I am Legend (2007) is a film based on a novel with the same name by Richard Matheson written in the mid 20th century. The film is set in 2012, three years after a genetically re-engineered version of the measles virus, created as cure for cancer, mutates into a strain that infects humans and some animals. Flashbacks in the film reveal that in this time, over 90% of the world’s population had died, 9% had become infected but not died, and now prey on the survivors. Less than 1% of the population is immune to the virus, and many of those who are immune either committed suicide due to isolation or were killed by the infected. The film follows US Army virologist, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Neville who remains in New York City to attempt to discover a cure for the vaccine. Robert is the last man in New York City, and he believes, in the world. The infected humans are shown to be hurt by the sunlight, and thus are nocturnal.
Each day, Robert experiments on rats infected with the virus to find a cure, and goes throughout the city searching for food and supplies. Every afternoon he waits at the South Street Seaport and makes radio broadcasts calling for all survivors to meet him there. Robert’s only companion is his dog Sam, who he is forced to strangle after she too becomes infected with the virus while defending him against an infected “dark-seeker.” Robert’s wife and daughter were ostensibly killed in a helicopter crash in 2009 during a military evacuation. Robert has resorted to setting up mannequins in a video store, watching recordings of old news, in addition to his relationship with Sam for companionship. Following Sam’s death, Robert goes on a killing spree at night out of anger. This is when Anna and a child named Ethan come to rescue him. When they return to his home, Robert realizes he has discovered a cure created by a vaccine using his own blood. Robert ultimately sacrifices himself for the sake of humanity after the infected follow them back to his home in Washington Square and gives Anna the vial of the blood from the infected human he was in the process of curing to take to a safe town in Vermont. The film ends with Anna and Ethan arriving in Vermont safely and Anna handing over the vial with the cure.
This post-apocalyptic dystopia relates primarily to the theme of science and the relationships of humans. I am Legend seems to present the idea that we must be cautious with scientific advances so that in the process of attempting to cure an illness, we do not create one that ends society. For instance, one fear by some scientists is that in the process of over-medicating or creating different vaccines, is that some viruses evolve to resist the treatment. This film highlights a more extreme version of this fear. I am Legend also shows the importance of human contact and interaction in society. As the last man in the city, Robert Neville begins to speak to mannequins, even flirting with one at one point, when he loses his dog (his only companion), Neville cracks.
This clip shows Neville’s mental breakdown following Sam’s death and his need for human interaction:
He goes on a nearly suicidal mission in retaliation. In order to maintain a sense of interaction and normalcy, Robert also watches old news broadcasts daily as well. Together, these highlight the importance of interaction on the individual.
In contrast to being the only person left in the world, Lord of the Flies by William Golding sets his novel with a group of boys left stranded on an island. While I am Legend highlights the importance of human interaction, Golding displays the cruelty of human nature. Golding uses the conflicts between the boys on the island and the danger that ensues in order to show the loss of innocence that results from scarce resources. Also a post-apocalyptic work, Lord of the Flies shows how competition and fear can lead even a group of preadolescent boys to steal, kill, and torture one another. While I am Legend emphasizes the need for an individual to engage with society, Golding emphasizes the dark state of human nature when a small group struggles to survive.