Thursday, August 7, 2014

Dead Alive (1992), Lawn Mower to Oedipus Complex And Womb Explosions

Dead Alive (aka Braindead) is about Lionel’s relationship with his mother. The relationship is peppered in Oedipal themes that beg the question; What is Lionel's relationship with his mother? A question mired in rampant anti-therapy mentalities that have found their way into the public consciousness. After demystifying this, I will argue that the mother-son relationship allegorized by zombies, monsters and lawn mowers is materializing Lionel’s struggle to emancipate himself from the Oedipal complex.

Lionel is an adult, but still lives with his Mother (Vera). Vera is an upper-class snob socialite who micromanages Lionel’s life. Vera keeps Lionel busy cleaning and mowing the lawn until he fatefully meets Paquita. Enraptured, Lionel goes on a date to the zoo. Vera follows the couple and is bitten by a Sumerian Rat Zombie. Vera becomes bed ridden, and this forces Lionel to give up his romantic pursuits with Paquita. As Lionel, the sickness isn’t an ordinary cold, but zombification. Lionel calls a nurse, and Vera bites her. Lionel collects the zombies in the basement attempting to feed them and keep the zombies out of sight. Lionel’s plan fails when his uncle throws a party. The zombies get loose and zombify the whole party. Lionel launches an epic effort and dismembers the whole party with a lawn mower. Just when everyone appeared to be in pieces. Vera bursts through the floor boards. Vera has transformed into a giant blob of meat with a large pregnant-like belly. In combating his mother, the belly opens up and swallows Lionel into the womb. Lionel breaks free. Born again. Thus, Saving Paquita, ridding himself of his dependence on his mother and finding his backbone.

What is your relationship like with your mother? How did that make you feel? These two questions have entered public common sense to be mocked. Whenever a therapist or psychoanalysis be a session or reaches the point in the dialogue where the dreaded phrase is unleashed into the therapeutic relationship the patient freaks out. The most recent example of this is the deconstructive anti-therapeutic dialog in Hannibal. Hannibal Lector and William Graham. Both are intelligent dudes that are knowledgeable about the inner workings of the therapeutic formula. But they are also characters trapped in the anti-intellectualism that has infested the American common sense.

What is your relationship with your mother (or father) and how does that make you feel are key questions that are used to pull a client’s feelings into articulation. Difficult relationships and difficult emotions have a tendency to be pushed to the side or obsessed over in favor of maintaining the calm and regular flow of the psyche. In both cases, repression and obsession work to distance oneself from real emotional connect whatever it is that has triggered a person’s symptoms. As two of the most formative relationships in one’s life, it is necessary to learn what a person’s relationship is like with their parents in order to understand the coping mechanisms that a person develops. Assessing feelings, by asking how events, people or situations made someone feel, opens up room for undigested emotion to be brought into focus and named.

What is Lionel's relationship with his mother? Subservience. Lionel, to his mother, is a thing to be used to meet her needs. Lionel’s selflessness puts his mother’s to the front of his desire canceling out his sense of self. Selflessness in this respect is tied to self-denial. Lionel’s servitude is all-consuming. But, Lionel is not happy, satisfying his mother. Something is bubbling beneath the surface. A slave’s dream of freedom. The unnerving sense of inauthenticity caused by becoming aware of your cognitive dissonance.


Freedom is represented by Paquita. She shows Lionel another way to relate to women. With mutual longing, they escape into each other, momentarily freeing Lionel from the Oedipal compulsions. Vera realizing that Lionel is seeking companionship outside his mother follows the couple on their date to the zoo. Making herself known by screaming after she was bitten by the Sumerian-Rat-Monkey, Lionel loses his new freedom and regresses to his prior subservience.

In the second act of Dead Alive, Lionel experiences a set of experiences that forces him to change roles. After his mother has zombified a group of town residents, Lionel sits them down for a meal and feeds each of the zombies like an infant. The zombies fill out this allegory by their pathetic childlike attempts to feed themselves. One zombie tries to lift the spoon to his mouth, but pushes the spoon through his face to the back of his neck. The zombie then whimpers until Lionel is able to come address the problem. As his moves to help to this zombie, two of the other zombies attempt to fornicate. This odd scene put’s Lionel into a parental role overseeing his child-like zombies and disciplining teenage-like sexual escapades. Much, like his mother's attempt to block his relationship with Paquita.


Upon returning from a trip to get tranquilizers, Lionel is surprised by a baby zombie that has made its home inside a Radio. In a following scene, Lionel takes the baby-zombie to a park. There is a genius scene where Lionel is sitting on a park bench with his zombie-baby in a stroller in front of him watching a woman cooing her infant. Lionel mimics the mother oochie-cooing the zombie baby and playing peek-a-boo with a stuffed animal. The zombie-baby grabs the stuffed animal tears it apart. Loosing control of the stroller, the zombie baby tumbles down a hill. Free the zombie-baby takes a run for it. Lionel catches the creature and pummels it. Slamming the baby against the frame of a swing set. The scene calls attention to the parallel between Lionel’s new role as zombie father and his Vera’s role as a mother. Both attempts to control the behavior of their children.

The zombies represent the extension of Vera’s desire to separate Lionel from Paquita, in order to secure his dependence. Lionel’s growing love for Paquita threatens Vera’s grasp on Lionel’s subjectivity. The Sumerian-Zombie-Rat’s bite was all too convenient. Let's saw a little deeper. The Sumerian-Zombie-Rat is a feral creature stolen from tribe lands by white poacher for a zoo. What the rat’s bite gave Vera is the materialization of a mother's all-consuming love and an alignment the community’s opposition to interracial dating. This moral overlapping solidifies and unites, like a lynch mob, to tear the couple apart.

But it was not eradicating the racist community that lifted Lionel out of the Oedipal complex, but his Rebirthing. While Paquita, is hanging off the side of the roof, she was able to bear witness to the Lionel severing the last of his maternal ties and freeing himself to be in a relationship with Paquita. Now born again Lionel is free to define his own reality.

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