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Resident Evil 2: The Film as a Political Text
The basic storyline for Resident Evil 2: Apocalypse (and its science fiction/horror prequel, the 2002 film Resident Evil) spawned from a popular role playing, blood and guts, zombie-killing video game. However the film reflects more than simply pop culture’s idea of entertainment. Resident Evil 2 also serves as a political text, in that it reflects our culture’s view of science and the role of science and technology within society. The film also reflects subtle feelings our culture has on other topics relevant to the “individual’s” place in the grand scheme of society. To understand how certain sociological concepts are applicable to the film, one must first have a basic knowledge of the plot.
The main story that unfolds in Resident Evil 2 is set Raccoon City, where there is a rapidly spreading, infectious virus with violent and macabre effects. The T-Virus shortly kills anyone infected, and then “re-animates” the dead tissue. The infected are essentially flesh-hungry zombies that wander the city spreading the virus by biting their victims. The only ways to dispatch the infected post-mortem are to sever the spinal cord or inflict cerebral damage; essentially, by the breaking of the neck or by severe trauma to the head, such as a gunshot wound. The T-Virus was developed in a secret underground high-tech facility, known as the Hive, located beneath Raccoon City. The facility is owned by the Umbrella Corporation, the largest commercial entity in the world, which in public is the world’s leading supplier of computer technology, medical products, and health care. However the majority of the corporation’s revenue is generated by applications unknown even to some of the employees: military technology, genetic experimentation, and viral weaponry. Researchers in the Hive are developing experimental bio-weaponry. The T-Virus was originally developed by one of the corporation’s geneticists, a wheelchair-bound researcher named Charles Ashford, for the purpose of curing his daughter of a debilitating disease (the same disease by which he is also afflicted). The virus works by enhancing cellular growth. But the “invention” is taken away from him by the corporation and used for the development of a superior bio-weapon. In the original 2002 Resident Evil film, there is an accident at the Hive and the staff there is exposed to the virus. A tactical unit is sent in to the Hive and in the end of the film there are only two survivors of the whole ordeal, the head of security for Umbrella Corporation (a woman called Alice) and an environmentalist named Matt. At the close of the film, both are hauled away by the corporation’s scientists. They will become unknowing participants, test subjects, for the lab’s genetic experiments and will play important roles in the sequel.
Resident Evil 2 represents quite a few social and scientific concepts, and to a large extent reflects a cultural opinion of science that is not necessarily positive. The film plays on quite a few personal and social fears. The main driving forces of the film are the existence of a fast spreading pandemic (the T-Virus) and the “Big Brother” corporation behind the catastrophe (The Umbrella Corporation). The T-Virus and the resulting chaos represent quite a few marked public fears and opinions. First, the T-Virus reveals the public’s fears of a massive pandemic. Such an episode is seemingly random and far-reaching. There is no way to predict such an event. Therefore, the public feels especially vulnerable to such an attack. The public fears “contamination”, and feels especially vulnerable because biological hazards know no social or economical bounds.
To this same end, the virus, as well as the secret activities of the Umbrella Corporation, reveals the public’s fear and opinion of the threats and dangers of biological research, especially bio-weaponry. The public has personal and global fears of the devastating results of the application of biological weapons and warfare. Embedded in the movie is also the underlying theme and general opinion that science and those who fund the research are meddling with forces
beyond their control and that disaster is imminent. Furthermore, there is the implication that science has and will continue to overstep its ethical boundaries. Moreover, there is an inference to the fear or belief that even discoveries or inventions created for a good purpose will be perverted and exploited by falling into the wrong hands.
The “Big Brother” corporation is reflective of the societal fear that, in the eyes of the “higher-ups”, people are expendable on some small scale. The general populace is dehumanized either by direct involvement in experimentation, or by the general idea that it is acceptable and even preferable to sacrifice the lives of a few for the “general good.” There are two main examples of this in the film. First and foremost is the quarantine and imminent “sanitizing” of Raccoon City, orchestrated by the Umbrella Corporation. The people within the city limits are considered casualties of science, left to succumb to either the raging virus, or the pending demolition of the city to prevent the spread of the virus. This is an underlying societal concern. That is to say, the public recognizes the reality that they could very well become expendable victims of a large commercial or governmental entity. This coincides with another fear that the Umbrella Corporation and its activities represent; the public’s fear of the power of large corporations and the willingness by said corporations to “cover up” incidents of public concern, and expend lives to do so.
The quarantine of Raccoon City also represents another important concept, the idea of the closed world. The closed world is a world, physical or even conceptual, that characters are trying to protect, preserve, or penetrate, or a world that the characters are trying to escape. Obviously, in this case Raccoon City becomes a closed world. It is a perilous place to be, mechanistic in the sense that most of the residents are dead and/or reanimated zombies, products of a wayward “science”. The city not only has metaphorical boundaries, but physical barriers to keep the remaining residents locked within. The remaining survivors of the initial virus outbreak are not only trying to escape the horrific clutches of the virus, but the imminent annihilation of the city. Secondary to this, any building within the city in which the survivors seek refuge is similarly a closed world. The survivors travel within the city limits to different buildings, seeking refuge from the flesh hungry zombies. The buildings then become little closed worlds, where the people inside work to keep the outside threats from penetrating the walls of protection. What little safety and sanity they have is within the walls of a given building, with others who have not yet been infected by the T-Virus. Contrary to this idea, the promise of safety outside of the city limits represents the concept of the green world, a more naturalistic world. The green world in this case is simply a place of safety and normality, a place where people are back in control of the situation.
Also evident, is the corporation’s willful manipulation and experimentation of genetic material. The film reveals Alice and her environmentalist friend Matt as test subjects for the Umbrella Corporation. Alice and Matt have both been deliberately contaminated with the virus. Alice has bonded with the virus on a cellular level, becoming faster and stronger, while still having a human form. Matt has mutated, becoming a hideous monster. He is portrayed as an unrecognizable juggernaut of a beast, immensely strong, impenetrable to bullets, but with little free will or thought. They are both considered projects of the Umbrella Corporation, and the ultimate plan of the research team is to pit them against one another to see which project is the superior bio-weapon. This subplot reveals the public’s distaste and fear of dehumanization by science researchers and the corporations that have an economic investment in the research.
The only positive aspect of the “Project Alice/Project Nemesis” subplot is revealed in the fight scene between Alice and Matt (now only know as Nemesis). Alice and Nemesis fight hand to hand and Alice spares the mutant’s life, remembering the human, the person, he once was. This
is later reciprocated as Nemesis refuses commands to kill her and even helps her and the remaining survivors escape the city by blocking the antagonists. This is reflective of the hope that there may still be some salvageable humanity, even in a “monster” such as him. This is also a good example of the concept of recombination as well. Alice embodies the concept of recombination, because not only does she use the tools of the oppressor against them to survive, she is the tool of the oppressor. She was essentially recreated with the T-Virus in her body. She uses the strength, agility, and superhuman powers resulting from her contamination to survive and help others survive the ravaging virus and escape the city.
The overall reflection of the popular culture’s opinion of science represented in Resident Evil 2 is not positive. What may seem like an innocent horror or science-fiction film is actually a political text reflective of the role of science in our culture today. Science is seen as a dangerous endeavor, something almost always abused, and used for covert and diabolical commercial and governmental profit. The general opinion seems to be one of mistrust, apprehension, and personal vulnerability; not a positive role for science to play, but one might wonder if it is at least partially accurate nonetheless.