I was never really a fan of the movie starring Will Smith to begin with. When it was recommended by several people to read the book, I was hesitant at first. While they seem to share a few similarities, such as Robert Neville living alone as the last man alive, that’s where it ends. They shouldn’t be sharing the same title. After reading I Am Legend, my dislike for the film grew. It’s absolute garbage. The book, on the other hand is brilliant and beautiful written. Although I didn’t anticipate writing a comparative post on the two, it is important to point out some differences that make the movie terrible and the book superior.
I’ll start with our protagonist, Robert. In the movie, he is a man on a mission, perhaps going a bit crazy from being alone for so long. He is against the world, fighting evil, finding a cure to save humanity. And he does in the end. He’s a big hero. In the book, it appears he is fighting evil, finding a cure to save humanity, but as it turns out, he’s just crazy. He’s not our hero. He’s trying to find a cure for the vampire-like creatures who have evolved beyond humanity. He is fighting this evolution. He is resisting change. Instead, he murders them. In the end, you discover he is no hero, but our antagonist.
The movie portrays the creatures more as nocturnal zombies. In the movie, Robert simply seems them as the enemy. At one point he retorts that the social de-evolution is complete in the creatures. I felt as though the movie portrayed the creatures as social–protecting their own and seeking revenge on Robert when he kidnaps them for his experiments to find a cure. They are highly intelligent as well, managing to trap Robert at one point. I think the movie ignored that, a disservice in making the situation completely black and white/good versus evil.
In the book, Robert meets a woman who he believes is a survivor. Due to his loneliness, he easily falls for her, needing companionship. It is revealed that she is undead as well–a spy. This is the point that led me to realize that Robert is truly the enemy, going crazy. The vampires, as they are described in the book, taunt him, yell at him all night. It appears they just want him to join. They have an organized social network and a community. They aren’t necessarily the evil he believes them to be. They may not abide by his particular code of ethics, but to completely demonize them is unfair. Considering we read the story through Robert’s unreliable point of view, it’s fair to consider that they aren’t nearly as evil as he believes them to be.
I really enjoyed this book overall. The one I read included a collection of some of his other stories, which I also highly recommend. Richard Matheson is a brilliant horror storyteller who also wrote some of the stories featured in The Twilight Zone. Many of his other books have more successfully been recreated on the silver screen.
Have you read I Am Legend? What are your thoughts on my interpretation?