Light up the Darkness – Bob Marley, the Legend, in ‘I am Legend’

Will Smith: Rapper, comedian, action hero, and family man – an all-round leading gent. He was labeled Mr. July because of his numerous summer blockbusters. However, in December 2007, he starred in the Action/Drama ‘I am Legend,’ and audiences were disappointed. The reviews from critics were mixed and so even though Smith brought a remarkable plot to life, it was not well received. For me, it was a good movie because it shed light on the state of mankind and the fight for survival against the ultimate odds.

Overview – ‘I am Legend’

Set in post-apocalyptic 2009, ‘I am Legend’ is ironically about a cancer free world. The movie began with a television sportscast and then switched to an interview with a doctor who claimed that by studying and altering the measles virus, they found the cure for cancer in humans. Along with this ‘cure’ came an outbreak known as the KV Virus, which caused the mutation of human beings. These mutated being were classified as ‘The Infected’ or ‘Dark Seekers’. The KV virus advanced their aggression whilst transforming them into zombie-like, man-eating creatures. This airborne, man-made and seemingly incurable disease wiped out more than half of earth’s population leaving The Infected and a few immune people, one of whom was Robert Neville (Will Smith). Neville was a well decorated officer whose accolades and photos were seen in newsprints such as the Times Magazine, in the movie. Fast forward three years in the film, we see a desolate world where human life seemingly stood still and nature was overpoweringly loud.

It is so that Nature became an unlikely character. In Neville’s first appearance on screen, he is on the hunt, competing with lions for the catch. The environment provided a wonderful theme of silence and beauty. In the midst of flourishing vegetation, machines laid wasted everywhere; great technology was worth nothing and money lay wasted on the ground. As night drew nigh, things changed and we quickly realized that The Infected came out to roam for food in the dark.  Neville’s watch, another unconventional character, kept him alert and signaled when it was time for him to lockdown. Outside, the hisses and screams of the Dark Seekers provided a nightly dose of horror to Neville and his dog, Samantha. 

Throughout the movie, Neville’s memory is a juxtaposition of then and now. Through these flashbacks, we are able to get glimpses of his life with his wife and daughter (who he named Marley). We also know that they are deceased.  The loneliness of Neville forced him to have self-conversations with his dog and store mannequins. To pass time, he watched old television recordings and created a make belief world of inanimate figures, each of which he named. Upon the death of Samantha, Neville became suicidal but was miraculously rescued in time by another human being, who had heard his daily radio transmission for others to join him.  

The Message of Bob – The Power of Love and Hope

This third cinematic adaptation of Richard Matheson’s novel is not about the obvious. It is not a zombie thriller or action comedy, nor is it about Will Smith; it is a big metaphor about our world. He was brilliant in using the cure for cancer to cause even greater destruction, pain and death to the human race. It alluded to the fact that we can become far greater evils than we can even imagine. In the face of this, he also highlights the fighting human spirit. Neville managed to survive and even though alone, he always displayed an underlying hope. It is the sort of hope that was a premise for Bob Marley’s redemptive songs. Fittingly, these reggae tunes played at intervals in this film.  

Apart from feeling civic pride as ‘Three Little Birds’ and ‘Stir it Up’ echoed in the empty paradise, I realized that in a time of nothingness, Marley’s words are still powerful enough to bring calm to an otherwise chaotic and depressing movie, where humans ate humans for survival. Like Neville, Bob believed in trying everything possible to preserve what’s good about us, at any cost. Therefore, I believe that Bob Marley and his music are the final big characters in this movie. The answer to the question of what one man will do to save the world is clear as Neville like Bob, transformed himself into a one man army, equipped with two of the greatest essentials for survival – a message of love and hope for change.  

Even today, the work of Bob Marley is so pervasive that his ‘Virologist idea of injecting peace and love through music into people’s lives to stamp out hate and racism,’ is synchronized with having the power to save mankind. This is also the essence of the film as Neville captured and literally injected a Dark Seeker with the cure. We watched as this serum slowly transformed the Seeker’s ugliness into a more recognizable human form. This KV Virus is akin to the viciousness of our world today, which has transformed many of us into wild, erratic beings. The film hinted at racism when a white police officer, upon seeing Neville behaving frantic to save his family, muttered to his partner, ‘still can’t get used to the rags.’ By uttering these words he alluded to Neville’s position in the army as a black man. We realize that despite the chaos in the fight for survival, race is still being discussed. It is for reasons like this that Bob’s message of love is eternal. He asks, “If the people who are trying to make this world worst are not taking a day off, how can I?”

The Butterfly Effect

‘My life is for the people; and if I can’t live my life for the people then my life is worth nothing.’

– Bob Marley

Neville painted a picture when he said, “we are plagued by an absence of reason where basic survival skills are ignored, social devolution is complete and typical human behavior is entirely absent.’ Despite this, he still tried to make a difference. When he realized he could transfer the immunity of KV Virus from his blood to others, he implored, ‘I can help you, let me help you, let me save you.’ Sadly, this was to no avail as the aggression and resistance displayed by the zombies proved to him that they were simply beyond redemption as their thirst for flesh and blood was unalterable. Finally, the Seekers caught up with him and broke through his final shield, a literal yet figurative glass that had cocooned and his hope for the human race. Fortunately, he was able to pass on the cure, before his demise.

Director Francis Lawrence used the symbol of ‘the butterfly’ to signal the need for change throughout the film. We first saw it when Neville’s daughter made a butterfly and called his attention to it. And in the end, it again formed on the glass that the Seekers broke through to get to Neville. What is powerful about this scene is that a butterfly marks the beautiful end of a transformational process and so even in the face of adversity we were still comforted by hope.

Indeed, the earth is without end, but without a change, parts of us will die as we continue to be consumed with hate, greed, power and envy. Neville’s words concludes, “God did not do this, we did.” After the film, we were left to reflect on our own existence; the importance of belonging, love, brotherhood, friendship and family. These are the things worth living for. These are the things worth preserving and dying for. Neville made the ultimate sacrifice for that change. He died so others may live on, and with them, the cure. For this, ‘I am Legend’ is legendary and Bob Marley’s ‘cure’ is just as potent. He uses the universal language of music and commands us to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery and live above the negative influences. Marley’s Redemption Songs are considered by Neville as ‘the best album ever made.’ We all know why. It is because if there is hope for us, is it love.

Light up the darkness… 

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