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Fr. Bryce Sibley
On the Silver Screen
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29 October 2003
Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts

28 Days Later(2003)

Situated plainly in at least ten of the scenes of Danny Boyle’s recent zombie-flick tribute, 28 Days Later is a replica of the famous Greek statue of the Laocoon. I remember this statue of an agonized man and two sons encoiled by a mammoth serpent as one of my favorite in the Vatican Museum during my sojourn in Rome. The story of the statue can found in classical Greek mythology. During the Trojan War, Laocoon was a priest in the city of Troy. When the Trojans found the so-called "Trojan horse" outside of the gates of their city, it was Laocoon who warned against bringing it inside the city walls, commenting, "I am wary of Greeks even when they are bringing gifts." After this comment, the god Poseidon, who had sided with the Greeks, sent two gigantic snakes after Laocoon which coiled themselves around the priest and his two sons, killing all three. The statue graphically depicts the pain on the man’s face as his is being crushed to death for what was indeed an accurate warning.

Without a doubt, I think the statue of the Laocoon is the hermeneutical key for understanding 28 Days Later. I did a search in Google for "28 Days Later" and "Laoccon" and only found a few sites that even picked up on this symbolic connection. Without giving away too much of the plot or how the movie ends, allow me to offer a few paths for reflecting on the film based on the possible significance of the statue.

  • Laocoon is a sort of tragic hero. Does that mean any of the characters in the film are tragic heroes in themselves? If so what are their tragic flaws that bring about their downfalls?
  • Are there any elements of classical tragedy in this "28 Days Later"? Does the film produce a catharsis in the viewer?
  • "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts." Is the statue supposed to act as a warning for Jim, Selena, and Hannah at the "gifts" the soldiers are bringing to them? Could they really be playing a trick?
  • The Greek gods could be reckless and vindictive (see Poseidon in this myth). What sort of picture of God does this film present to the viewer?
  • Based on the meaning of the statue, and the films supposed connection to Greek mythology, which of the three endings presented on the DVD edition of the film suits the best?

There is quite a bit more than just Greek mythology that is alluded to in 28 Days Later, including social Darwinism, the inherent nature of man as good or evil, and the necessity of society and government. All of the blood and gore (and there is a great deal of it) surround a well done, thought provoking film about the dignity of the human person. It may be hard to see for some, or even more, hard to stomach, but I thought 28 Days Later was one of the best films I have seen so far this year.

My rating: A strong A.

Email author: frsibley@cruxnews.com

FR. BRYCE SIBLEY graduated from the North American College in Rome and was ordained to the Roman Catholic priesthood in 2000. He writes from Louisiana, USA.

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