As a child, my mother took me to see the movie Phantom of the Opera starring Claude Rains. There is a scary scene when a bottle of acid is thrown disfiguring a man forever. For many months afterward, I had nightmares. From that time on, seeing horror movies of any kind did not appeal to me and I rarely saw one. So it was with some reluctance that I went to see World War Z, a thriller about a zombie apocalypse threatening to take over the world.
The film opens with images of a happy family about to spend time together renewing and strengthening family ties. As they drive through stalled downtown Philadelphia traffic, however, the unexpected happens. A former UN employee, Gerry Lane, and his family are attacked by hordes of zombies along with countless others. The Lanes escape to a deserted apartment, where they are extracted by a helicopter sent by Gerry’s former UN colleague. They are then taken to a US Naval ship, where militarily analysts and scientific personnel are trying to determine the scope of this worldwide plague.
Dr. Andrew Fassbach, a virologist, is sent to a military base in South Korea to investigate the source of the virus along with Gerry, a veteran UN investigator, who is charged with facilitating the work of Dr. Fassbach. But then tragedy strikes. Fassbach is killed when he accidently discharges his gun amidst a zombie attack, and the investigating team is left without a scientist who can analyze the remains of those who have been killed by the zombies. At this moment, all seems lost. How can the problem be solved if there is no one to define the problem?
The Ethics of the Fathers says that in a place where there is no man, we have to step up to the plate and be the man. This is what Gerry does. When Fassbach dies, Gerry does not abort the mission. He does not make excuses. He understands what is at stake and continues on his search to investigate the source of the plague.
His search takes him from Korea to Jerusalem where he picks up more evidence and some helpful wisdom. Gerry learns that the Israelis had an early indication of the zombie menace and were able to use a barrier wall against terrorists as a barricade against zombie penetration. A local guru tells him that the Israelis took the zombie threat seriously and did not dismiss it because of their “tenth man” theory. This theory, based upon the experience of having miscalculated the strength and strategy of the enemy in a number of military situations, says that whenever everyone is in agreement about a potential threat, we suppose that a “tenth man” sees things differently. Moreover, we presume that the alternate view is correct and we investigate it. Solving a problem becomes similar to an exercise in Talmudic logic in which all possibilities are explored.
Ultimately, Gerry finds a path towards recovery, but it is not a panacea. As he observes the positive signs of human initiatives to end the zombie invasion, he wisely says: “This isn’t the end, not even close.” However, his comment reveals a determined optimism in the face of what seemed to be total apocalypse. This ability to focus on the positive in a desperate situation is what carries him forward to another day.
The Ethics of the Fathers tells us that it is not our job to complete the task, but rather simply to begin. This is especially true if that task seems overwhelming. Rather, all we need to do is put forth our best effort since the final result is in God’s hands.
Gerry does not solve the zombie problem, but he initiates a path towards a solution. That is sometimes the best we can do in difficult situations. Begin the process and leave the outcome to God.