Brow Beat

Zombieland: Double Tap Squanders Its Most Intriguing Character

Avan Jogia as Berkeley, pressing his hands over his heart.
Namaste.
Columbia Pictures

This post contains spoilers for Zombieland: Double Tap.

Berkeley, the long-haired hippie love interest played by Avan Jogia in Zombieland: Double Tap, is kind of a jerk. He lures Little Rock away from her sister with his good looks and apparent worldly knowledge, forcing the rest of the gang to chase after them. He calls out Elvis’ cultural appropriation in one breath, then enthuses about visiting Graceland in the next, the picture of performative wokeness. He even tries to pass off Bob Dylan and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s music as his own.*

OK, there’s no “kind of” about it. The guy is a jerk.

He’s also the most intriguing character in the entire movie. How exactly did this guitar-strumming, weed-smoking, pretentious pacifist survive for 10 years in an apocalyptic wasteland? Berkeley’s female counterpart is ditzy vegan Madison, who is, in her own words, “really good at surviving,” something she attributes to a can of mace and the ability to run fast. But while the movie takes care to explain how Madison managed to stay alive for 10 years hiding in the freezer at Pinkberry, Berkeley’s presence is a lingering mystery.

The little we do know about Berkeley’s past we learn secondhand from Wichita. He’s only a couple of years older than Little Rock, meaning that he too came of age in a zombie-infested dystopia, and he has stuck to a policy of strict conflict avoidance, a revelation that sends Tallahassee into a fit of rage. (“I have nothing against pacifists. I just want to beat the shit out of them,” he explains.) Unlike Madison, Berkeley doesn’t seem to be in hiding: We first see him out and about hitchhiking, and he’s the first to warn Little Rock and Wichita about the emergence of a new, more resilient type of zombie—valuable intel that the others dismiss until they see it for themselves.

Part of the fun of the original Zombieland was that it showcased multiple strategies for surviving the apocalypse. Sure, there was Tallahassee, the traditionally rugged cowboy who relishes offing zombies in gruesome ways, but his foil was the equally capable Columbus, an uptight everynerd who kills only out of necessity and credits his survival to wearing his seatbelt and double-knotting his shoes. We got to see Wichita and Little Rock scam other survivors out of their supplies and Bill Murray use a little movie magic to blend in with the brain-hungry hordes and go about his business. Though there was plenty of blood and guts to go around, not every problem needed to be solved by bashing in a zombie’s skull.

I kept waiting for the writers to explain Berkeley’s secret to survival in Zombieland: Double Tap, but the character’s lack of development turned out not to be a mystery at all. In the end, despite introducing multiple pacifist characters, the sequel affirms that the shoot-’em-up, run-’em-down, kill-’em-all methods Tallahassee favors are the ones necessary to stay alive. Berkeley, Madison, and the denizens of a gun-free commune called Babylon are the butt of every joke, and their choices are often motivated by narrative convenience rather than common sense. We’re supposed to believe that the Babylonians were smart enough to build and enforce a secure, zombieproof fortress—but for some reason they’re foolish enough to set off fireworks that will attract an army of the undead?

That plot hole is not only a symptom of the movie’s faulty logic but its unexpected conservative streak, found in its regressive portrayal of women and its disdain for a character whose very name evokes coastal elitism. Ultimately, the pacifists of Babylon do prove useful—but only once they abandon their principles and drop items off the top of the high-rise to crush the zombies below. The movie’s final kill comes thanks to a firearm that Little Rock accidentally smuggles into this gun-free paradise. She saves the day by thwarting the compound’s gun control.

But the movie suffers the most by its treatment of Berkeley, who is never developed beyond surface level. In the original Zombieland, Tallahassee starts off as the archetypical lone wolf: gruff, bloodthirsty, and a real man’s man. But midway through the film, Columbus catches a glimpse behind the façade as he realizes that zombies didn’t kill Tallahassee’s puppy—they killed his young son. That brief moment reframed Tallahassee’s entire character, transforming him from a stereotype to a human being whose hardness and unwillingness to form attachments made sense. Even his dogged pursuit of a Twinkie, until then an odd quirk, became a comprehensible quest for some small piece of happiness after the ultimate tragedy.

Berkeley gets no such moment of revelation. He’s a hollow shell of character through the end, with no motivations, no backstory, and no meaningful role to play, just empty comic relief. That’s not for lack of opportunity, either. The climax of the movie sees Tallahassee lead the zombies off the top of Babylon’s high-rise with a glorious “buffalo run” that favors strategy and evasion over blunt force, supposedly inspired by his belief that he has “Native American blood.” How easy it would’ve been for Tallahassee to have derived the idea from a conversation with the otherwise boneheaded Berkeley, proving he’s not just the weed guy after all.

Correction, Oct. 22, 2019: This post originally misspelled Lynyrd Skynyrd as Lynard Skynyrd.