Unchained Malady

With '28 Days Later,' Danny Boyle and Alex Garland Step Into the Hot Zone

Boyle himself seems more at ease these days with his limitations: "I admire big movies, but you have to acknowledge what brings out the best in you." Since The Beach (which was "like trying to steer an oil tanker"), he's completed two DV quickies for the BBC. He's pondering a return to the scene of his greatest triumph—there are tentative plans to adapt Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting sequel, Porno—but in the meantime is in post-production on another small-scale project with ostensibly local concerns, Millions, about two boys who discover a bag of sterling, days before the U.K. switches to the euro: "It's about saying goodbye, how important that can be particularly for the British. We love hanging on to the past here."

Garland is equally keen to close the book on The Beach. "The film is shit," he deadpans. "No, seriously, it's not mine to look back on. I watched it happening, but I didn't feel a connection." He was equally disengaged from the adaptation of his second novel, the Manila-set Tesseract (directed by the Bangkok-based Oxide Pang). "That's a more personal book and I'm less comfortable with it being a film." (The tape of the finished product has been sitting in his London flat, unwatched, for weeks.) For Garland, 28 Days Later was an opportunity to deflect third-novel pressures (London's Observer ran a news item two years ago headlined "Plot Dries Up as Beach Writer Hits Writer's Block") and collaborate more substantially in a feature film: "[Producer] Andrew [Macdonald] says Danny works the way he does because of his background in theater, where the writer gets involved. I think it's because at heart he's an old socialist."

Boyle and Garland spent a lot of time discussing their approach to violence—something that in Garland's books he's careful to ensure is "not sexy but a bit pathetic." It's funny to hear the writer talk about the representation of violence in what is essentially a midnight-movie gorefest. "I think the cinematic depiction of violence is, in its default state, semi-pornographic," he says. They both decided the best way to desensationalize the bloodshed was to approximate the texture of news footage, but Garland hesitates to comment on the strategy's success: "I'm always interested in how writers and directors can know with such confidence the effect they have on audiences. You produce this stuff, and suddenly you're an expert. I'm completely open to the idea that 28 Days Later is an immoral, stupid film. I mean, how the hell would I know?"

Slanted and infected: Cillan Murphy in 28 Days Later
photo: Peter Mountain
Slanted and infected: Cillan Murphy in 28 Days Later


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In any case, it's not so much the ruptured torsos and gouged eyeballs as the vacuums of deathly quiet that lodge in the mind. Jim's dazed stroll through desolate central London is the primal scene that haunts the movie—it's also, Boyle says, among the most logistically daunting sequences he's shot. "You can't close off streets in London, so we just showed up very early and asked motorists to stop. We used between six and 10 cameras—the great thing about the technology is that you can leave it running, and it doesn't cost anything. We thought we'd have to do a lot of digital painting, but all we had to do was paint out traffic lights." The result is one of cinema's most potent expressions of the illicit ultimate-survivor fantasy—the last man standing, horribly and thrillingly alone. "Wish fulfillment is the key," says Garland. "People who live in cities really want to see them empty."

Related Article:
Michael Atkinson's review of 28 Days Later

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