The Strange and Terrifying World of "I Am Legend"
I recently saw the film "I Am Legend" and came away shocked by it. My friend Adam and I were expecting the typical Will Smith action movie, where lots of things are blown up rather entertainingly as Smith makes well-placed cracks at the expense of his enemies. You know the genre I'm talking about--comedic action, perhaps, with some hero complex thrown in for good measure. Well, "I Am Legend" blew my expectations away. What looks like a "comedic action" film is actually a "Sci-fi horror so tense and chilling it makes you want to leave the theater" film. Yes, there actually is a film category of this name; trust me, I'm a blogger (feel free to catch that irony).
In all seriousness, this is a seriously tense film. A sense of dread pervades the movie and never lets up. "I Am Legend" is alot of things, but it is fundamentally a meditation on man in the worst state imaginable--alone, imprisoned, hunted. I won't give the plot away, as I'm not much for that sort of thing, but I will tell you that the movie--though it seems like the typical blockbuster--paints an apt portrait of the human condition. Without God, we are alone, we do live in a prison, we are in a sense hunted by the soul-stealer, Satan. Without God, there is a sense of dread that pervades all of life, and we don't need a backfired virus to induce such a condition. We're already living in it.
Other reviewers have focused on other aspects of the film, but I was most gripped by the haunted look and feel of "I Am Legend" and the perfectly pitched performance of Will Smith. Smith manages to make his character's simultaneous weariness and hopefulness plausible, and he communicates poignantly the terror that would grip a man in his situation. There are a couple of scenes in particular that will leave you elevated in your seat, heart thrashing, breath heavy. It's always fun to go to a movie that draws the teen crowd, elicits some sense of immature attention-grabbing as they mock the film in its early stages, and then shuts them up due to its terrifying nature. This film did just that. After a few of the most suspenseful scenes, the teenyboppers in front of me went absolutely silent, and stayed that way for the rest of the movie. "I Am Legend" is that tense. (My buddy Reid Monaghan agrees--read his excellent review.)
There is much that the film leaves unexplored--there is a ton of fascinating backstory that could have been played out. The movie is much too short, and ends with barely a second's notice--it's as if the filmmakers simply got tired of making a great movie and decided to vacate the set. I wish that the film had been much longer, as I love this genre of movie and "I Am Legend" is so well crafted, but oh well. You can't have everything you want, right? That aside, the film also explores other interesting themes--the nature of faith, the double-sided blade of scientific inquiry, the power of sacrifice, the reward of virtue, the weight of loneliness, the companionship between man and dog (don't laugh--you'll understand, and you might even cry), the results of isolation and imprisonment, the curse of human hubris. All this to say, go see this film. It's very well done, it's haunting, it's powerful, it's quite scary, and Will Smith's performance is excellent. In the end, it shows us a world that is--in its apocalyptic state--unlike our own, but is--in its palpable sense of despair and dread--very much like this present order.