Cutting Board: Zombieland, Arrival, and Spider-Man Homecoming

This is the part where I pretend to remember Zombieland. Give me a minute…

Okay. We open on our protagonist, Jeremy, looking off into the distance, deep in thought.

See that? That’s our hero shot

Cut to a high school student (played by Tom Holland) in the office of the principal (played by Michael Keaton). The student, in a full Spider-Man outfit, explains that he dresses as Spider-Man because he thinks Spider-Man is the best thing to happen to Disney since they bought Lucasfilm. The principal scowls, forces him to take off the mask, and gives him detention.

Cut back to Jeremy, who is snapped into reality by his co-worker Amy. Amy explains that the truck is leaving shortly, and that they need to get suited up. Jeremy comments that they’re sort of like superheroes, Amy chuckles. They go inside a makeshift military base and put on orange hazmat suits. This scene is silent, save for a low throbbing noise that passes as a soundtrack – the camera slowly pans out of the military base, past soldiers, across a field, and out to an enormous egg-shaped spaceship that’s hovering in the distance.

Title card: Humanity.

We cut to Amy and Jeremy being escorted to the ship, along with a few marines (including an especially volatile guard, Woody H). Standard exposition where we learn that aliens have landed in Montana, Amy is a linguist, Jeremy is an engineer, and it’s all suuuuuper top secret. Woody H snarls periodically, but he also drops sarcastic one-liners that make Amy laugh.

Woody H, played by Forest Whitaker

They arrive at the ship, go inside, at one point the camera angle is sideways to symbolize that the world is not as it should be, more droning ‘music’, etcetera. The inside of the spaceship is a vast chamber with a foggy glass wall. Jeremy and Amy approach the wall and wait patiently. Slowly but surely, two figures appear on the other side: two humans, male and female, covered in blood, eyes blank, limbs mangled, gait sickly. In other words, zombies.

Amy writes the word ‘Human’ on a whiteboard; in response, one of the zombies presses his bloody hand on the glass. Amy insists that they take a photo of the hand because it could be their way of communicating. Jeremy scoffs, saying that it’s literally the alien just pressing on the glass. Amy is appalled that Jeremy doesn’t think there’s a deeper message. Woody H agrees with Amy and gives Jeremy a hard time for doubting her. They photograph the hands, arbitrarily decide to call the zombies Jesse and Emma, then leave.

On the drive back, Jeremy pensively looks at the spaceship while Amy and Woody H banter and romance. Cut to the high school student again, who is walking home from school. He’s no longer wearing a Spider-Man costume, says something discouraging about growing up. He then spots the girl he has a crush on, jogging in the park. Tom Holland’s character is nervous, wonders to himself if she already has a boyfriend, but then works up the courage to ask her out anyways. She says yes.

Growing-up-can-be-hard shot

Cut back to Jeremy, who seems even sadder than before as he observes the chemistry between Woody H and Amy. When they arrive back at the base, Amy is escorted inside by Woody H, to break the news that they found a set of handprints. Jeremy insists that they’re reading waaaaay too much into it, but Woody H and Amy persuade the captain that they’ve made successful first contact. Discouraged, Jeremy returns to his bunk and falls asleep.

Montage time! More droning music – although this time, it’s overlaid with rhythmic zombie grunting. Amy, Jeremy and Woody H keep visiting the zombie aliens; Jeremy continues to disbelieve as Amy and Woody over-analyze the bloody handprints, and also fall in love.

Cut to evening. Jeremy is out in the field, once again looking off into the distance, once again deep in thought. We can hear a low humming from the spaceship (no music though); a 360 degree wide-shot shows the entire landscape, from the simple elegance of the spaceship, to the cluttered unenlightened military base that symbolically represents a lack of progress. A quick aerial view shows a yin and yang symbol. The field makes up one half, with the spaceship as the circle in the center. The military base makes up the other half, with Jeremy as the circle in the center.

This is high art, people.

Anyways. We cut yet again to the high school students. Tom Holland’s character goes to pick up the girl for prom. He knocks on the door, eager to see her, and we realize that the principal (Michael Keaton’s character) is her father! The student, terrified at this revelation, runs away in fear. He eventually ends up at the park, where he collapses on the grass, distraught.

Holy Plot Twists Batman!

Jeremy snaps awake. He’s still out in the field, it’s midnight. He realizes that he needs to talk to Amy. He sneaks into her room (to her shock), and explains that he’s been seeing things. He keeps seeing visions of a high schooler, but he has no idea who the boy is, or why the boy’s story seems oddly connected to his own.

Amy has no idea either. Suddenly, Woody H bursts in and demands to know why Jeremy was sleeping with Amy. Jeremy and Amy assure Woody H that there’s no foul play; Amy gives Woody H a Twinkie to calm his nerves. Rather than escalate, they discuss the matter like mature adults; they suspect that the alien zombies must have something to do with it. So, they drive out to the ship.

The penultimate now-or-never shot

As they’re driving, Jeremy is troubled by visions of the unknown boy. The boy is scrolling through his phone, reading articles about the mysterious alien landing. He’s interrupted by the girl, who meets him out in the park and assures him that her father, while a principal, is a sweet man even if he seems rough around the edges.

The cuts between student and Jeremy become more frequent and intense as they approach the ship. Jeremy knows that the high point of the story is imminent. He insists that he go on the ship alone, with Amy and Woody H standing guard at the base.

Alien-Zombie Jesse, the ‘other’ of the story

Jeremy slowly enters the ship; the music is eerily calming, like a zombie humming. Jeremy approaches the glass and sees Jesse. The flashbacks to the student have stopped. Jesse puts his hand on the glass; Jeremy tentatively puts his own hand up as well (note that this shot lasts three minutes, for maximum effect).

Suddenly, Jeremy can see himself. He can see from the other side of the glass. It takes him a minute to re-orient, but he soon has an epiphany. He’s seeing from the perspective of Jesse – and the visions of the high schooler were him seeing the student’s perspective in real-time, not a past or future memory.

Jeremy is jolted back into his own body. Jesse smiles knowingly (albeit creepily) at Jeremy, then disappears into the fog. Jeremy is launched backwards and falls out of the ship as it takes off – Woody H catches him at the last second.

Jeremy explains to them that the aliens were trying to give them the greatest, most socially and politically necessary gift of all – the gift of empathy. The aliens have equipped Jeremy with the power to see the world from other people’s perspectives.

The new symbol of peace for a new era of humanity

We end with a montage of Jeremy sharing his ability with the world (which he does by simply pressing his hand against them), and uniting people by enabling them to literally see each other’s points of view. All global leaders come together for a peace treaty; Woody H and Amy get married; the high school student goes to prom with the girl, while wearing a Spider-Man suit under his tuxedo (and with her father’s approval); and we have an inspirational voice-over from Jeremy talking about how empathy will move us forward as a species because we’ll finally understand each other.