(Spoiler Alert) World War Z‘s $66 million opening weekend in the United States astonished many in the film business as they assumed the movie would be a total flop. It also surprised Israel.
Israel’s top-notch security, its IDF elite, the Mossad and Jerusalem’s historical resistance – not to mention a curious wall that has been likened to both the security fence and the Western Wall – all feature in this action-packed movie filmed in Malta. There are also scenes with Palestinians and Israelis working together to fight off the zombie pandemic.
Upon its release in the US, pro-Israel and anti-Israel activists were quick to voice opinions on the Israeli symbolism.
The premise of the movie is one in which the world is overrun by a zombie epidemic. The two countries to keep the zombies at bay are Israel – which self quarantines its Israeli and Palestinian population behind a wall – and North Korea, which extracts the teeth of its citizens to prevent zombie bites.
A-list actor Brad Pitt takes the lead in fighting off the flesh-eating zombies. He gets help from what appears to be IDF infantry soldiers and his tough female IDF bodyguard (Israeli actress Danielle Kertesz).
The film was originally meant to be based on the book — “World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War” — by Matt Brooks, son of comedian Mel Brooks. But the younger Brooks has reportedly distanced himself from any connection to the Pitt movie.
In the novel, uninfected Jews and Moslems are sheltered behind a huge wall in Jerusalem. The zombies are kept at bay but civil war breaks out and wrecks their safety. In the film, the zombies climb the wall like ants.
Critics and film-goers are going for the action but seem to be leaving movie theaters with a confusing view of geopolitics in the Middle East.
Is the wall featured in the film a reference to the security barrier? And if it is, what does it say about the zombies being able to overcome it? Or, is the wall meant to symbolize the Western Wall and highlight Jerusalem’s historical defenses?
The Los Angeles Times’ Steven Zeitchik wrote: “In the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a wall is a heavily fraught symbol. But here it turns into an instrument of peace?”
Some say the murky message has to do with the many rewrites the film underwent. The novel dealt with many perspectives from around the world whereas the movie focuses in on how one United Nations inspector (Pitt) sees the catastrophe.
The Israeli opening of the film on July 18 will no doubt unleash a new set of opinions. Until then, on a funny note, instead of checking the Hebrew translation of signs posted on set to make it look like Jerusalem, it seems the producers put their trust in Google Translate – and, well, you can just imagine.