Shaun of the Dead, the Power of Friendship, and the Pain of Growing Up

At the core of Edgar Wright‘s horror comedy shaun from the Dead is a message: growing up can be a bit of a nightmare, but with the right friends by your side, it might be okay. For emotionally stunted slackers everywhere, the film is a call to arms. It is not and tip enough to wade through life completely indifferent. Occasionally you have to show up for those who need you. Equal parts satire of the zombie genre and downright celebration of it, the film is also one hell of a comedy with a hell of a heart. Same parts Dawn of the Dead and Wright’s own Distance, Shaun of the Dead is cruel, funny and often poignant. By the time the credits roll, two things will be clear: There’s something really special about the power of friendship, and maybe just that may be, Growing up won’t be that bad.


Shaun (Simon Pegg) is the ultimate slacker, one who’s far happier sitting around drinking beer and playing time splitter 2 with his friend Ed (Nick frost) than focusing on his career or his relationship with his girlfriend Liz (Kate ash field). He is constantly stuck in his state of immaturity, unable and unwilling to face the typical expectations and responsibilities of adulthood. He is unable to go on a “proper” date with Liz, one that Ed is not busy polluting the air with all his rudeness – you know, a little more romantic – and Shaun is subsequently dumped.

A friend for the end of the world

While it would be too much of a scapegoat to blame Ed solely for Shaun’s professional and romantic immaturity, he deserves some credit for Shaun’s directionless life. Shaun’s roommate Pete (Peter Serafinowicz) acknowledges Ed’s negative influence on Shaun’s ambition. He tries to convince Shaun to kick Ed out of his life, but he just comes off as some sort of bully. After a night out at the pub, Ed and Shaun return home in a drunken haze, put on a record and dance down man Parrish’s “Hip Hop, Be Bop (Don’t Stop)” at “4:00 in the fucking morning,” as Pete so succinctly puts it work, but Shaun? This is as good as it gets.

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Even if Pete is a bit of a snob, he’s actually right. Is Shaun’s life of binge drinking, record scratching and general detachment enough? Can’t there be something else? Shouldn’t it? He doesn’t enjoy his dead-end job as an electronics salesman. Few to none of his youthful associates respect him or his quasi-authority. Still, Shaun’s need to grow up and his friendship with Ed are at odds with one another. Liz, who positively influences his life, wants to push him to be more reliable and present. Ed, on the other hand, doesn’t want to let go of the childlike lifestyle he shares with Shaun, and neither does Shaun. In a way, growing up would betray Ed and the friendship they’ve shared “since elementary school.”

Ultimately, Shaun is unhappy with his life, but Ed grants him a brief haven of happiness every now and then. she are best friends after all. Ed’s orangutan impressions, immaculately timed farts, and witty one-liners make for a solid laugh, and after so many years of friendship, he and Shaun are tightly bonded. Growing up and abandoning Ed would be a betrayal, so Shaun gets stuck in a rut out of loyalty to his pal.

The difficulty in maintaining and nurturing a friendship over the years lies in the inevitable changes that befall the people involved. It is human nature for two friends to part ways in different directions in life, using the transformative growth that awaits most people in the late stages of their adolescence as a prerequisite to true adulthood. Think about your high school friends and how many of them you are still in touch with. Was there a breakup or did it happen naturally, gradually, like a slow fade between frames where suddenly someone is gone?

That’s part of Shaun’s dilemma. Ed is one of the few people from the proverbial good old days still alive in his life. Pete’s still around, sure, but he’s turned into something of a wet blanket when it comes to late-night boozing. Would it be fair to ban Ed from his life just because the boy is a bad influence? Ed is charming in his own way, he’s a decent guy in general, and basically he is him does take care of Shaun…even if his perception of what’s good for a person is completely out of whack. Ed is faithful. Ed has Shaun’s back when trouble arises, and the least Shaun can do is return the favor. But shouldn’t he seriously grow up to get his life in order and decide who he wants to be?

A zombie outbreak changes things

In the end, Shaun needs a zombie invasion to acknowledge his mistakes and develop a new sense of responsibility. He slips effortlessly into the role of the hero and takes control of situations in which others are helplessly drowning. Say what you want about Shaun, but him is a man with a plan (“get your car, go to mum’s, kill Phil, get Liz, go to the Winchester, have a cold beer and wait until this is all over”).

When he later goes to see Liz as planned, he encounters understandable skepticism. Liz seems to think it’s just Shaun’s ruse to win her back and she’s not interested. “This isn’t about you and me, it’s about Survive‘ he tells her, and it’s clear he means it. It’s not about winning them back at all. He genuinely wants to save her life, regardless of how their relationship fares afterwards.

Shaun’s ingenuity and quick thinking prove repeatedly that he is a natural leader in this nightmarish reality. When the group is surrounded by an overwhelmingly large horde of creepy zombies, it’s Shaun who saves the day once again by quickly summoning himself to pose as the undead in order to slip through unnoticed. Later, when the plan fails, Shaun risks his life to distract the creatures and allow the others to escape.

Regarding the Rome Part of this rom-zom-com, Shaun and Liz are slowly brought back together through their shared tragedy. Shaun proves he can grow up after all, but what’s Ed left with? Will he really continue to hold Shaun back after Shaun finally proves he’s capable of growth? Well no. He is bitten by a zombie and infected with the virus in a tearful farewell scene between the two buddies. Ed must die under the invading zombie hordes, while Shaun and Liz must flee with the Deus Ex Machina of the miraculously arriving military.

Shaun leaving Ed to continue his life with Liz is both literal and metaphorical. Although Ed is a character in his own right, he is also a symbol of Shaun’s indifference and careless attitude, giving him little direction to follow. Shaun’s life, which has included spending virtually every hour of his free time at the Winchester drinking pints and listening to the same old jukebox hits, has predictably gone stale. Without Ed’s encouragement, or without his own comparable growth, Shaun would be stuck between the two worlds of doing nothing and wanting more.

Of course, the film ends in comedy rather than tragedy, and it turns out Shaun and Liz live happily ever after while a virus-ridden Ed is being held in the shed. When time permits, Shaun sneaks off to play a few rounds time splitter 2 with his old pal, just like old times. It’s a bit of comedic brilliance that the zombified Ed isn’t that different from the normal Ed. They both sit around, mumbling a bit, always hungry and content to sit apart and play some video games. He may need to be chained everywhere for the general safety of humanity, but it’s not like he’s gone anywhere – except maybe to the pub.

As queen‘s “You’re My Best Friend” roars across the soundtrack as the two buddies spend time together, the film makes its message clear. You can grow up and have the mature life you want or need and keep their lazy, unmotivated friends. You just have to know where to draw the line and where to separate the two. After all, growing up can be pretty darn tough, but it’s darn necessary.

As Shaun and Ed prove, friendship – true friendship – triumphs over everything when it counts. Shaun of the Dead, the Power of Friendship, and the Pain of Growing Up

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