MEDC 5310 Media & Culture
Term Paper – 7 March 2008
“I Am Legend” – Mirroring Symbolic Religious Culture in America
The recent release of the movie “I Am Legend” has triggered chatter across the worldwide blogosphere and in thousands of movie theater lobbies; “This may be Will Smith’s finest hour,” “How completely can one person ruin a script?” “The car was cool.” This writer has previously commented on “I Am Legend” as a cultural statement on ethnicity, citing the anti-racial tendencies of directors, producers and casting directors. The movie could also be analyzed from several cultural viewpoints, such as; the historical context of pandemics in the world; the cultural context of subjects such as human isolation, human/animal relations, anarchy vs. civility, euthanasia, science vs. religion, product placement, the modern gatherer/hunter, and others; or the cultural context of the use of media within media. All these cultural topics would make for interesting analysis, but must be stayed for another time. Neither is it the point of this analysis to discuss whether this movie becomes a blockbuster, a cult classic, or is just another in a long line of remakes. This analysis will discuss the historical context of the novel, similarities between the novel and the movie, and how both the novel and the movie use the culture of religion and God as a framework for cutting out a place in America’s ever-increasing media landscape.
In 1954, author Richard Matheson wrote a book that mirrored his times. The times were filled with exciting new technologies that also caused trepidation. People of the United States of America were observing and talking about the new world they were very much a part of. It was a year that held many firsts. The world’s first atomic power station constructed near Moscow, Russia and the launch of the world’s first nuclear powered submarine, the USS Nautilus. The spread of disease was foremost in people’s minds as this was the first year that a mass vaccination of children for polio began. Fear of the “Red Menace” was rampant as the cold war was in full swing, and Senator Joseph McCarthy continued his hunt for communist sympathizers. All this created a framework and worldview that readers of Matheson’s book, and later, viewers of the movies based on the book, could most certainly relate to. Mr. Matheson traces the roots of his story back to a singular event: [I Am Legend] came about because, when I lived in New York, I watched Dracula, the old Lugosi Dracula, at a motion picture theater, and it just occurred to me that if one vampire was frightening, then a whole world of vampires would really be frightening. That was the derivation of it (Riordan). The 1954 Story
Post-war dust storms spread deadly bacteria across the earth causing a disease worse than death. Blue collar worker and family man Robert Neville faces the ordeal of having to send his deceased daughter to the fire pit, and burying his wife, both who died from the dreaded plague. Neville learns first hand why government officials insist on the cremation of dead disease victims when his wife returns from the grave, desiring only to suck her still-living husband’s blood. Neville’s daily routine includes restocking supplies that allow him to stay in his fortified home safe from the night-stalking vampires. He owns a lathe that he daily uses to make stakes to aid in the disposal of vampires he finds during the day. Neville is alone, the last uninfected human on the earth. And although he was a family man, he now finds comfort in liquor. It allows him the opportunity to forget his loneliness for a time. At one point Neville sees a dog wandering the neighborhood that is not only alive, but appears uninfected. His desire for companionship is strong and so he leaves food for the dog on his porch in an effort to earn its trust. But at long last, just as the dog is nearing domestication, it is infected. Neville nurses the dog...