For Gay Pride Month, I thought I'd dust off this posting from almost three years ago...a look at the relationship of Peter and Roger from George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead.
In 1978, George Romero loosed upon the cinematic world, the quintessential zombie film, Dawn of the Dead, which told the tale of four survivors of the undead holocaust holed up in a shopping mall in Pittsburgh.
Not only was DOTD a gore-fest, it was also a movie that poked much fun at consumer culture. When our heroes first make it to the mall, they find thousands of zombies mindlessly strolling the aisles of the shopping center - much like you'd see on any given day of the week at any suburban mall.
"Why do you think they keep coming here?" one of the character's ask upon seeing the horde of flesh eaters trying to press into the mall.
"Instinct", is another character's reply.
Our four main characters are television producer, Fran (Gaylen Ross) , helicopter pilot, Stephen (David Emge) and two members of a SWAT team, Peter and Roger (Scott Reiniger and Ken Foree). From early on it is clear that Fran and Stephen have a history and the viewer is aware they are a couple. However, it also becomes clear, as the movie progresses that Peter and Roger have formed a bond that might well be beyond a friendship.
The men first meet early on in the film as they are trying to clear out an apartment building in Philadelphia that has been overrun with zombies. Roger witnesses a horrid scene when one of his comrades goes on a rampage and starts arbitrarily shooting at the survivors while belting out racist remarks - which in turn causes all kinds of havoc and ends with the racist soldier shot dead and the zombies to have a mini feast before the other SWAT team members manage to clean house.
Roger goes into the basement of the apartment building to collect his wits and a deep voice booms out from across the room, "You ain't just in here alone, boy!"
This is when, blond haired, blue eyed Roger comes face to face with a tall dark and handsome African American, Peter. The men immediately draw guns on each other (as opposed to whipping out their dicks), but soon realize that they are on the same page. From here it does not take long for the bond to form and soon the boys are hooking up kicking dead ass, high fiving each other, and sharing smoke after smoke after they blow away a zombie.
When they finally do hook up with Fran and Stephen, it is clear that Roger and Peter are the top dogs, they mock the helicopter pilot at every turn, dubbing him "Fly Boy", and concerning Fran (who is actually quite a looker) they seem indifferent at best.
When the foursome decided to call the Monoreville Mall home, Roger starts to show his true colors. He's cocky and cock-sure, always willing to take a chance to impress his buddy. While on the other hand, Peter proves himself to be intelligent, balanced and take control - a "Top Man", if you will.
Peter is constantly calling Roger out because of his reckless behavior, and often, Roger is left looking like a chastised child. Of course, Roger is doing everything he can to impress his buddy, he seems to want to prove to him that he's not afraid of anything and ready to risk it all for victory.
While Peter has to try to keep his quick-on-the-draw partner in line, it is obvious how fond of him he is. But Peter is the take control guy an almost father figure (not just for Roger, but for Fran and Stephen as well). Peter is the cool collected type, a man of few words - the kind of any of us would want on our side when faced with a disaster (like a zombie-outbreak).
Eventually it is Roger's wild behavior that proves his downfall. While trying to fight off some zombie's in the mall's parking lot, he is bitten by one of the creatures, sealing his fate. When Peter sees what has happened to him, he not only expresses anger, there is something else, something sad betrayed behind his eyes.
As Roger falls sick, Peter becomes his care taker. Administering his medication, pushing him around the mall in a wheelbarrow (much like parent with an infant child in a stroller) - and when Roger finally dies and then reanimates as a flesh eater, it is Peter who puts him down with a bullet to the forehead.
After Roger's death, one of the most heartbreaking scenes of DOTD occurs as Peter, having just buried his partner in a plot of earth in the center of the mall, pops open a bottle of champagne and toasts his memory. He takes a swig of the bubbly and then pours some on his grave, tears rolling down his face. The camera pulls back and lingers on this sad moment and it tells us more about Peter and Roger's relationship than a million words.
Once Peter is gone, Roger seems lost at sea. The mall is now a safe place, he and Fran and Stephen have everything they could possibly need, and for awhile, the three of them live in a quiet Utopian world. Of course everything changes when their fortress is set upon by a marauding tribe of bikers who break into the mall and leave a wave of zombies in their wake.
By film's end, with the mall overrun again, Stephen dead and zombified, and a horde of flesh eaters hot on their tale, Roger heralds Fran up into the helicopter and tells her that he is not going.
Once Fran gets into the chopper, we see Peter standing in front of a wall, gun pointed to his head. He's going to end it all, to join Roger one suspects. But at the last moment, he changes his mind, blows away a couple of zombies and joins Fran and the duo heads off into the dawn sky.
Students of Romero's work might not be surprised of the homoerotic subtext of DOTD. If you've seen Knightriders (Romero's take on the King Arthur legend set in modern times with motorcycles), you'd have noticed that one of the peripheral characters is gay, and even accepts a public proposal of marriage by his boyfriend -- which of course was a big deal in a film made in 1981. Romero has always been miles ahead of the pack when it comes to social commentary.