A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

I Am Legend

May 18, 2011

I Am Legend

I’ll admit that Amanda and I had been putting off watching this movie. I love a good post apocalyptic tale, and I enjoy a Will Smith movie, but I could never bring myself to watch this. Ever since I heard that the dog prominently featured in the movie as his only living companion in the abandoned streets of New York died during the movie. Yeah, I know, spoilers, but it was that one event which prevented us from seeing this in the theaters and kept us from watching it ever since. I had heard what a powerful acting accomplishment this movie was – with Will Smith alone on screen for the vast majority of the film. I longed to watch it and see what the praise was all about, but I just couldn’t bear to watch it.

I bought it though. I had it sitting on a shelf against that day, sometime in the unknowable future, when I’d finally get around to it. Today we have my father visiting and we allowed him free reign of our collection to pick a movie to watch with us, and he chose this because none of us had seen it yet. So finally I’m getting a chance to watch it, and it’s every bit as intense as I thought it was going to be.

Will Smith is Robert Neville, the last survivor of an apocalyptic virus that has turned every other resident of New York City into an enraged zombie. They have pale skin and no hair. They have no apparent language or thought. They mostly come out at night (mostly) because they cannot stand the UV light.

I really like the way the storytelling is done in this movie. We’re introduced to Neville and his loyal dog Sam at the start of this film as they forage in the ruins of New York. The apocalypse is years in the past – the streets are overgrown and filled with wild animals. The events of the past that led to this situation are revealed slowly over the course of the film through Neville’s nightmares. I also appreciate that the movie doesn’t answer all the questions it raises. We discover over time that Robert Neville was somehow involved in the search for a cure to the super-bug back in the day, but it’s never established what exactly he had to do with things. He was in the military. He had a police escort. He has enough notoriety that other people know his name. That’s about all we get, though, which is okay because this movie is about the person he has become and not the person he was in the old world.

Not many actors could pull off this role. This is Will Smith’s movie and at least seventy-five percent of the time he’s the only human on screen. As we watch Neville’s daily routine we see his isolation, his desperation, and the way he is slowly losing his mind. By far it is this courageous and touching portrayal that makes this movie worth watching. It’s the kind of role that actors dream of. A solitary man slowly being driven insane by his own obsessive behavior and his loneliness. When he does eventually find himself in the company of humans again it is clear just how far gone he is. It’s a bold concept for a movie and it’s fascinating to watch.

I’m not a fan of the “everything’s gonna be alright” ending to the film, though. It doesn’t feel like a part of the movie (because it isn’t.) The original end of the film ties together clues from throughout that show that the zombies have some remnant of their human intelligence. We know they have because the alpha male appears to do planning. The zombies set a trap for Neville. They coordinate attacks on him. There’s also the recurring butterfly motif throughout the movie which makes no real sense with the current ending. Instead of resolution of some of these clues we have a Hollywood ending involving a grenade and a voice over explaining that the world has been saved. It’s an ending that doesn’t want you to think – which is disappointing after such an intense and cerebral movie.

The special edition we own has the original ending where the alpha male zombie is able to communicate to Neville that he only wants the woman Neville has been experimenting on back. They achieve an uneasy truce and Neville leaves New York in the hands of its new population. I really like the concept of this ending – the twist that it is Neville that is the monster, and not the zombies. It feels more in keeping with the rest of the movie, and I wish that there were a director’s cut so I could see the scene as part of the movie rather than as a bonus feature.

I’m glad that I didn’t hate this movie though. Even with its grafted on happy ending the movie is still cool, compelling and well worth watching. I enjoy it as a character study and as a thought experiment. What would it really be like to be the last man alive? This movie says in no uncertain terms that it would be hard. Perhaps cripplingly so.

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May 18, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , ,

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