5. Zombieland – Tallahassee’s Backstory
2009’s Zombieland is a near-perfect blend of horror and comedy. Its apocalyptic story follows Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Wichita (Emma Stone), Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), and Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) as they band together in an attempt to survive the zombie-infested wasteland that was once America. Each character is named for their intended destination, and they initially make it clear that they don’t want to form attachments with one another. However, over the course of Zombieland‘s story, they inevitably become close, learning more about one another in the process.
Woody Harrelson’s exuberant cowboy Tallahassee possesses an intense hatred for the zombies, and particularly enjoys killing as many as he can. He vaguely reveals that he lost his “pup“, Buck, when society crumbled, and the resulting heartbreak is what fuels his anger. However, it’s not until later in the film when Tallahassee speaks a little more openly about his memories of Buck that Columbus (and the audience) realize that Buck wasn’t a dog, but a child – and suddenly, Tallahassee’s grief comes into full focus.
Columbus’s revised (imagined) flashback, where Tallahassee’s past is shown to include his young son, makes for a scene that’s both funny and deeply upsetting. The realization that Tallahassee’s carefree nature is the result of having lost the only person he truly loved is dark and powerful, and it adds an unexpected depth to the character. Though Zombieland doesn’t show or reveal exactly what happened to Buck, knowing that Tallahassee is living with grief of losing his young child makes the scene incredibly sad.