I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (1954)
I Am Legend directed by Francis Lawrence (2007)
Spoilers for both the book and the movie!
I was skeptical about what I would think of this book going into it, and I will admit that it took me a few pages to start being more into it. Around the ¼ mark though, I became fully invested and found the story very compelling.
I thought the way Neville loses his humanity, and the way he acts when he finally comes across another human was dark but understandable. It was also an interesting take to have people turn into vampire type creatures due to a virus. The ending of the book was incredible and so well written and just so masterful.
In the book Robert is just a normal guy who happens to be the “last man” on earth. He does a lot of research through the years and learns a lot about the virus and how it works.
Throughout the book we see him lose his grip on sanity, yet as stated, he also becomes very educated in other ways. He drinks heavily most nights as he tries to drown out the sounds of the creatures outside his house.
During the day he goes around the area killing any of them he finds sleeping in houses and other areas. He also experiments with why they are affected by things like garlic, mirrors and stakes. We also see him reading Dracula to learn more. He assumes he is immune because years ago he was but by a vampire bat and assumes it must have been in contact with e vampire and made him immune.
We see in flashbacks that when the virus was beginning, there were a lot of doubters who didn’t believe the infected became vampires. All dead bodies are dumped into a huge fire pit though to make sure they stay dead.
The dead return as vampires, but they are also very zombie-esque and this book inspired the zombie movies we have today. Every night a group of them surround Robert’s house and bang on the walls and the female ones try to entice him with their bodies. His one-time friend is one of those who is at his house every night and always repeats, “come on out Neville.”
In a flashback we that when Neville’s wife dies, he wraps her up and goes to bury her. Later that evening he hears someone at the door and assumes it was the neighbor who saw him taking his wife’s body away. Turns out it is his wife who has returned from the dead. In the book it seems he tried to make it work with his undead wife, but it didn’t take long for him to kill her.
In a flashback we also read, “He could remember himself the rash of pseudo-scientific articles that veiled an out-and-out fright campaign designed to sell papers. There was something grotesquely amusing in that; the frenetic attempt to sell papers while the world died. Not that all newspapers had done that. Those papers that had lived in honesty and integrity died the same way.”
It seems there are those that are the walking dead, because their bodies are no longer alive but they still move. Then there are those whose bodies never died, but they were taken over by the virus. These are those that live later on because the bacteria have mutated and they can now live with it. It was interesting too because those were infected knew that it was like a vampire, but not all vampire lore is accurate. For instance, they don’t turn into bats. Yet, one guy who is infected gets on a high surface and seems to pointlessly jumps to his death. Robert realizes though that the man though he could turn into a bat and fly.
At one point he sees a dog in the area, but when he gets its attention, it of course runs away. He puts food out for it and slowly but surely tries to gain its trust. He does eventually get it to come inside, but the dog is still wary. Neville is patient though and is willing to put in the time and effort to gain this dogs trust and he can finally have a friend of sorts. However, he sees the dog is sick and though he hopes to cure it, it dies within the week. I thought this was a great section of the book and it’s so sad he never gets any really happy moments with the dog because once hope is aroused, it is just as quickly demolished.
Ruth and the end
Some years have passed, when Robert is out and about in daytime and sees a woman. He calls to her but she runs and he chases her down, tackles her to the ground, forces him to his home and when she wants to leave, he locks her in his room. In the book we read, “All these years, he thought, dreaming about a companion. Now I meet one and the first thing I do is distrust her, treat her crudely and impatiently.”
He wants to do tests on her and she says they can the next day. But during the night he sees she is dressed and attempting to leave. He stops her and they have a tender moment together holding each other. The next morning, she is gone but has left a note. Turns out she is technically on of “them”, but the virus has mutated and they can live almost normally now. She was a scout sent by the others to learn about Robert because he was killing them and was a threat. Neville had even killed Ruth’s own husband.
Ruth warns him to run away, but he never does. When her group comes to take him, he is there and brought back to their headquarters where Ruth sees him once again.
When he looks out the window at the group assembled, he realizes that he is the freak, the one people are scared of now. We read, “He stared back. And suddenly he thought, I’m the abnormal one now. Normalcy was a majority concept, the standard of many and not the standard of just one man. Abruptly that realization joined with what he saw on their faces—awe, fear, shrinking horror—and he knew that they were afraid of him. To them he was some terrible scourge they had never seen, a scourge even worse than the disease they had come to live with. He was an invisible specter who had left for evidence of his existence the bloodless bodies of their loved ones. And he understood what they felt and did not hate them. His right hand tightened on the tiny envelope of pills. So long as the end did not come with violence, so long as it did not have to be a butchery before their eyes…
Robert Neville looked out over the new people of the earth. He knew he did not belong to them; he knew that, like the vampires, he was anathema and black terror to be destroyed. And, abruptly, the concept came, amusing to him even in his pain.
A coughing chuckle filled his throat. He turned and leaned against the wall while he swallowed the pills. Full circle, he thought while the final lethargy crept into his limbs. Full circle. A new terror born in death, a new superstition entering the unassailable fortress of forever. I am legend.”
I saw this movie around when it came out and I didn’t like it then and I didn’t like it this time around either! I just found it boring to be honest, and the ending was totally changed which also changes the message of the book. There is an alternate ending to the movie, which is still different, but a bit more in line with the book.
Will Smith is also just not a favorite actor of mine. When I watch a movie with him, I am never lost in his performance, but rather I feel constantly aware I am watching Will Smith act.
I do like the limited score in the movie though and think the silence works really well.
In this version, Neville was a renowned scientist and one of the main people who thought they could fight the virus. He feels extra guilt because he feels he failed the people. He also has a dog which we see he and his family had gotten before the virus struck. He and the dog stayed behind as his wife and daughter got in a helicopter to get to safety, only for the chopper to crash with another chopper and they died.
He has a lab in his home and will test on the “darkseekers”, still trying to find a cure or antibody.
In the movie it seems the virus started when they thought they created a medicine to cure cancer. But things went very wrong very quick. Those that are infected aren’t like vampires at all, but just seem like weird creatures. The cgi is okay, but I think they should have kept them more human-like. But I do get that the walking dead zombie movies as well as vampires movies have been done so much these days so they probably didn’t want ot go that route.
As said, unlike the book, he had the dog before the virus even became what it is. We see them together and the bond they have. Then one day Neville is caught in one of his traps and they accidently stay out late because he is knocked out. His dogs saves his life against some of the undead dogs, but is infected in the process. Neville realizes this when he is back at him, and as he is holding the dog, it starts to turn and he kills it. I really dislike this scene because I find it too obviously manipulative. It’s actually a pet peeve of mine when movies rely on the death of an animal to get people to cry, or at least be strongly affected. It isn’t because animal deaths bother me or upset me, like I said, I just find it cheap, ineffective, and a cheap way to try to manipulate the audience.
In the movie a woman and her son find Neville and help him out. When he comes to, he struggles to adjust to having people around. I thought these were some of the strongest scenes. We see him refuse to believe there could possibly be a colony of people still alive. He is upset she cooked is bacon because he was saving it ( saving it for what? Because having breakfast with another human seems like a good reason to bring out the bacon), and when the son is watching Shrek, Neville repeats the dialogue verbatim because he has watched the movie so many times.
The woman says God has been guiding her and with the world so quiet, all you need to do is listen and you can be guided.
When he takes her to his lab, she sees the pictures of all of the darkseekers he has killed, but he feels no remorse. In the end, a group of them come into the house and the lab. They are safe behind this glass wall, when Neville sees the smashed glass looks like a butterfly, and the woman has a butterfly tattoo. He then gives the woman the antibodies from the current female darkseeker he has. She escapes to the colony, and Neville kills himself with the undead people.
In the alternate ending, Neville instead opens the doors and wheels out the female creature he had. The leader of the group is the woman’s partner and he was there to save her. Once he has her, Neville sees their humanity and they go their separate ways.
I prefer this ending because the original ending shows he is right to be treating them in inhumane ways, but in this alternate ending, he realizes his own mistakes. And similar ot the book, he realizes he has become a monster, a killer, that they fear.
In the movie, Neville is a big fan of Bob Marley and tells the woman about how Marley believed you could cure racism and hate by injecting the world with more happiness and love. When someone tried to kill him, he still came out the next day and performed.
This was a good moment between the two of them, but that philosophy didn’t really fit how the Neville character was as a person. Especially considering the theatrical ending.
Book vs Movie
I don’t think I will ever watch this movie again to be honest. It just doesn’t do much for me. I really liked the book though and can definitely see myself reading it again!