Monday, May 26, 2008

"I Can Save You!"


The Feminarian's comments on my post about I Am Legend made me realize that I glossed over an ambiguity in the end of the movie. Just before writing my post, I had read the review from The Journal of Religion and Film. According to that review, it was the 1971 film version The Omega Man which first transformed the novel's protagonist Robert Neville into a Christ-figure by locating the cure in his blood and then having him sacrifice himself. I was thinking of that point when I emphasized the new film's treatment of Neville as a kind of messiah. As The Feminarian pointed out, this led me to forget the fact that it is the female zombie's blood which contains the life-giving cure in the recent version. Nevertheless, it remains true that Neville originally developed the cure by mixing his own blood with lab rats and only later injecting it into the female zombie.

The Religion and Film review argues that turning Neville into a Christ-figure is odd since the point of the original novel is that Neville is in fact unknowingly evil and is destroying innocent lives in search of an unnecessary "cure". I noted clues to this theme in the new movie -- clues made explicit in the DVD's alternate ending. Here I want to argue that the fact that the cure is ultimately found in the zombie's blood, complicates the Religion and Film analysis. It seems that the new movie is not necessarily, as the review argues, moving further in the direction of making Neville into a Christ-figure; rather, the new movie (even in the theatrical version reviewed by Religion and Film) may in fact be moving back toward the ambiguity of the original novel.

There are, then, a number of ways of reading the film: (1) As in the Religion and Film review, Neville may be read as a Christ-figure who sacrifices himself in the fight against evil and in whose blood the source of life is found; (2) Alternatively, Neville may be read as an anti-Christ who is himself evil and the zombie woman is the Christ-figure who suffers unjust torture, "dies" and is "resurrected" (after the first, failed cure treatment), and in whose blood the cure is found; (3) Or perhaps the point is that the cure for evil is ultimately found when Neville's blood is mixed with the zombie blood, suggesting, as in my original analysis, that God is found in our relationship with others.

My preferred reading is (3). What is interesting is that, in the theatrical version, Neville doesn't realize the importance of learning to live in peace with the zombies -- he simply blows himself up, taking as many of them with him as possible. If, as I suggested in my original post, we are to take the film as some sort of statement about the war on terror, the implication becomes that America's insistence on seeing the entire Arab world as "evil" and in need of a western imposed "cure" is the moral equivalent of a suicide bombing. Neville is a self-proclaimed Messiah, shouting at his enemies, "I can save you!" and wondering why they continue to try to kill him. Perhaps the movie wants us to see George W. Bush in Neville's role.

Or am I completely off? Any additional ideas on how to read this movie?

2 comments:

Brandy said...

No, no other ideas, but I appreciate your thoughts. They offer a much more gracious and nuanced read of the movie than I would have given it. Being a huge fan of movies about dystopic societies, I guess I just expected a lot more from I Am Legend. .... Have you seen Children of Men????

The Film Philosopher said...

Yes, I have seen Children of Men. I loved it, but I want to watch it a couple more times before I try to write about it. I will definitely post about it someday.