Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I Am Legend

I am Legend (2007) is the third attempt at making a movie based on the book of the same name. The other two were The Last Man on Earth (1964) and The Omega Man (1971) This leads one to believe there is a message the film-makers wish to impart to the viewing audience. So what could that message be?

The centerpiece of the movie is Robert Neville (Will Smith), a military man, a scientist, and a survivor. He alone is immune to the virus that devastated the world population and lives alone with a city full of mutants. Along with his German Shepherd Sam he travels New York by day searching for supplies and, occasionally, test subjects to try serums on. By night he hides and barricades himself in a hidden home.

The overarching theme is loneliness. He talks to Sam like a real person. He sets up mannequins at the video store he regularly goes to. He leaves his radio broadcasting his location with when and where he can be found.

And he works. And works. And works.

There is a strange discrepancy between the verbiage of the movie and the visuals. After Neville uses a trap to capture a subject to try his latest antidote on he makes a "behavioral note" on the mutants in which he claims they have lost their survival instincts and social interaction has totally devolved.

Yet the viewer is led to believe the Alpha Male (Dash Mihok) endures the sun briefly for want of companionship with the captured Alpha Female (Joanna Numata). He also moves Sam, the mannequin "storekeeper" at the video store and catches Neville in the same trap Neville used to capture the Alpha Female.

In other words, it is easy to draw the interpretation that part of Nevilles' problem is inattention, refusal to believe the truth. This is reinforced as a picture of arrogance as he first proclaims to fellow immune survivor Anna (Alica Braga) that "God didn't do this (the plague), WE did!" and that there is no God, yet in the final few minutes of his life he "hears" the voice of God. It is then that his last cure works, the antidote for the virus comes to fruition and he must sacrifice his life to slay the Alpha Male and allow Anna to carry the antidote to the colony of survivors.

Other possible interpretations exist. Another obvious potential interpretation would be that mankind is itself the virus poisoning the world through racism and hate. Loneliness comes when that poison creates separation and can only be defeated if good people work day and night, never stopping, and are willing to sacrifice themselves to ensure its defeat.

This is amplified by the way Neville becomes more separated from others as first, his wife and child die in a helicopter accident when leaving New York, then his dog dies to rescue him from the mutant trap, and then he attempts to commit suicide while taking out as many mutants as possible, only to be rescued by Anna. Yet he proves unable to reconnect to other people because the strain of fighting the virus has taken him too far over the edge. He has systematically lost his family, dog, and belief in the effectiveness of the plan formulated to counteract the virus. In his arrogance he refuses to believe there is any other survivor or colony. He and he alone has the ability to end this plague.

As a general rule I can leave or not take zombie movies. Yet Smith gives a powerful performance, director Francis Lawrence keeps things together and makes it entertaining as well as a little bit thought provoking.

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