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The Infected Zone

March 31, 2011

UK Movie Poster for “Monsters” (2010). Source: Wikipedia.

The post-9/11 generation sci-fi film “Monsters” (Gareth Edwards, 2010) is a kind of “Cloverfield” for the US-Mexican border (or if you’re a real film buff, it is a “Sin Nombre” journey film with real aliens, i.e. gigantic extra-terrestials). But this is more than just a monster flick.

The film takes the notion of a militarized zone and an alien invasion along the US-Mexican border quite literally, but it is set six years after the invasion or infestation. Thus, Mexico is transformed into a late-Occupied Iraq or Afghanistan and Texas into a kind of post-Katrina wasteland. The militarization of the landscape is eerily too familiar. In fact, the power and realism of the film stems from the idea that people acclimate to militarization; horror becomes mostly mundane. At one point, the American protagonists ask a Mexican driver why he and his family live so close to a dangerous area, the response is simply that they have nowhere else to go and they think they can manage the risks.

Throughout the film the cable news networks show scenes of alien attacks and carnage in the background, but the characters generally ignore the flickering media images. The ubiquitous sight of fighter jets and hovering attack helicopters fail to phase the characters or even anyone in the background. It is a world that has overcome the shock of the spectacle of war. The photojournalist protagonist spends much of the film trying to find images which could actually shock a desensitized American audience.

The setting is also noteworthy as a commentary on US-Mexican relations, which is seen as both cooperative and unequal. Both governments attempt to police an infected zone, but it is telling that the infected zone covers most of northern Mexico. For its part, the US builds an immense border wall to keep out the aliens, but the border is porous despite the monumental expenditure and effort. The sight of America’s front door as a forbidding wall is a view of America from the “outside in.”  The Mexican characters in the film see America as a country that has “imprisoned itself” through fear and misunderstanding. While the American side is called the evacuation zone, it is nonetheless also a blighted wasteland, marked mainly by fighter jets speeding to and from the infected zone to drop chemical weapons and reload. This is an image of “Fortress America” which tries to use Mexico as a buffer zone even as its own interior continues to decay.

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Vikash is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Asian Studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, NY. His main areas of academic interest are (post-) globalization, economic development, and economic freedom, with a regional focus on South Asia