by Hannah Partridge, Ball State University
M. R. Carey’s 2014 novel The Girl With All the Gifts presents a new twist to the genre of post-apocalyptic zombie novels by making the protagonist of the story a zombie herself. Melanie, who believes she is an ordinary young girl and knows no other life than living in a cell on a military base and being led at gunpoint to her daily lessons with Miss Justineau, is in fact a child infected by the zombie fungus, but in a way that allows her to maintain conscious thought. Melanie’s ability to think for herself eventually leads her to make a decision that destroys all living humans, giving the novel a dramatic post-human ending. M. R. Carey uses the post-apocalyptic zombie genre to create what appears to be a progressive narrative, including diverse characters representing often-ignored intersections of gender and race. However, Carey then turns this on its head by ultimately condemning all humans as corrupt and immoral, forcing his readers to reconsider our own humanity and question our supposed superiority as a species.
While the film version of The Girl With All the Gifts stays true to its source material in many ways, there are some significant differences. Interestingly, most of these differences work to undermine Carey’s original intent of presenting a posthuman narrative. The concept of the posthuman literally means “beyond human,” and it envisions a future earth without the existence of humans. Although they are telling the same story, I argue that the film version of The Girl With All the Gifts presents an anti-posthuman stance, which diminishes the powerful and cautionary message found in the novel.
In the novel The Girl With All the Gifts, Carey forces the reader to truly consider the individual perceptions and ideals of the main characters by alternating the point of view throughout the story. Most often the narrative is told from Melanie’s perspective, which is significant given that she is one of the zombie children. By highlighting her personal experiences and thought processes, Carey leads the reader into admiring her innocence and intelligence, and sympathizing with her plight. Garnering this sympathy for Melanie and for the other zombie hybrid children like her enforces the strength of the posthuman ending. Seeing the human race destroyed naturally disturbs the reader, but seeing Melanie survive provides an additional feeling that the ending is also just. By causing these mixed emotions, Carey’s novel expertly issues a warning: We as humans are not invincible. If we continue to go down a path of violence, cruelty, and destruction to the world around us, the world might just start fighting back.
While the novel works to ease the blow of a posthuman ending by highlighting the human elements that still prevail in the zombie children, the film repeatedly paints Melanie’s character as more monstrous than that of the novel, primarily in describing her origin. A key part of the plot has to do with the scientist Dr. Caldwell, who has been studying and dissecting the zombie children in an attempt to discover a cure to the zombie fungus. It is not until the penultimate moments of the novel that Dr. Caldwell discovers that Melanie and the other children like her were exposed to the virus from conception, meaning that there were some hungries retaining human drives and emotions – including a sex drive (379). Therefore even some of the hungries possess more humanity than traditional zombies. However, the film posits that Caldwell knew the origins of Melanie’s kind from the start. In a particularly chilling scene, Caldwell tells
Melanie that pregnant mothers were infected by the virus, and that their infants eventually “ate their way out” of the womb (0:52:41). Furthermore, the film does not give the audience any insight into Melanie’s internal thought process, so they are unaware of her constant internal struggle between the instinct to kill, and the remorse she feels upon doing so. While the novel’s perspective gives the hungries more humanity, the film’s version makes them even more disturbing.
The second factor affecting the posthuman stance of the film is the portrayal of the human race as a united force. All of the humans seen in the film are working together to fight for survival against the hungries. Conversely, the novel includes another group of humans called “junkers,” survivalists and scavengers who are determined to live outside of government control, and frequently fight against the military on the base. The absence of these characters simplifies the ethical questions of the film. It’s easy to view humans as virtuous when their only enemies are decaying, mindless cannibals. It provides an obvious enemy. With the inclusion of the junkers in the novel, the humans’ morality becomes much more muddled. Despite the population being at an all-time low and their mutual desire to survive, the two factions of humans fight and kill one another instead of attempting to help one another. Melanie sees this, which makes her decision rational and even logical, and proves that her concern is for the earth as a whole. Conversely, the film’s clear-cut distinction between humans (good) and zombies (evil) makes Melanie’s choice to release the fungus appear much more self-serving and reckless. The film does not include Melanie’s monologue describing her concern for the earth and her realization that the next generation “won’t be the old kind of people, but they won’t be hungries
either” (Carey 399). Instead, she simply tells a dying Sergeant Parks that the earth “[is] not over, it’s just not yours anymore” (1:41:24).
In short, the film leads the audience in a very different direction than Carey’s novel. Instead of a cautionary tale in the guise of progressive zombie fiction, the film presents surface-level horror, takes steps back in terms of character representation, and simplifies the moral dilemma of the story, taking away the audience’s opportunity to think deeply about our place in the world.
Carey, M.R. The Girl With All the Gifts. Orbit, 2014
The Girl with All the Gifts. Directed by Colm McCarthy. Saban Films, Direct TV, 2016.