George Romero's reinvention of the zombie in night of the Living Dead (1968) is clearly a critique of elements of the American society, and the film as a whole is easily twisted into a warped view on the 'American Dream'. Themes throughout Romero’s film, dealing with controversial topics during the time that the film was made, are still, to this day debated by critics and film historians. Themes of racism and war are defined within the movie, hidden underneath the idea of carnal, cannibalistic zombies and over the top heroes who, eventually, succumb to the reanimated; despite their every effort. These themes are colored over and painted to hide beneath subtle references to the typical American Dream during this time, and Romero does quite the good job at it too. This dream, whilst continuously changing in the everyday lives of modern Americans, can be loosely defined as a national ethos of the United States, or a set of ideals dealing with freedom and the opportunity for success - an upward social status that can be achieved through hard work and effort.
The American Dream is an ongoing set of ideals within the United States, and was especially prevalent during the 1960’s. James Truslow Adams, an American author and historian, defined the dream in 1931, stating "life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability of achievement."1 The tensions during this time had everyone on edge, and Americans everywhere dealt with these accordingly. George Romero, sensing these tensions, saw an opening to get his voice heard by millions of people around the world, and more importantly, across the country. Romero revolutionized the horror film genre with his horror flick, Night of the Living Dead. Not only had he completely reopened the eyes of filmmakers everywhere, Night of the Living Dead also effectively redefined the term “zombie”. While this term is never used in the film, “ghoul” is used; Night of the Living Dead was what successfully
introduced the zombie as being brought back from the dead, thirsting for flesh of the living.
Despite its high profile release in 1968, and it being one of the top films of its time, Romero’s film has had quite the backlash in accordance with its raving reviews. “Reviewers began to recognize that the film did not just shock and disgust, but that it disturbed and perplexed viewers, and demanded more of them at some deeper, more thoughtful, and more introspective level.”2 Critics and historians around the world have dedicated numerous hours into critiquing the film, noting it as being a subversive representation of the American society during the 1960’s, especially dealing with the American Dream – or more specifically, two reoccurring traits in particular; equality, or justice, and competition. While the film...