Zombies, Rest, and Motion:
Spinoza and the Speed of
Zombies are, one might say, the deadest of the Undead. In the classic Hollywood depiction, they are shambling, cadaverous beings whose creeping, halting motions are one of the most unsettling aspects of their appearance. Even in cases where a zombie is not technically dead, but hypnotized like Madge Bellamy in White Zombie (Victor Halperin, 1932), or in a coma— arguably—like Christine Gordon in I Walked with a Zombie (Jacques Tourneur, 1943), the eeriness of the cinematic spectacle consists in the separation of the person from her consciousness at the same time that she continues to walk and perform simple actions. A similar dread infuses the replacement of living persons by alien pod people in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Don Siegel, 1956) or by androids in The Stepford Wives (Bryan Forbes, 1975): the body looks the same, but the consciousness is gone or transformed into something inhuman.
We don’t want the dead to get up and walk, even—or especially—if we loved to see them moving in life. Nor do we want to see our loved ones acting slowed-down and emotionless as if they were “dead,” even in a figurative sense: it creeps us out. In the absence of what we think of as the vitality of conscious existence, the ability to walk or clutch or even eat amounts to little more than the grisly reflexive spasms of rigor mortis. Either what ought to be vivacious and spirited has become still and lifeless, or what ought to be dead somehow, uncannily, is not. Either way, we react with horror.
But why exactly does slowness or stillness play so central a part in the horror we associate with zombies? Often invoked in