God is Legend: Pictures of redemption in 'I Am Legend'
created on Fri, 05/30/2008 - 04:28

[warning: contains some spoilers]

It’s 2009. Western scientists have created a cancer vaccine which will cure humanity of one of its most insidious killers – or so they think. One thing’s for sure: the world will never be the same again.

Fast-forward to 2012.

The vaccine, offered in high dosage throughout the world, has backfired and become an airborne virus, killing 90% of the world’s population. Of the remaining ten percent, some are immune altogether and others have mutated into dark-dwelling flesh-eaters, slowly losing any remaining human social patterns. Enter Will Smith, aka the muscular Dr. Robert Neville, the last completely human resident of New York and maybe the world. He spends his days roaming the streets of the city with his German Shepherd Sam, broadcasting his whereabouts in the hope of any survivors, chatting up the cute mannequins at the local Blockbuster store – and working on a cure to reverse the effects of the vaccine. By night, Robert and Sam are in lockdown, hunkering in their fortified home with weapons at the ready for any hint of attack. For it is at night that the dark seekers come out.

It’s not uncommon to find books and essays extolling the spiritual parallels in the current favourites of pop culture. We’ve all heard of the frequently-touted salvation theme underpinning The Matrix trilogy. Then there’s Walking With Frodo, a devotional comprised of spiritual reflections inspired by the hairy-footed guy himself. There’s the quintessential battle of good and evil in the Star Wars franchise. Hey, I’ve even seen a book called The Gospel According to the Simpsons. Riiight. It seems that, wherever you look, there’s a Christian writer ready to cash in on culture by spiritualising stories that sometimes were meant as allegories and sometimes simply… weren’t.

What is rare is to find blatant expressions of a redemption theme served up fairly cliché-free in a Hollywood blockbuster, but that’s just what happened in I Am Legend.

Granted, the plate laden with thought-provoking concepts also overflows with thrills and suspense, mostly in the form of scary mutated humans lurking in dark corners in search of uncorrupted flesh to devour. I watched the movie last night with my mother (choosing to enjoy its MA rating in the comfort of my own home and substantially smaller screen rather than see it when it first came out). In the absence of a strong silent type whose hand I could clutch at feverishly, I cringed behind the sofa cushion. But the suspense and even the violence were tastefully done, relying on implication and atmosphere for thrills rather than excessive gore or horror.

Apart from the fear factor, the movie was clean to the point of squeakiness. There were some cries of hell and damn and some misuses of the Lord’s name, but that is all. I was impressed. Here is Will Smith suspended upside down from a wire with a knife buried to the hilt in his thigh, and he doesn’t curse. Here he is about to be pulled limb from limb by vampiric night-creatures, and he doesn’t scream profanities. Here he is, face to face with a woman after assuming he was the only man alive for the past three years, and he doesn’t even notice he has hormones. Amazing.

What was most interesting of all, however, were the constant parallels between the story’s main themes and Christian ideas of redemption and salvation.

The most obvious were the repeated references to God’s sovereignty, never stated overtly but always respectfully. As Robert Neville helps his wife and daughter into the helicopter that will take them away from the danger zone, his wife jumps out of the chopper to pray for God’s protection over her husband’s life and His assistance to help Neville finish what he has started. Later, survivor Anna claims that she found Neville because God told her to turn on the radio – and thus she heard his broadcast. Anna believes that God has a plan. Neville, in acute anguish, wonders what kind of plan would involve the slaughter of almost the entire world’s population. Anna does not argue, simply telling Neville that if he wants to understand, he just needs to listen.

Later, Neville makes a decision that will ultimately save lives but rob him of his own. When Anna pleads with him to reconsider, he responds, “Now I’m listening.”

Less obvious but still reverberating with concepts of original sin and salvation by grace are the images of a world overtaken by a sickness of its own creation. As a picture of sin, the Dark Seekers are startlingly vivid. Sin turns us into creatures whose desires are only for our own fulfilment, deaf to hope, dead to a cure, and living in the dark.

The vaccine’s horrifying effects can be compared to sin in other ways, too: it came into the world as a result of men wanting to play God, and it is carried in the blood of living things. Only blood that has been made immune contains the cure, and it is his own blood that Neville uses in his quest for the healing of the Dark Seekers. They do not deserve his help; they’d rather feast on him, but he is determined to help anyway. What God ultimately calls Neville to do is not easy, but he is willing and obedient.

Does this sound familiar?

The result of it all is a rich and well-acted story (Will Smith is a craftsman, in my opinion) that reveals the black depths of hopelessness but ends with a sacrifice that ultimately leads to salvation. It left me pondering some fresh thoughts about those realities as we see them offered freely by our Lord and Saviour, and I can’t say many blockbusters have done that.

Hollywood, I applaud thee.


Hi Danielle,

I liked what you had to say. I am continually amazed that God has planted in us the ability to recognize the pattern of redemption and salvation in so many different ways.

Hi Suzy,

Thanks for your comment! "He has set eternity in the hearts of men" comes to mind...

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