***SPOILER ALERT - YOU'VE BEEN WARNED ***
I've been to New York City once in my life, in my teen years on a vacation with my parents and Cincy Sister's family. NYC is the most densely populated city in the United States, holding over 8.2 million souls in its five boroughs. A person could easily lose himself in the human sea that sweeps through the streets every morning, afternoon and evening. With that many people around him, he could easily hide and not be found. I found the city a marvel to behold.
As I Am Legend neatly shows, the city is even more a marvel with no one in it. The film begins with a lone man, gracefully played by Will Smith, and his canine companion racing through the deserted streets with a high-powered shotgun, chasing deer in a hot red sportscar. Years of neglect have allowed trees and tallgrass to break through the concrete, turning the urban jungle into a real one. Broadway signs for Wicked and a Batman/Superman movie (fanboys, take heart - it could happen!) cry out for attendees to come to stages that have been darkened for years. The scenes featuring a destroyed Brooklyn Bridge are particularly engrossing.
I Am Legend is based loosely on the 1954 novel by Richard Matheson, and tells the story of a man who believes himself to be the last person alive, or at least the last one alive on the island of Manhattan. Robert Neville, a virologist and an Army colonel, is apparently immune to strain of genetically-engineered measles created to cure cancer but with the unfortunate side effect of turning people into sunlight-abhorring mutants with super-human abilities. Neville left a radio message for anyone who might hear, explaining that he would be at a dock everyday "when the sun is highest" to offer food and shelter to anyone who comes. Besides hunting deer, he works on what he hopes to be a cure to help those who are infected.
What are the infected like? Well, they are never actually given a name, except perhaps by one character who calls them "dark seekers." The virus seems to disfigure those infected so that they become more like a CGI character than an actual human, so it's hard to have any kind of sympathy for them (at least not the same kind that Neville has). They also seem to have the ability to climb buildings and withstand an incredibly high pain level. Is there any kind of virus that comes to close to this?
There are so many spiritual themes present in the film that I found it hard to believe that Roger Ebert and Owen Gleiberman, two of my favorite reviewers, completely ignored them in their review. Perhaps Roger and Owen missed them, but I noticed several.
- In a flashback scene, Neville's daughter encouraged him to "follow the butterfly." Near the end of the film, Neville meets a character with a butterfly tattoo. The metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly represents new life. The spiritual implication here is that a new life is possible for those that are infected. The Christian begins her new life when she realizes that she is a sinner and only belief in the risen Christ can save her.
- Neville discovers that salvation for those infected lies within his own blood, since he is immune to the virus. The Christian believes that Jesus died on the cross, shedding His blood, for the forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 9:22).
- The infected can only move around in darkness; they cannot abide the light (John 3:19).
- Neville gives his life so that others can carry the cure to give to those infected. The Christian believes that Jesus offered His life to save sinners (Mark 10:45).
There are a few tense moments within the film, especially when Neville chases his canine companion into a dark building. Later in the film, Neville is forced to commit an act that he never wished to do. The look on his face is one of profound horror, and tells you what he is doing what actually showing the act. In that scene alone, Smith shows that he's become a premier actor.