‘Warm Bodies’ Portrays a Vivid Yet Grotesque Gospel Image


After many supporting roles over the last two decades, Nicholas Hoult finally has our attention.

He’s claimed a starring role in two major motion pictures this year—the biopic, Tolkien (2019) as J. R. R. Tolkien, and as Beast in recent X-Men films, including Dark Phoenix. With such a unique face—likely helping him land his break-out role in About a Boy in 2002—it’s easy to see why he’s so frequently cast in speculative films.

Although his role as Tolkien may be his new claim to fame, is it his best work to date? I found the biopic to be sufficiently heartwarming and even inspiring at times, but I wouldn’t say the role was particularly suited to him. Nor was it in any way a story of faith as one would hope.

In stark contrast stands the zombie romance, Warm Bodies, staring Hoult as “R” and Teresa Palmer as Julie. Although not a story of faith per se, Hoult aids in the painting of a vivid, albeit grotesque, gospel image for viewers. This film may not appeal to all audiences due to it’s graphic and literally heart-stopping violence, but I can’t help but come back to it time and time again. The acting is en pointe, the soundtrack amazing, and the theme of redemption palpable.

It may sound as though I love a good gore-fest, but in reality, I’m pretty squeamish. I’ll even look away from the screen during particularly grotesque scenes, depending on my husband to tell when it’s safe to look back. But there are times in life when a film is just worth it. I even read the book by Isaac Marion afterward, but, surprisingly, found the movie preferrable—probably due to some necessary plot changes and, I would argue, Nicholas Hoult’s best performance yet.

I have heard time and again that Warm Bodies is zombies meets Romeo and Juliet. But although there are some obvious references to the Shakespearean tragedy—such as the main character’s names—this story is much more akin to Beauty and the Beast than Romeo and Juliet. For one thing, it’s not a tragedy. Like Beauty and the Beast, it’s a story of redemption where love is the catalyst.

I have heard it said by Christians, who like undead tales a good deal more than myself, that zombies are the perfect metaphor for life before Christ. Ephesians 2:1-5 can explain it best.

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously lived according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit now working in the disobedient. We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace!

It wouldn’t be surprising, then, for a Christian-made zombie story to end with the dead literally coming back to life as a picture of the gospel. Yet this story was not written by a Christian and it is romantic love that brings the dead to life again. Yet, even with the romance, there is something still so captivating for the Christian. It’s one of the reasons we often find Beauty and the Beast so alluring, isn’t it?

Disney illustrator Glen Keane expresses it best when describing his process of illustrating the Beast’s transformation.

“For me it’s really an expression of my spiritual life. There’s a verse in the Bible that says, ‘If any man is in Christ, he’s a new creation. Old things have passed away, and all things have become new.’ And I wrote that on my exposure sheet as I’m drawing, because it’s really about an inner, spiritual transformation that’s taking place with the Beast. I saw it as a parable of my own life” (2 Cor. 5:17).

In Warm Bodies, Hoult perfectly depicts the wide chasm of emotions one goes through in the search for meaning in life. The arc from bondage to an empty blood lust into pure joy at finding love and being set free from his former passions is nothing less than beautiful.

Some may argue that the world doesn’t need more zombie stories—and even I hit my threshold for gore rather quickly. But I can’t help but think that a story such as this would be all the more glorious if the love of Christ had transformed R’s lifeless heart. What if that look of pure joy and freedom on his face was the look of being free to pursue righteousness for the first time?

Although the story and acting falls short in that regard, the beauty of common grace—of the non-believer capturing the truth of redemption in their telling—is still inspiring.

Warm Bodies is rated PG-13 for violence and mild sexual content. For details, see the IMDB parents guide.

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Staff writer Marian Jacobs has created Lorehaven stories since the first print issue, exploring magic, sexuality, and story ethics. Her work has also featured at Desiring God and Stage and Story. She and her family live in southern California. Her first nonfiction book, a theological analysis and guide to discerning fictional magic, is set for summer 2025 release from B&H Publishing.
  1. Alyssa says:

    Great review! I loved this movie, but I loved the book even more. While there is much more profanity in the book (and so I can’t recommend it to most people) when I read it I couldn’t help but be struck by the beautiful big ideas there. (Spoilers ahead). The cause of the disease: the sickness and sin of humanity unleashed it. The cure? Forgiveness and love, of course. I agree, the author is talking about the power of loving of each other (not always romantic love in the book though) – which I actually think is an important statement as well – but additionally the parallel (or unintentional metaphor, if you will) to the gospel message is unmistakably there too. Love brings the “dead” back to life, and love is the cure to this “death” that has infected humanity: “It’s happening, corpse. Whatever you and Julie triggered, it’s moving. A good disease, a virus that causes life! Do you see this, you dumb monster? It’s inside you! All you have to do is get out of these walls and spread it!”

  2. notleia says:

    I’m so very tired of the zombie genre, but while Warm Bodies looked like a welcome spoof, I’m also glad it has some thematic substance and isn’t just trying to be another Shaun of the Dead.

    But can we put a moratorium on the apocalypse genre, unless you go full Hideo Kojima on it like the new vidya Death Stranding? (Tho KH3 proves that he isn’t above spectacle over substance) Just stahp.

  3. I’m not super into zombie stories, though I will watch/read them now and then. Post apocalyptic settings are pretty cool, though, even if I’m not always into the zombie related ones.

    A lot of times the ‘power of love and friendship!!!’ stories tend to make those themes seem pretty cheesy, so that kind of makes me a little hesitant about Warm Bodies, but maybe some day I’ll watch it just because.

    This post is reminding me that I need to reset my password on http://arillio.com/ so that I can play again. There aren’t many players and it’s still sort of in development, but for those wanting a virtual pet and roleplaying site surrounding survival and/or a post apocalyptic setting, this is probably a good one.

  4. Travis Perry says:

    Yeah, you’d think Christian authors would really seize hold of the idea of coming back from being a zombie, not because of romantic love, but the love of Christ, like you suggested.

    But I haven’t seen any of us doing that yet…have you?

    If not, would you ever write something like that? I might…

    • Marian Jacobs says:

      I read a Christian zombie book years ago (can’t remember the title), but I couldn’t get through it. The plot was all over the place. K.B. Hoyle’s Gateway Chronicles have some zombie-like creatures in them that have an opportunity to come back to life in the end. That’s the closest that I’m aware of.

      And it’s not completely off the table for me to do a story like that in the future. Although it would not be very gruesome like most tend to be. Probably more post-apocalyptic with a side of zombies.

What do you think?