I Am Legend 2007
I had a beautiful plan of how to write this piece. It was built around my theory that film genres reflect current (contemporary or recent past) economic and political events. Look at Airport 1975. It could be said that this film was a response to Nixon's chaotic and misinformed handling of the Vietnam War.
Similarly Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973) can be classified as an allegorical response to the forced emigration of Caribbean natives in the late 1960s.
Planet of the Apes (2001) followed quick on the footsteps of the economic recession of the late 1990s.
Similarly Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) followed the financial crisis of 2008/9.
The Rats 2002 and Eight Legged Freaks (2002) followed tight on the heels of 9/11 (New York).
I'm not saying it's a good theory. In fact it's not even my theory - but hey, I'm trying here already…
I then looked up the release date of I am Legend and it was made 2 years before the financial crisis. Which scuppered my theory a bit. And this review.
But let's ignore that small detail and go for it anyway! So…
What we got?
We have Manhattan gone to rack and ruin as a result of some poorly regulated and over-commercialised medical research. The whole world has gone to the dogs as a result of a manufactured virus that creates very fast, silvery-grey and slightly translucent zombies out of everyone it infects. Dogs too.
We are watching a smartly dressed, well-to-do Army officer played by Will Smith, sacrificing himself to the greater good - giving up his family and all he holds dear to try and find a cure for the disease. Life is hard - martyrdom even more so.
Reveal number one - Will Smith's character is actually one of the people who introduced the virus in the first place.
We now have his motivation.
Incidentally, the sets are pretty good - the empty abandoned streets jammed with cars and debris. Echoing Avenues and bouncing wildlife. Rotting buildings and sinister empty windows:
…Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows!
Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in the long streets like endless Jehovahs!
Moloch whose factories dream and croak in the fog!
Moloch whose smoke-stacks and antennae crown the cities!..
Howl (1956) by Alan Ginsberg
I'm not sure what Ginsberg meant by Moloch, but the word does here for the city, the world:-
Moloch is Bad Medicine.
Moloch is a society that allows greed and misguided ethical values.
Moloch is the competitive race to fame that pushes all aside.
Moloch is nepotism.
Moloch is the dreadful Golum, formed from clay - destructive and uncontrollable.
Moloch is the virus - unstoppable.
Moloch is regret.
Moloch is waiting for atonement and will consume the world's sinners.
Which brings me to the religion thing:
At the start of the movie, when Will Smith's wife and daughter are being dragged from his arms to supposed safety, a strange thing happens. They all suddenly hunker down in the front seat of his car and pray to God.
Later on in the film, he meets another survivor who tries to persuade him that she hears God. He scoffs at this - his loneliness and the death of his dog mean he no longer believes.
Then at the end, he gets his faith back again. Well I guess we all would with a silvery-grey-maniacal-zombie-husband trying to reach his imprisoned wife by taking a short cut through your chest. Life-affirming - maybe not.
Will Smith makes the supreme sacrifice to save the other survivor. And with her, the cure for the virus. The Zombie and his wife make the supreme sacrifice too - but we don't care as much for them for obvious reasons.
And the world exploded into a thousand stars,
Cleansing the world for future generations,
And it was good.
What have we learned?
We know instigator of the crisis was Will Smith.
And we know that he needed to atone.
Meaning he had to die. At some point. Presumably. Horribly.
But what about hope - what is a parable without hope?
We knew Will Smith was gonna get it. (His dog died earlier in the film - classic narrative contrivance - known to professional writers as premature exaggeration).
BUT sometimes God - a vengeful and merciless Old Testament type of God - leaves a seed of hope for the future of mankind.
Well, at least in parables and stories he does…
And in this Hollywood allegory, that seed of hope is a vial of blood containing the answer.
And we have to hope the surviving lady makes it to a sterile (well equipped) medical lab somewhere in Zombieland. Where the answer can be realized from within the vial.
And talking of hope - this is movie that is all about hope:
In life, bad things happen.
But there Will be someone along soon who will make things right.
So now you can see why I wanted to do a piece about the financial crisis - here were my thoughts for the players of this play within a play:-
Will Smith represents the Bankers.
The Virus epidemic is the financial crisis.
Moloch is the economy.
The zombies are the poor dumb mortgage holders who got so badly screwed by the Bankers after the crisis broke.
Hollywood is proselytizing again:- Persuading us that the people causing the problem should also be part of the solution.
We are being told the bankers will throw themselves onto their swords in the name of good ethics and firm-footed morals.
If this movie had been released two years later, this review would have been correct in its foundation that many genre movies reflect their times. I am Legend was in fact released two years earlier than the "financial crisis" - which makes it far sighted. It could be argued that I am Legend was giving us not only forewarning of the chaos to come, but also giving us the hope that it can be survived. Through whatever means - be it the collective unconscious, or just good analysis - the writers and producers saw it coming and made the right decision to inform us.
I am Legend is just another allusion to sentimentality - through the device of just another Hollywood allegory:
A story that shows us the innate ability of Man to hope for a better future.
That no matter how hard it gets, there's always a hero waiting in the wings.
That guilty people can accept responsibility and in doing so, can make it all right.
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