Filmmaker George A. Romero passed away last week, I’ve been thinking about his films and the contributios that he made to cinema. He did more than that. He changed the face of American horror films with his masterpiece, Night of the Living Dead. I could go on for days on how he invented the modern zombie, how he made them cannibalistic in nature and all that. How films like 28 Days Later and Shaun of the Dead would never had existed if it weren’t for Romero.
Instead I’d rather dive into something a bit more personal. It was close to Halloween 1998, and I was just learning about symbolism and allegory in stories. Late one Saturday night, Night of the Living Dead came on so I finally decided to see it.
I was absolutely devastated by the ending.
As anybody who knows the final moments with the protagonist of the movie, Ben play out in a bit of a slow motion in my mind as he takes the shot to the head and dies. That alone is enough to depress anybody but I caught something this time around.
It has to do with the fact that Ben is a black man.
I had know the history of the Civil Rights movement as well as a kid could at that age, so I knew about Dr. King, Malcolm X and even Medgar Evers and their tragic deaths.
I can’t tell you if this was the first time I ever saw Night of the Living Dead, but I can tell you it was the first time I caught the symbolism of the tragic ending, and it opened up my eyes to other works and their meanings. When I saw Ben lying there dead among the other corpses, the images of the Civil Rights leaders flashed through my head.
Romero did say during an interview that the ending was not supposed to evoke the assassinations of these black men, actor Duane Jones was simply the best man for the job, but he did admit that seeing it now he couldn’t deny the symbolism behind it.
Soon after I discovered his sequel Dawn of the Dead and holy shit was it a scathing social commentary on materialism in society. The dead are all aimlessly wondering around a mall. The man always had something to say in some form.
I have to give credit to Romero for changing how I came to view film from simple entertainment to an art form that speaks to countless people. I know he influenced so many artists. But speaking for myself, he was the one that caused me to look closer, and discover truth in filmmaking. Rest in Peace Mr. Romero. And thank you.