This book to film comparison contains spoilers.
I was a little wary about Warm Bodies at first because the idea of zombies has always grossed me out. So a zombie romance was not doing anything for me. But after so many positive reviews from friends, I decided to give it a go and I ended up really liking it! Isaac Marion has created a captivating narrative voice for R, which is a must when your protagonist spends so much time in his own head. The movie is reasonably accurate, but some small differences ended up making big changes to the story.
R’s life at the airport was made much simpler for movie viewers. In the book, the zombies are not just wandering around aimlessly but they have created their own society, complete with a hierarchical structure, marriage, and (to some extent) religion.
R is actually married to another zombie early on, and assigned two children to look after. R’s marriage is punctuated with domestic unrest and infidelity. Well, as close as you can get to infidelity when you’re dead and nothing’s working properly.
The Boneys exist in the movie simply as creepy skeleton dudes and are somewhat reminiscent of Imhotep from The Mummy. The book, on the other hand, depicts them as a kind of religious order. They are in charge of overseeing marriages, and indoctrinating the child zombies—and any rebellious adults—to the brain-eating way of life death.
Neither the concept of marriage nor the Boneys and their religion are a great loss individually, but scrapping both reduces the zombies to the stereotypical grunting, meandering creatures who are driven only by a desire for food. As weird as it was, I liked the idea that the zombies—even in their death—are driven by a desire for physical and emotional relationships even if they can’t properly sustain them.
The novel gives you a real sense of how few humans are left after the zombie apocalypse. People are crammed into old stadiums, trying to build new lives for themselves there. The movie makes me feel like humans really aren’t doing too badly.
Sure, they’ve built a huge wall but everyone’s living in regular houses. That kind of space to roam around takes away the feeling of claustrophobia and desperation that I get from the book.
Perry’s father is not killed by a construction accident, as he is in the book; instead, he simply becomes a zombie out of the blue. Honestly, that bugged me more than it probably should have. I feel like part of Perry’s devastation surrounding his father’s death comes from a sense of hopelessness and a realisation that real life accidents can be just as dangerous and random as zombie attacks.
Julie’s mother’s death, on the other hand, gets little more than a few passing mentions in the movie. It’s revealed in the book that she wanders out into the streets of her own free will, which is such an important emotional stressor for both Julie and her father, and for their relationship. Though his concern for Julie’s safety is sparse in the movie, it still exists and makes him look downright pleasant compared to his character in the book. And he gets to live because he’s such a good guy now. Congrats, man.
There’s no sign of Colonel Rosso in the movie, possibly because Julie’s dad is much less of a jerk. It took me a while to realise that Nora actually was in the movie, because I was looking for a half-Ethiopian girl and instead Analeigh Tipton was wandering around looking doe-eyed and whitewashed. I liked her in Crazy, Stupid Love but she seemed to be playing this character very similarly and all of Nora’s charisma just evaporated in her hands.
The humans are quick to claim victory in the movie, giving the impression that they’ve completely eradicated the zombie way of life. While the book indicates that such a future is in the works, the characters are still ‘fumbling in the dark’ for a way forward.
One thing that I really think needed more explanation in the movie was how Perry’s brain differed from other brains. R talks in the book about how Perry’s memories are—for whatever reason—more vivid and engaging than anything he’s ever experienced. It makes sense, then, that he quickly develops an emotional attachment to Julie. Perry also speaks to R while he’s eating his brain, giving him insights on how humans are surviving, and how his relationship with Julie developed, among other things.
The movie doesn’t do much to establish that Perry’s brain is different from anything R has ever consumed, which makes it seem almost random when he decides to save Julie. R also never has any of his mental conversations with Perry or his brain, and the connection between R and Julie seems more tenuous as a result.
Julie and R
Although it seems like Book Julie is aware or at least very suspicious of the fact that R has eaten her boyfriend’s brain, she goes out of her way to assure him that she would understand why someone had done it, and why she wouldn’t be traumatised by it. She (along with the rest of the humans) also at least has a theory about zombies consuming memories from their victims’ brains. Julie lays out breadcrumbs to help R confess to what he’s done, and even flirts with him on multiple occasions, encouraging him in his affections.
Movie Julie, though, voices no theories about the consumption of memories and seems fine with accepting that R just guesses her name and has an innate desire to keep her safe. So when Movie R does confess to having killed Perry and eaten his brain, he can’t be entirely certain that she won’t hate him for it. This means that, when Julie leaves the next morning, it’s unclear whether she’s motivated by fear, repulsion, or a desire to keep R safe from her father.
Without his connection to Perry’s brain in the movie, R is less aware of how dangerous it is to sneak into the city, and how easily General Grigio (Julie’s dad) could kill him. He works off Perry’s memory to sneak into the city seemingly without fear of consequences, which is kind of understandable since he doesn’t really have to deal with many.
Movie Julie also seems less focused on R’s milestones in becoming human again, like when he stops eating humans or begins to form more complex sentences. Admittedly, R spends only a short time in the city during the movie. But at no point in the movie does R attack anyone in the city, which means he isn’t even stumbling through his developmental stage; his affectations of zombiedom disappear entirely, without fanfare. Julie takes this all in her stride, and R doesn’t seem to be as much of an anomaly as he is made out in the book.
R’s return to life is more understated in the movie. It’s his bleeding wounds that identify him as human, rather than the funky golden eyes that he and Julie develop after their make-out session in the book.
From speaking with Perry’s memories to the almost magical kiss between R and Julie, Isaac Marion’s novel seems to thrive on distinctly supernatural elements. Some of Isaac Marion’s phrases have been running around my head for weeks: R’s narrative voice is poignant and wistful for the most part, making it easy to sympathise with his state of being. The movie adaptation doesn’t offer much in the way of explanations but a lot of those supernatural indicators are shut down. The movie takes on a more comical tone, reducing zombies to stereotypes and eliminating some of the emotional connection.
The overall plot may be the same in both mediums, but with some of the more interesting elements stripped from the movie, the book strikes me as the better telling of this story.