A Welcoming Jerusalem in World War Z

A scene from the movie “World War Z.” (CNS photo/Paramount)
A scene from the movie “World War Z.” (CNS photo/Paramount)
This past weekend, World War Z opened with box office sales of $66 million, topping Mr. and Mrs. Smith as Brad Pitt’s best opening weekend to date. The film, based on the Max Brooks novel by the same name, stars Pitt as former United Nations investigator Gerry Lane, whom the U.N. calls to duty once again when the outbreak of a mysterious virus begins causing zombie-like infections in people across the globe. Lane’s mission is to aid in the discovery of a cure for that virus, and in exchange he is promised the safety of his family aboard a U.N. ship miles off the coast of New York City.

Now, I’ve written about zombies previously for Busted Halo, but I assure you, the core issue at the heart of World War Z isn’t the zombies, but rather the way the non-infected treat each other in the aftermath of this apocalypse. In the film, Gerry Lane travels around the world in search of anything that could lead him to a cure (or even a defense) against the disease that caused the zombie outbreak. His travels take him to South Korea, Wales, and (in an important turning point for the film) Jerusalem.

Jerusalem, it seems, was the only place that was prepared for the zombie outbreak, having intercepted communications from India that revealed the coming plague. In response to this information, a wall was built surrounding the city, keeping the infected out and protecting those who sought shelter in the city. After the infection began to spread, Jerusalem became a stronghold. But unlike, for example, the people on the U.N. ship who actively turn away people looking for refuge (and practically use Lane’s family as collateral to force him to help them find a cure), the people of Jerusalem allow others in. In a sweeping shot, we are treated to the image of walled-up Jerusalem, the zombie hordes outside of it, and the series of entry tunnels that allow frightened travelers the opportunity to escape from the terrifying plague. These entryways are called “Salvation Gates,” and there could not be a more appropriate term to describe them. After all, through these gates so many come to find salvation from the threat of the infection.

But why do this? Why, when the city is already protected, would you open up the gates, fortified though they may be, to outsiders? The answer lies in compassion, hospitality, and kindness. In one of the more famous passages from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells his followers of the Final Judgment when God will separate the just from the unjust. He explains that the just will be told: “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me … whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:35-36, 40).

As Jesus says here, each person is important in God’s eyes, and as such we must treat one another with compassion and concern. We must value and respect others as we would God, for God is present in each of us. Similarly, in the Gospel of Luke, we find this verse: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded” (Luke 12:48). In World War Z, both the city of Jerusalem and the people aboard the ship were given much in their situations. Both had a safe place capable of accommodating more survivors and keeping them safe from the infection. Yet only Jerusalem lived up to what was demanded. The people of Jerusalem were the ones to treat humanity as they would treat God, welcoming survivors with open arms. Even though we’re (hopefully) not in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, it’s certainly a great message to live by — if you have the means and the ability to help others, then why shouldn’t you?