Some heavy spoilers ahead. I don’t think they’ll ruin the movie, but I feel better giving a warning. The film is great so you should watch it anyway!
It was Halloween some time ago, and on that spooky day, I had decided to re-watch Shaun of the Dead. Yes, I played it safe and fed my nostalgia junkie self. Besides, the movie is still as fun and funny as it was ten years ago. But when you watch something too many times, you might start to see things. Things that aren’t really there, or maybe they are? The familiar becomes deformed before your eyes and a new more disturbing light shines where it shouldn’t shine. And then you find Freud’s sticky fingerprints all over the place.
The first time I watched Shaun of the Dead, it was for the comedy. It’s mostly dark and situational, but the film also has very nice character moments which are played completely straight. And as the script is tight and clever, it all works very nicely, just like a well-oiled machine. My second go happened when I was educating myself in the zombie genre, so that time around I watched the movie for all the allusions that I missed before. Then, after another couple of years I went in, because I heard about the whole rom-zom-com marketing that they had at the time of the premiere, and wanted to check it from this perspective.
Well, Shaun of the Dead is certainly a comedy, it has zombies in it too, but a romance? There’s more sexual tension between Shaun and his buddy Ed than between Shaun and Liz. I mean she breaks up with him in the beginning of the film because their relationship has grown stale. He doesn’t take her out anywhere but to the local pub and doesn’t want her to meet his parents. However, in the face of zombie apocalypse Shaun manages to show his assertiveness and resolve, and does win Liz back. In other words, the z-outbreak was a nice way to spice things up a little bit. But did Shaun get that memo? I doubt it. In the end of the movie their surroundings are changed enormously, but the protagonist stays the same.
And don’t get me started on the mother. I mean, she’s a lovely lady, of course. But her relationship with Shaun is toxic. He’s too attached to her and fears to move on. And that’s where Freud’s Oedipus Complex comes into play. There’s clearly a lot of repressed emotion for the mother and not-so-represed dislike for the stepfather. They are very awkward around each other, and there is that moment in the film where the protagonist dreams of killing the father, because apparently he’s bad for the mom. He goes as far as to tell the mother that step-father molested him (and that’s clearly a lie). But anything to protect her.
Still, there’s more! If you’re 29, like Shaun, and still have Oedpius Complex then the problem lies in you not properly growing up. In Freud’s theory you should move on from that, get a girlfriend and plant a tree, etc. But you can’t. Shaun can’t, the girlfriend dumps him. So you start drinking. Shaun does that. He’s favorite place is a pub – he’s wasted when we see him the first time and by the end of the next day he gets drunk even more!
So by the end of the movie it all changes, he shares a moment of understanding with his step-father, mom is out of the picture, bad friends are out too. As mentioned earlier, the environment is changed. His house becomes incredibly tidy as Liz moves in with him but it’s all for naught! Shaun is still Shaun. You are you, yourself. And changing the nature of a man is definitely more difficult. There’s the dark little place where you keep your Ego at bay. It’s Shaun’s toolshed. There, he keeps zombified Ed to play games with him, from time to time. And Ed was a personification of Shaun’s Ego through out the film quite visibly (He always makes sexual jokes about Shaun’s mom, and he doesn’t do nothing but play and drink and eat.) So, that romance the movie is seemingly about? Not really.
There is one theme that I have always believed Shaun of the Dead explores. That is growing up – it’s been my ultimate feel-good movie. I mean, the zombies are there for the giggles, the comedy for grounding the whole experience and the romance is to drive the point home. Sometimes it may seem too late to grow up, but that doesn’t mean you can’t stand up to the challenge. Freud just adds some depth. Though, it still comes hard for me to believe that these guys, who are in a business of making cinematic gun fights with the elderly, would create such a Freudian movie. But, on the other hand, who else would be better for it?