I Am Legend was originally a book by Richard Matheson in 1954. It featured an air-borne disease that turned people into vampires. It used the apocalyptic theme to address social, ethical, and religious questions, with its twist ending, where the vampires become the normal and the humans become the legend.
Since its inception, I Am Legend has been made into at least three movies (The Last Man on Earth 1964, The Omega Man 1971, and I Am Legend 2007) and influenced many more (Night of the Living Dead and 28 Days Later). Each of these movies attempted to progress the theme and genre, with 28 Days Later being the first movie to introduce the “fast Zombies.”
The Zombie genre can simply provide screams (and laughs) in the vein of standard horror films, or it can use its extreme scenario to address topics that are very close to home. Indeed, the larger Sci-fi genre is known for doing just this, as Eastern religious ideas find their way into Star Wars, critiques of communism appear in Star Trek, transcendental Darwinism is explored in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and human rights issues regarding cloning and genetic manipulation drive the plot of The Island. X-Men directly speaks to racism and social issues, and the television series Heroes raises questions of ethical warfare and national security.
Many people often fail to expect philosophical and intellectual discourses in pop-level or epic movies, but as we see, some knowledge of the history of the genre can quickly fix this. So with this in mind, how can we “read” I Am Legend?
- We compared I Am Legend with the earlier The Omega Man. Omega had a clear, perhaps too clear, Christological ending, with Heston spread cruciform and bleeding from his side. The cure was his blood. How did I Am Legend modify this? Which do you prefer?
- Is Will Smith’s character a true Christ figure?
- Just like with the ending of The Omega Man, viewers might not “get it” until the end of I Am Legend. The phrase “light the darkness” echoes the gospel of John, specifically chapter 1 verses 3 & 4. Neville then sacrifices himself to save the remnant of humanity. What other biblical themes can we discover in I Am Legend?
- The monsters are called “dark seekers.” Given the use of “darkness” in John’s gospel, epistles, and Apocalypse (Johannine literature), what can we say about the “dark seekers”? What do they represent?
- Sin has historically been defined in a number of ways. What is sin? (think Shorter Catechism) What are other definitions?
- The original book I Am Legend turned the tables on the reader at the end, making the vampires out to be the “good guys” and the humans to be the “bad guys.” In The Omega Man, “the Family” attempts to do the same, arguing that they have eradicated inequality. The new I Am Legend offers an alternate ending where the dark-seekers are humanized, but it eventually decided not to use this. What are the implications of “humanizing” the dark-seekers? What is the biblical point of view on this question?
- I Am Legend and The Omega Man both address racism, though the issue is less central to the new movie. The music of Bob Marley is invoked. Bob Marley’s message was essentially one of peace, yet he was assassinated. Thus the various zombies offer a solution to racism through a different means. Which historical civil rights leaders represent these two poles?
- X-Men also addresses this very issue, complete with its own opposing pair of leaders. Who are these leaders and what are their solutions?
- Would you normally look for socio-political commentary in X-Men? Why or why not?
- The apocalyptic genre suggests that world salvation will only come through large-scale destruction. Even the “peaceful” family of The Omega Man uses violence and coercion, exposing a level of hypocrisy (perhaps a back-handed portrayal of communism). What is the biblical model for world-salvation?