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Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Deader Than Dead

By Kevin John

"How do I look?" asks America in "Land of the Dead." Well, let's see here. You have an evil leader named Kaufman who collapses George W. Bush into Bill Gates (or Donald Trump) lording over the nation from a most WTC-like tower threatened with a missile attack by a fucked-over former employee (now a terrorist to some eyes). Many of your citizens are zombies easily distracted by bombs bursting in mid-air… but not for long. Which is just as well since all sorts of martial laws and Patriot Acts dehumanize your non-zombie citizens anyway. "You have no right!" burns Dennis Hopper as said evil leader when the zombies finally figure out their own fucked-over status and proceed towards a flesh feast on the tower's upper-class denizens. And hey — maybe they don't have a right… at least on paper.

So how do you look? Not too good, I'm afraid.

But who's really the mirror, mirror, on the wall here? Despite the eternal darkness into which writer/director George Romero plunges the former land of the free, America does in "Land of the Dead" what it does anyway on the international stage. It's forever primping and preening. And this time, Canada, that eternal structured absence, plays ground to America's ubiquitous, self-absorbed figure.

In this context, it hardly matters that America has let its figure go, like Tatiana, the Fat Woman in Hitchcock's "Saboteur." Because the ground here is literally Canada. The end credits to Land of the Dead tell us that it was shot in Ontario, Canada, which is like saying a Hollywood film is shot in California, U.S.A. No need to distinguish between cities and provinces (or states, as the Yanks call them). As in "Open Range," "Chicago," and countless other films, Canada overall can stand in for America in almost any of its guises and eras. And if you know anything about Bollywood film production, it can stand in for India too.

But no one stays for end credits. And besides, it's not necessary in this case. Kaufman enlists zombie garbage-man Riley to sabotage the plot to take down the tower. Once the mission is completed, Riley intends to head north to Canada, just like those Americans who planned an exodus upon Bush's reelection. "There's nothing up there," quips Kaufman. And that's exactly why Riley wants to go there. Land of the dead indeed. Played by the blandly hunky Australian Simon Baker, he should fit in (with nothing) quite nicely.

Mere sunshine on the horizon at the end of the film, Canada cannot even support an identity, much less an apocalypse. And that's just the way Americans want it. Like Michael Moore in "Bowling for Columbine," they expect to open any Canadian door and be greeted warmly. Needful to say, Canada is no promised land. Just for starters, ask my old prof whose Montréal home has been broken into twice. It's gotten so silly in the wake of Bush Version 2.0 that for a piece called "The Ugly Anti-American,"Toronto Star reporter David Bruser felt compelled to pose as an American tourist just to prove how nasty some Canucks can actually be.

Don't get me wrong. "Land of the Dead" is a great flick, the shiniest jewel from the most politically forward-looking summer Hollywood blockbuster season in eons. When I got home from seeing it, "Access Hollywood " was nattering on in the background about Pamela Anderson. Did you know that she's Canadian?

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