Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Secret Language of Stories Explores I AM LEGEND posted by Carolee Dean

Happy New Year Everyone! First off, the winners of the FIERCE READS TOUR Book Giveaway have all been notified. They were Chris Victor, Mindy Holt, Karen Douglas and Elizabeth. If you have not already received your fabulous book prizes, please contact me by email.

For the 2013-14 school year  I have been using my twelve step story analysis method to outline popular books and movies. This month I’m reviewing one of my favorite movies, I Am Legend. It is a true classic. Before we get started, if you aren’t familiar with my plot analysis system, check out The Secret Language of Stories at Carolee Dean Books.

The 2007 film, I Am Legend, featuring Will Smith, is based loosely on a 1954 novel by Richard Matheson with the same title. The novel greatly influenced the zombie genre and the concept of apocalyptic disease. In addition to the 2007 movie, other film versions include The Last Man on Earth (1964) and The Omega Man (1971) starring Charlton Heston. The novel also inspired the movie, Night of the Living Dead (1968), and reportedly influenced the writing of Stephen King.

When I talk to students about story plots, I always begin by discussing the OLD WORLD and the NEW WORLD. The before and after contrasts in I Am Legend are stark. The movie begins with a TV interview of Dr. Alice Krippin (Emma Thompson) a doctor who has found the cure for cancer in a genetically engineered form of measles she created. The film then cuts to a scene occurring years later in downtown NYC where virologist Robert Neville hunts deer because wild animals have returned to the now nearly uninhabited city.

Neville is the only survivor of a deadly virus caused from Kripin’s measles cure. The mutated strain has turned most of the population into rabid vampire-like predators. They are called Darkseekers because they cannot expose themselves to light, forcing them to hunt at night. As a product of their ruthless hunting practices, Neville appears to be the only person left alive.  

The film handles the contrasts between the OLD and NEW WORLDS in interesting ways. Trying to deal with his desperate loneliness and wanting to continue some semblance of a normal routine, Neville watches old newscasts he has recorded. It is through these newscasts, as well as a series of flashbacks, that the OLD WORLD, and the details of the rise of the deadly virus, is revealed.

But the abandoned city isn’t the only New World explored in the story. In fact, the first part of the movie establishes Neville’s new routine in what has become his post apocalyptic “ordinary world.” He gets up every day, does his exercise routine, feeds his dog, Sam, watches the “old” news, and goes to the video store where he interacts with the mannequins he has placed around the store. He has even given the mannequins names, attesting to his desperate loneliness and the fact that everyone else has either died or become a Darkseeker. 

Neville has recorded a radio broadcast offering food and shelter to any remaining survivors. He instructs them to meet him at the South Street Seaport at midday. Therefore, part of his daily routine includes hitting golf balls into the ocean while he waits at the Seaport for anyone else who has survived the plague and may have heard his message. He also checks on the status of the rabid rats he has injected with various serums made from his immune blood. As he searches for a cure, he creates video documentation of his research. It’s a pretty full routine, but he still finds time to hunt deer with his loyal dog, Sam.

Neville does not appear to have any MENTORS or GUIDES to help him, even in the flashbacks. The GIFTS he acquires to assist him on his quest for survival are items he finds randomly searching the apartments of the dead. He is so alone, he asks for advice and guidance from the mannequins. It is this lack of assistance and absence of any human contact that helps create the mood of isolation, loneliness and despair that pervades the movie

The CALL TO ADVENTURE occurs when Sam follows a deer into an abandoned building. Neville is reluctant to enter, calling to his dog, trying desperately to get her to come out. He finally goes inside after her, sweating profusely, aiming his rifle at anything that moves in the darkness. The deer they were hunting has been killed and dragged through the building full of Darkseekers. Neville stumbles upon a group of them huddled together like bees in a hive. At this point he finds Sam and runs for his life, barely escaping the vicious undead.

The next day, Neville gathers supplies and returns to the abandoned building where he sets a trap and captures one of the Darkseekers, a female, for his research. The CROSSING OVER in this story occurs when Neville brings the creature home. This action sets in motion a chain of events that changes the course of the story.

The PROBLEM is established at the very beginning of the movie. Almost all of the world’s population has been decimated by the killer virus. The PRIZE that virologist Robert Neville seeks is a cure. His PLAN is to keep working on different variations of his serum until he discovers one that reverses the effects of KV (the Krippin Virus). One of the mixtures shows promise in a rat and so Neville uses it to inject the woman. His first ATTEMPT at the MIDPOINT of the movie seems to fail when the creature tries to break free from her restraints to attack him, but Neville is able to sedate her and keep her on ice to lower her elevated body temperature.

After his failed attempt with the serum, Neville takes some DOWNTIME to regroup and come up with another plan, but a major twist occurs when Neville goes out hunting with Sam and sees that one of the mannequins he previously placed in the video store is now standing in front of the Grand Central Terminal. Completely derailed by this image, and perhaps fearing for his sanity, he goes to investigate and is knocked out when he hits his head on the ground as he is caught in a trap similar to the one he set for the Darkseekers.

As it nears dusk, Neville’s watch alarm goes off and wakes him up. He is able to cut himself down from the cable ensnaring his leg, but vicious Darkseeker dogs CHASE him and one of them bites Sam. Neville takes his companion home and tries to inject her with the serum, but it’s too late and Sam begins the metamorphosis. Neville is forced to strangle Sam to death as she turns on him.

Sam was the only friend Neville had left. He goes through a crisis of the soul and chooses to face DEATH to wait for the Darkseekers that night at the Seaport, knowing they will surely come for him. He kills many of them, but he is obviously outnumbered. Just as it appears that they will annihilate him, bright lights suddenly frighten the Darkseekers away and Neville is rescued by two uninfected humans, a woman named Anna and a boy named Ethan, who heard his radio broadcasts and have travelled from Maryland to find him.

In the presence of humans for the first time in three years, Neville goes through an awkward TRANSFORMATION as he tries to relate to them. It’s easier for him to repeat the lines of SHREK than it is to have a real conversation. He explodes in anger when Anna insists that God told her to go to the survivor’s camp in Bethel, Vermont, and he tells her there is no survivor’s camp. There was a plan to create one, but the virus moved through the population too quickly.

During the FINAL SHOWDOWN, Darkseekers arrive at his townhouse. Anna inadvertently led them there when she brought Neville home. At first he is able to fend them off with UV lights and mines planted outside his residence, but they eventually rip open the roof and get inside. Neville takes Anna and Ethan down to the lab where they lock themselves inside a glass room with the infected Darkseeker woman. They see that the woman is beginning to become human again. The serum is working.

The alpha male Darkseeker throws his body into the glass and it begins to crack in the pattern of a butterfly. Neville notices that Anna has a butterfly tattoo and he recalls, in a flashback. how one of the last things his dead daughter did was to make a butterfly symbol with her hands, right before the evacuation helicopter carrying Neville’s wife and daughter crashed. For the first time in the movie, Neville experiences true hope.

Neville draws blood from the infected woman, puts it in a vial, and gives the vial to Anna, telling her it holds the cure. Then he shuts Anna and Ethan in a coal chute and detonates a hand grenade killing himself and the Darkseekers.

The REWARD is realized when Anna and Ethan arrive at the survivor’s camp with the blood that holds the cure. The survivors are the legacy and Neville’s fight to find the cure was his legend. 

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