Schwarzenegger’s Maggie: Life and Death in Zombieland
Arnold's new post-apocalyptic drama is an interesting take on a worn-out genre, but ultimately leaves the audience feeling empty.
If I never see another Zombie film or television series, it will be too soon. We are now officially at pop-culture’s full-capacity limits on this tired — sometimes disgusting — storytelling genre.
Or so I thought, until I heard that Arnold Schwarzenegger had ventured into Zombieland. This I had to see.
The film, Maggie, is yet another post-apocalyptic story where the world has gone haywire and society is paying for the cultural and moral sins of their proverbial fathers (and mothers). While that is a well-trodden formula, there are two twists on the traditional “flesh-eating Zombies” story arc that help Maggie to stand out.
The film is rated PG-13 and is not something you want to let young kids watch, especially without talking through the emotionally-heavy issues dealt with from start to finish. The plot centers on a father whose daughter has already been infected with the Zombie virus, and now both must deal with the reality that she will soon be lost to him forever. This relationship is an intriguing variation and one that Arnold and his on-screen daughter (played by Abigail Breslin) bring believable emotion and depth to.
The second, and more important, distinguishing feature of Maggie is Arnold Schwarzenegger himself. No one is seeing this low-budget, independent film if he is not in it. But he is in it. And he’s pretty good in it, playing a different character from any he’s ever played.
There are no rocket launchers. There are no time-traveling robots. It is a dad and his daughter in small-town America dealing with a global catastrophe on a very local, very person level. As much as a Zombie film can be realistic and understated, Maggie is both of those things.
Other film critics can tell you about the musical score, the merits of its cinematography, and its adherence to unwritten rules of Zombie storytelling. What I want to address is the larger, philosophical message that Maggie leaves the viewer with. Whatever else you want to say about this movie, it is a total downer.
(Note: Spoilers coming!)
The audience learns within the first few minutes of the film that Arnold’s daughter is certainly going to die within a matter of weeks, not months or years. The rest of the film is about Arnold and his family figuring out how to deal with this stark, crushing reality. Maggie is a ticking time-bomb, but things are even more emotionally complicated because when that bomb goes off, it won’t just mean the end of Maggie’s life — it will mean she is now a threat to everyone else around her.
So Maggie, as a film, is really an exploration of those “end of life issues” that Americans don’t like to talk about, told in Zombie movie form.
Schwarzenegger is the protective father who will do anything he can to keep his daughter close until she is completely gone. He refuses to let go. Even though he has since remarried to a kind woman, his first wife — Maggie’s biological mom — passed away years earlier and the pain of that hangs over Arnold and his daughter. It has bonded them in a special way and it makes Maggie’s looming demise all the more painful.
In the end, the central plot question — “What do we do when Maggie becomes a Zombie and tries to eat us?” — is resolved in the most unsatisfying, depressing way imaginable: Maggie takes her own life. Worse, the act is presented as a beautiful choice and the only way for everyone to “win” in an ugly situation. Unlike some neighbor characters in the film, Arnold doesn’t have to take his beloved child into the backyard and shoot her like Old Yeller. Her family isn’t forced to send her off to the government’s “liquidation” center. She solves the problem that is Maggie by ending Maggie.
I don’t know how one is to bear up under the agony of facing a loved one who is suffering under some savage disease. But I do know that life is precious to God and that suicide is nothing to glorify. Maggie doesn’t go quite that far, but it does (emotionally) paint the viewer into a corner where suicide seems like the only moral choice.
The only specific reference to faith or spirituality comes when Maggie’s stepmom says she has been praying to God for comfort in this challenging time, but that He isn’t answering her. This is taken as a sign that He doesn’t care (or may not even exist). In a godless world, apparently, suicide becomes a virtue.
There are things worse than being turned into a Zombie.
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” -Matthew 10:28