Friday, 29 October 2010

I am Legend

“He’d never really appreciated it. Such a short phrase it was, but meaning so much. Bacteria can mutate”.

By Richard Matheson

Given that this book has received a film adaptation no less then three times (the last man on earth with Vincent price, Omega man Charlton Heston Versus the Albino's, and I am Legend subtitled get Will Smith an Oscar). An while they all stay relatively close to the source matierial especially the one with Vincent Price they all had to change or cut out elements which would still leave a few pleasant surprises if you pick up the book even after seeing all three.

Of the three Omega man is the most distant

For those of you who are completely in the dark about this tale heres a synopsis.

I am Legend is a tale about a lone survivor (Robert Neville) in the aftermath of some sort of plague that’s has as far as Robert knows infected or killed the rest of humanity including his wife and daughter. The plague carries symptoms remarkably similar to Vampirism, a connection Roberts scientific mind finds absurd, but as time goes on finds increasingly difficult too dismiss.
The story is as much about the damage isolation does to the human mind as it is about vampires as Robert is merely trying to survive in his boarded up home first and then goes about trying to unravel this mystery plague and hopefully find a cure at some point, but that little adventure comes across as less of an actual goal he wishes to accomplish are more like a task to his mind occupied as hes daily routine of, fix broken boards, grow garlic, make stakes, find sleeping vampires, kill said vampires, dispose of bodies, go to sleep, repeat next morning is gradually wearing him down like water torture. Hell after a while he even gives up actively hunting the creatures of the night only going out of his way to dispose of the vampires when he comes across them or during the lulls in the storm when he finds he has very little real work to do and needs a few distractions to break up the monotony of his lonely existence.

Not being a scientist before the plague struck Neville found his work towards a miracle cure slow going, though he does successfully identify using stolen microscopes and biology journals an alien micro-organism in the vampires bloodstream finally validating his rational "it must be a virus" line of thinking. But its not long after that his research keeps hitting brick walls and he starts to question his sanity. This gets especially worse for him when the vampires he "experiments" on and kill express terror and weaknesses that have absolutely no relation to a bacteria altogether but are prominent features of the Vampire myth e.g. the cross and mirrors. However he does after a few weeks of trail and error make some progress since he now has a hypothesis that it is indeed some kind of mutagenic bacteria thats to blame for the transformations, but the reason things like crosses and mirrors seem to also repel the creatures is due to psychological factors. You see the Vampires aren't beasts they retain much of there memories and personalities and given that they first for blood, sunlight kills them, and garlic makes them ill they must also know that they are Vampires and thus things like the mirror and the crucifix instil an instinctual dread in them. Which makes Robert wonder what would happen if he encountered a Vampire that was a Jew or Muslim in life.

However his work is halted completely when discovers a living immune female by the name of Ruth. Things do not progress like in a Hollywood film as he has to practically kidnap her to get her to enter his home, and its heavily implied that the reason she stays is due to her fear of the Vampires outside and angering him. Due to his isolation of several years at this point he becomes highly suspicious of her and has lost all manners; he continually wars with himself over whether or not he should kill her (regardless of whether or not she is infected) or start trusting her and (hopefully) start a new life with her, and maybe rebuild the human race.

Sadly though it turns out that not only is Ruth infected but she is also some sort of different mutant (a day walker) and spy for a sort of proto-vampire society who are much more controlled then the Vampires Robert has had to tangle with, they've develop a sort of blood nutrient pill to keep the cravings in check and have the ability to organise socially above the level of a lynch mob, and since many of the vampires Robert stumbles across were members of the "civilised" Vampires who had no interest in Robert or any other immune human, have come to regard Robert as some sort of legendary murderous stalker of the night who kills without reason or remorse (not unlike the Vampire to humans) and have decided to hunt him down. The tale ends with Robert in a cell awaiting public execution as he reflects on how some things come full circle.

As well as being a fascinating investigation into the obstacles faced by simply being alone, I am Legend also raises an interesting point about how morality is determined based on your perspective. Everything Robert does, murdering Vampires in the sleep is ultimately an attempt to survive but as far as the vampire civilisation is concerned he is some rabid mad dog killer who has to be stopped. There is ultimately no hero or villain only two perspectives due to circumstances crash head on.

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