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I Am Legend: A Savior Story at the Box Office

“This is the crisis we’re in: God-light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. They went for the darkness because they were not really interested in pleasing God. Everyone who makes a practice of doing evil, addicted to denial and illusion, hates God-light and won’t come near it, fearing a painful exposure.”
— John 3:19-20 (from The Message).
Spoiler Alert
In the opening scenes, Robert Neville (Will Smith), the hero in I Am Legend, is living the rugged, individualistic, American dream—cruising the deserted streets of New York City in a fast car with his trusted companion at his side and a high powered rifle at the ready. Then, hauntingly vacant New York facades, banal banter with sightless mannequins, dreams of lost loved ones, and nights of terror, expose the hallow emptiness of existence without community.
Quickly enough, the horrific darkness is pierced revealing others in the city. Stripped of their dignity and seemingly deprived of reason and empathy by a mutated virus, these ‘darkseekers’ exhibit hyper-aggressive behavior, a severe light allergy, and superhuman strength.
Medical implausibility and CGI deficiencies aside, these hideous vampire-like creatures present a counterpoint to Robert’s lonely existence with their hive social network and hierarchy. Their community structure, companion loyalty, and even logical planning, all escape Neville’s notice as he comments, “Social de-evolution appears to be complete.” As he searches for a cure, Robert’s desire to differentiate himself from the hairless virus-possessed vestiges of humanity clouds his otherwise brilliant scientific insight. Ironically, when he finally meets two other immune humans, a young woman named Anna (Alice Braga) and a quiet young boy (Charlie Tahan), his own social de-evolution is evident, though not complete.
The cure for the virus is found in Robert’s own immunity—his blood. It is by passing his blood on through two others that a cure is achieved. In the end, Robert lives up to the ‘Savior’ title given to him on a TIME magazine cover taped to his refrigerator when he sacrifices his own life to prevent those who need the cure from destroying it.
The question of God is confronted as He often is in the setting of great tragedy. As a scientist, Neville takes responsibility for the tragic virus exclaiming, “God didn’t do this, we did.” In the same exchange, Anna, who claims it is easier to hear God now that the world is quieter, tells Robert that it was God’s will they should meet. “If we listen, you can hear God’s plan,” she says.” “There is no God!” he shouts. “There is no God!” Then, at the proper time, Robert hears and listens to that quiet voice.
The movie has come under some criticism for this resolution of the conflict in a deus ex machina type solution in which God appears seemingly out of nowhere in a still, small voice to clean things up. However, God is present in spiritual markers embedded throughout the film. Posters pasted onto vacated buildings read, “God still loves us.” Robert’s family prays together when they separate. Anna’s cross is evident on her rear view mirror when she rescues Robert from the ‘darkseekers’. And yet, the most spiritually revealing aspect of the film is also the very aspect most likely to offend, the vampire-like subhumans.
In these monstrous creatures, we catch a glimpse of the repulsive, dehumanizing, rage of sin. Their unchecked aggression and primal rage are evidence that they are less than human. Or, are they? Considering our current wars, murders, violence, poverty, illness, and apathy, perhaps we are not as different as we would like to think. From God’s perspective we surely must not be.
The horror we feel for the creatures in I Am Legend makes their need for a savior evident. Recognizing our own depravity in those same creatures and attempting to view things from a divine perspective makes the incarnation inconceivable.
And yet, here we are with the season of Advent just past and the incarnation is precisely what we have been reflecting on. Luke records an old Jewish priest prophesying about the coming of the Messiah in chapter 1:76-79. Through the “kind and compassionate mercy of our God,” the old priest says, “a new day is dawning: the Sunrise from the heavens will break through in our darkness, and those who huddle in night, those who sit in the shadow of death, will be able to rise and walk in the light, guided in the pathway of peace” (from The Voice). A cure is here.
If there is a spiritual sage in the movie, it is Bob Marley, the late reggae artist who thought we could cure racism and hate by injecting music and love. Robert quotes him as saying, “Light up the darkness.” And Marley’s ““Redemption Song” plays as the credits roll. Redemption certainly comes for the few remaining humans; but, what of those left in outer darkness? Does the poster proclaiming, “God still loves us” apply even to monsters hell-bent on their own destruction? Does God still love us, all of us?
The season we just celebrated, Advent, reveals God’s unchanging, “Yes!” in a brilliant flash of ever-expanding, incarnate light.

Brenton Reading writes from Birmingham, AL where he is a husband, father, bookworm, worship leader, amateur media theologian, and co-leader of Epicenter, a discussion class at Birmingham First SDA Church. In his spare time, he is a Radiology resident at UAB.
I Am Legend is playing in theaters worldwide and has currently made over $240 million at the box office.

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