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Directed by Francis Lawrence, I am Legend is loosely based on the book of the same name by Richard Matheson, spending much of the runtime on the survival skills of Neville, who has fortified a house in Greenwich Village with barricaded windows and doors to prevent the roaming mutants at night from getting in. During the day the creatures seem dormant, in the shadows, and Neville hunts the wildlife that has returned and suffers through horrific loneliness as he pretends to have conversations with store mannequins, taking any free chance he can for a human experience. He also broadcasts daily from a radio transmitter, giving his coordinates for any survivors who can hear. The film succeeds mostly due to the excellent performance by Smith, and despite some illogical turns that raise some questions later in the story, it a highly satisfying movie but should have dealt with the creatures an curiously unnecessary ending differently.
That Moment: The film wisely makes Neville’s story about coping, which is precisely what a person would face given the same situation. He’s lost everything, including his family, and has only his pet dog, a full grown German Shepard he’s had since it was a puppy to keep him company. The two spend all their time together, exploring their limited environment, carving out an existence in the haunting dilapidated ruins of the once bustling city. ‘Sam’ is a loyal and obedient dog who is fiercely protective of Neville, and on one occasion, the pair are met with a trap set by the mutants, a surprising and terrifying truth that catches them both off guard. They escape the rudimentary snare but are set upon by infected dogs, and though they are able to kill them all, Sam is bitten. There is no cure but Neville has been working on serums and races home to give Sam a shot, but it is ineffectual and his dear friend, the only living thing he has left to hold onto, turns and in Neville’s arms, begins to attack, forcing the man to end the dog’s life.
Why it Matters: Lone survivors are a common story in film, and most often, the person deserted by their circumstances find ways to provide some personal attachment to something, whether they are anthropomorphizing a volleyball or finding an animal to serves as their companion. And it is the unexpected loss of these companions that tend to have the greatest impact on the story and more importantly, the character attached to them. Much like Tom Hanks saying goodbye to Wilson, Smith does a remarkable job convincing us of the torment of euthanizing Sam. With no words, he speaks a tremendous lot, in his eyes, the ache of taking action with the only choice he has. Lawerence frames this powerfully, with Sam cradled like a young child in Neville’s arms, collapsed on the floor in a hopeless heap. The final image is harrowing and heartbreaking, with again, another good choice leaving Sam’s face out of view. This is the film’s most impactful moment, when Neville truly is left alone, and while we mourn the loss of Sam, there is a turning in his master as well that his passing necessitates.
Mark Protosevich (screenplay), Akiva Goldsman (screenplay)
Will Smith, Alice Braga, Charlie Tahan