Saturday, January 1, 2011

I am Legend -- viruses and cures

Director: Francis Lawrence, 2007. (PG-13)

Unlike most post-apocalyptic movies, I am Legend is not drab and colorless. Recent films, like The Road or The Book of Eli, painted the future in washed out greens and grays. Here, though, the blue sky above New York City harbors a bright sun that shines on the corn growing in Central Park. It is only the future that seems dark and hopeless.

Under this yellow sun we see deer running through the empty streets. Juxtaposed against the wrecked remnants of human civilization evident in the abandoned vehicles clogging the thoroughfares, nature has retaken its old landscape. But in a blink of an eye, the scene shows a lion leaping onto the deer, tearing its throat out. Nature is savage. So is the legend of humanity.

The prelude offers the hope of a cure for cancer. A scientist has created a virus that can save humanity from this form of death. But cutting ahead, the film shows the virus has mutated to become a killer itself. It turns humans into creatures, zombie-like, that hide by day but emerge at night. Without apparent intelligence, these infected search only for survivors that they can eat. With 90% of the world's population dead by the virus, and the rest turned into these Dark Seekers, mankind has caused its own demise by playing God.

Into this picture comes Robert Neville (Will Smith). He is the lone survivor, living out his days in New York City with his dog Sam. A military scientist, he has somehow been involved from the beginning. Through judicious flashbacks, we see him before the event, with his wife Zoe (Salli Richardson) and daughter Marley (Willow Smith). When they are evacuated by military helicopter, he chooses to stay: "This is ground zero. This is my site. I can fix this."

If the virus was man-made, this scientist can solve the problem. A humanist to the core, he thinks all it takes is his research and effort.  He is pretentious: "I am not gonna let this happen," seeing himself as the savior, embarking on his mission. "I can help. I can save you. I can save everybody," he screams at the zombies. Indeed, at one point he declares, "God didn't do this. We did!" But then a little later says, "There is no god!"

Although Neville is sharply intelligent, the Bible has strong words for those like him who would say this. "The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psa. 14:1) Even the educated delude themselves into denying God. When they do, they show the limits of their intelligence. God allows us to refute his existence but in itself this does nothing. He exists. He always has; he always will (Psa. 41:13). We cannot change this with mere words. Only he can change things with words, as he did at the beginning (Gen. 1:3; Heb. 11:3).

As he spends his days conducting research, cataloging hives of Dark Seekers, and foraging for food, we see him yearning for human companionship. He has his dog, but no one else. He resorts to giving mannequins names and conversing with them. Little by little his three years of solitude has its effect and he starts to crack. Man is not meant to live alone. Neither is man meant to live apart from God.

One character sums it up: "The world is quieter now. We just have to listen. If we listen, we can hear God's plan." How true. Modern society screams at us constantly. Whether it is from the commercials on TV, the iPod in our ears, or the blaring billboards, it is hard to get away from the noise. God whispers to us. He wants us to listen to his still, small voice. But we are too busy, too distracted. Only when we remove ourselves from the fray, when we cull some time to be alone can we listen and hear. As Samuel heard the voice of God (1 Sam. 3:4), so can we. But if we are not used to doing so, we may like Samuel mistake this voice from someone else (1 Sam. 3:5). God waits for us with a message of love (Jn. 16:27). He desires for us to come to him for companionship. He offers salvation (Tit. 2:11).

Neville is the archetypal savior. Like Jesus, he spent three years on his mission. He carries hope in his blood, the blood that is immune to the virus. True salvation is carried in the blood of Jesus (Matt. 26;28), which was shed for the forgiveness of sins (Eph. 1:7). Sacrifice was necessary. But faith in that sacrifice is crucial. Neville has faith in himself. We need faith in the true Savior, Jesus Christ (Tit. 3:6). He is the light of the world (Jn. 8:12).

Neville explains the title in a monolog about music. Speaking of Bob Marley, the namesake for his daughter, he expounds:
He had this idea. It was kind of a virologist idea. He believed that you could cure racism and hate . . . literally cure it, by injecting music and love into people's lives. When he was scheduled to perform at a peace rally, a gunman came to his house and shot him down. Two days later he walked out on that stage and sang. When they asked him why - He said, "The people, who were trying to make this world worse . . . are not taking a day off. How can I? Light up the darkness.
He is listening to "Legend," the collection of Marley's greatest hits.

Jesus is legend. He was attacked and killed on a cross. Three days later he walked out of the grave, alive again (Jn. 20:14). He said he came to give life (Jn. 10:10). He lights up the darkness. Now he calls us who follow him to shine our lights that others will see and give glory to God (Matt. 5:16). We can light up the darkness. The virus of sin will turn us into zombies but the cure is found in the blood of the Savior. Have you drunk it? Is he Legend?

Copyright ©2011, Martin Baggs

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