One of the aspects of life that humans are obsessed with understanding is death, and how we can prevent it. The runner up for human-obsessed topic is cancer and our inability to find a cure that works and that will keep people alive without complications. An updated report by a US health organization states that cancer will kill 7.6 million people worldwide this year. Curing cancer sounds like a dream of a hopeful future but in Francis Lawrence’s post-apocalyptic film I am Legend, it is the cause of a mutation that turns humans into blood-sucking creatures that effectively wipe out the population in a span of three years. I would categorize these creatures as vambies, a vampire and zombie hybrid, because of its specific characteristics taken from both categories of the monsters. They feed on the blood of other living organisms and have the ability to ‘turn’ them, but they don’t possess speech or language. The tragic irony of a cure for cancer essentially being the reason millions of people and animals die and leave the world desolate. Something humans enjoy doing is tampering with the biology and nature of how things are created, and the film shows a clear result of how easy it is for one’s plans to go awry. My evaluation of the monsters and their depiction will be based on how realistic and scary they are, and the origins of their creation.
The creatures are shown to have almost translucently pale skin that shows their green veins and have no hair whatsoever. Their pupils are permanently dilated and, although they lack traditional fangs, they have human-like teeth and mouths that can open wider than a human. The ones that do wear clothes follow the zombie stereotype and have ripped-raggedy clothes, and most of them expose the majority of their skin. They are similar to vampires in which they can not walk in the sunlight without being burned by the UV rays. In Dr. Mathias Clasen’s analysis essay on the original novel, I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, he emphasizes how vampires violate “our intuitive expectations of biological agents, and blurs the taxonomic line between human and animal”. The depiction of this monster is one that instills fear into people because of its uniqueness and how it is composed of specific attributes from traditional monsters, yet has a closer appearance of a human. In his research of monsters and their underlying symbolism, Dr. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s third thesis, the monster is the harbinger of category crisis, suggests that “they are disturbing hybrids whose externally incoherent bodies resist attempts to include them in any systematic structuration. And so the monster is dangerous…”. The monsters can’t be placed in one single category, so it makes them dangerous to us because they defy our logic and the rules of nature. The creatures are vampires that need to feed on living things to survive, that can be burned and killed by the sun; they have enhanced strength and speed that are superior to humans, but they lost their ability to speak, their thinking is not dictated by logic, and they use groans and grunts to express themselves like zombies. The video below, from the tv show Vampire Diaries, gives an example of the abilities that essentially constitutes what a vampire should do and how something can be labeled as a vampire. Note the similarities; stronger and faster than humans, and distinct features that make them different than us, such as their fangs.
In addition to the monster’s displeasing appearance, I couldn’t help but think that maybe they are meant to represent those who have cancer. Their dull looking skin and lack of hair could be compared to the side effects of having cancer, and an homage to its creation story. The monster’s body and its physical appearance is a reminder of what humans did and how badly they messed up. Dr. Cohen’s first thesis, the monster’s body is a cultural body, supports my claim that “the monster signifies something other than itself…the reason it always rises from the dissection table as its secrets are about to be revealed and vanishes into the night.”. Humans interfered with something they shouldn’t have and now the result is a world overrun by mutants. At the beginning of the film, it shows a new broadcast of an interview with a doctor that is explaining her research experiments with viruses and how they can be reprogrammed in order to work with the body instead of against it. She proceeds to state that 10,009 participants have undergone the procedure, unclear as to whether or not they were cancer patients, and all of them have tested to be cancer free. The scene cuts to an aerial view of New York City, three years after the broadcast, but this city is empty and lacks the presence of life.
One thing to point out is that reality wasn’t much different when the film was released. Scientists have been playing with something called CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) since it was discovered in 1987 at Osaka University. It is a tool that can alter DNA sequences and change the functions of certain genes, and the protein associated with it, Cas9, can be used as genetic scissors that cut strands of DNA where something can be added or removed from someone’s genetic code. Similar to the films opening scene, CRISPR could be used to remove the gene that encodes for diseases like cancer. During the time of this revolutionary discovery, this film was illustrating the anxieties and fears some people had about how we could now “play God” and edits someone’s DNA like a google document. Just like those in the movie believed they were helping people, scientists, in reality, think that CRISPR can do amazing things for us in the distant future. With this comes criticisms: should we play god, could we be doing more harm than good, is it ethically okay to alter someone’s DNA without them knowing, how do we know it will work in favor for us everytime we use it? One could point out how this is “just like that zombie movie I saw,”, which gives the viewer a chilling feeling. Humans created the monsters which then turned all humans into monsters, hence, metaphorically, making humans the literal monster in the film. Those who decided to follow their curiosity met the unfortunate fate of becoming the cause of human extinction. According to Dr. Cohen’s fifth thesis, the monster polices the borders of the possible, “the monster stands as a warning against exploration of its uncertain demenses.”. The monster serves as a warning to not interfere with genetics, or else the consequences could be harmful to society. It can be meant to teach the scientists in the film a lesson on why too much curiosity and exploration is dangerous.
Thus, the monster from Lawrence’s apocalyptic film I Am Legend was created by a humanmade cure for cancer, and to which then lead to an outbreak of a mutation that turns people into aggressive half vampire half zombie hybrids. Which serves as a warning on why one should not fiddle with mother nature and the biological aspects of things. The monsters succeeded in being scary nightmare inducing creatures because of its combination of realism and appearance. Zombies that have enhanced speed and strength that are capable of throwing a grown man around like a rag doll and surviving a fall from the roof of a building, and that bear a resemblance to humans are enough to scare the audience. Although, if we think rationally, we can conclude that this is pure science fiction that will stay as such, but anyone who enjoys overthinking movies and their underlying messages can see its parallels to reality.
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome, editor. Monster Theory: Reading Culture. NED – New edition ed., University of Minnesota Press, 1996. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttsq4d.The seven monster theses will be used in my essay to explain and compare the monster I am analyzing. I will be using thesis number three to evaluate how the monster does not fall into one single category. The fifth thesis will be used to support my claim that the monster was created out of human’s curiosity to cure cancer.
Clasen, Mathias. “Vampire Apocalypse: A Biocultural Critique of Richard Matheson’s i Am Legend.” Philosophy & Literature 34.2 (2010): 313-28. Print. Clasen is a scholar of horror fiction and has a PhD in literature and is a reliable source. This essay further explains and analyzes the movie I Am Legend. I will use this to support my analysis of my monster and further my research on the movie.
Lawrence, Francis. “I Am Legend” Warner Brothers, 2007. I will mainly focus on the movie interpretation of the monsters and the storyline. This movie tells the post-apocalyptic story of Robert Neville, a U.S Army virologist who seeks a cure for an infectious virus that has turned the population into vampire-like zombies. The film gives the monster more life and more nonhuman qualities that make the monsters scarier.
“The Vampire Diaries Katherine Fights and Abilities.” YouTube, 27 Jan. 2019, youtu.be/OUOtszGRwY8. I will use this clip of vampires from The Vampire Diaries to compare the vampires from the other movie to these. The vampires are presented more like human hybrids with enhanced abilities in this source. This will be compared to the characteristics and appearance of the vampires in the other source.
“WhatisBiotechnology • The Sciences, Places and People That Have Created Biotechnology.” WhatisBiotechnology.org,2019,www.whatisbiotechnology.org/index.php/timeline/science/CRISPR-Cas9. This is an online timeline on CRISPR which follows its development overtime from the year it was discovered to now. I used it to further explain it in my essay and how it ties to my monster. This is a reliable source because the website does not show ads and is not run by an organization that profits off of it.