy endings, but George Romero chose to depart from this tradition as he wanted to make his message as clearly as possible to the viewers. Provided that we refer to the prominent philosophers who examined this question, we can mention Plato, who believed that ignorance and self-righteousness are the key sources of evil (Plato, 9). In his works, he argued that cruelty stems from ignorance and Ben’s death illustrates this statement.
Overall, this deep philosophical subtext of this movie explains why Night of the Living Dead still retains its popularity and why it has produced such a profound effect on the world cinematography.
Harper Stephen. Night of the Living Dead Reappraising an Undead Classic. Bright Lights Film Journal. 2005. Web.
Plato. Dialogues. NY: General Books LLC 2009.