When “I Am Legend” came out in 2008, I always wondered what it’d be like to live in that kind of a world. I thought the same thing whenever we’d read about the Spanish flu in high school. What would that world be like? What would it be like to live in a pandemic or in a world where there was a virus? Was that even possible?
I spoke too soon. We’re currently in the second year of a deadly pandemic. So many lives lost and lives changed forever. So I decided to watch “I Am Legend” again to see if there was anything in the film I could relate to. Of course, I can’t relate to zombies or being the last man on Earth or being as good-looking as Will Smith.
“I Am Legend” is a post-apocalyptic story that shows what happens after a human-made virus spreads throughout the world. In the film, scientists thought they had created a cure for cancer through a reengineered measles virus. But it turned out to be lethal and killed 90% of the world’s population. Meanwhile, 9% became zombies and 1% survived as normal.
Enter Robert Neville, a scientist who becomes the lone survivor of this human-made plague. He lives in New York City by himself as he seeks out a cure for the disease for the pandemic. Neville seeks to undo the disaster that cursed the human population, one he feels responsible for.
It wouldn’t be surprising if someone wanted to watch this film since it’s a pandemic film and we’re all still living in a pandemic. It’s another pandemic film that shows us how bad pandemics can be. But this one is really hard to watch right now because a potential cure for cancer — a vaccine — did not work.
Pandemic films have existed for years, and many of them center around a virus spreading and a cure finding its way to the people. “Contagion” is a perfect example of this. A virus moves from bats to pigs to humans. It spreads throughout the world. The virus kills millions. There’s no escape.
We connect with that because we are going through something similar. But, “Contagion” has a different message than “I Am Legend.” It ended with hope. The last few minutes of the film focus on the discovery and distribution of a vaccine. The population heals itself, and the world moves on past the virus. There were so many lives lost in the pandemic. But there was hope for a better generation.
I watched the 2011 film “Contagion” at the beginning of the pandemic. It was a film that received a lot of attention back in March 2020 because so many people watched it again since we all didn’t want to feel alone. We knew we were going through something, so we wanted to feel like we were in it together — even if we had to spend time apart.
Coltan Scrivner, a psychologist at the University of Chicago who studies morbid curiosity, told The Guardian people to like to watch these movies because it gives them a safe environment to see something difficult.
“For the cost of a bad dream one night, you can learn what the world looks like when a pandemic hits,” Scrivner said.
We also use these pandemic films, books and television shows to explore what scares us.
“On some level, we have to use fiction to explore the anxieties and fears that we have,” Kyle Bishop, a professor of English at Southern Utah University, told the Deseret News. “So, in that way, fiction functions similarly to a science lab — which is, let’s put these things into motion and let’s see what happens.”
But it’s a completely different story when you’re actually living through a pandemic and a vaccine — a cure, a little bit of hope — is right around the corner.
“I Am Legend” almost presents an alternate argument to the conclusion we all want. The world crumbles in that film. And the vaccine — the hope, the cure, the light at the end of the tunnel — doesn’t work and the entire civilization ends up falling apart.
The good news becomes the bad news.
Our world is nearing the light at the end of the tunnel. Variants continue to pop up, sure. And we may not be totally out of the woods yet. But the mere idea that these vaccines wouldn’t work and we would turn us into mindless zombies — that’s what happens in “I Am Legend” — is more terrifying than anything. It’s a horror film that represents the worst possible outcome of a pandemic.
(It’s just a movie though, remember. The vaccines are safe. We know this. They’re recommended by experts. Some of the most prominent people in the world have received them. We have nothing to worry about.)
I’m not saying Hollywood shouldn’t make these movies. That’s not my decision to make. I’m just telling you — don’t watch this movie right now. We’re about to turn the corner with this pandemic. The last thing you need is to watch a movie that destroys hope.
We don’t need more grief and hurt. We need to be optimistic and hopeful for what’s going to happen.
So excuse me for a bit. I’m going to watch “Eddie’s Million Dollar Cook-Off” on Disney+. Because even though Eddie doesn’t win, I would rather see a film where the main character loses after making a bad dinner than watch society crumble because of an injection.