I am Legend – discourse analysis of alienation.

Posted: November 16, 2014 in Mediated Lives

I am Legend (the remake) was released in 2007, directed by Francis Lawrence and starred Will Smith as Robert Neville. Neville is a brilliant scientist and a survivor of a man-made plague that changes humans into blood thirsty mutants. As the only survivor in New York, he wanders the city in the hope of finding other survivors, while also attempting to find a cure for the plague that has decimated the human population. Although there are many films based on post-apocalyptic survival, I am Legend is one of a few films in which the ‘hero’ is the only human in the film for most of the time.

Figure 1

Figure 1

There are many underlying discourses in the film but perhaps the most critical is the discourse of alienation. This theme takes three main aspects of alienation – alienation from social interaction, alienation from ourselves as human beings and alienation from the natural world. The first form of alienation present in the film is linked to the lack of social interaction, as Neville wanders the streets of New York, desperate to find human company. Although he is accompanied by his faithful dog Sam, Neville still craves human interaction.  In order to relieve this isolation, he talks to shop dummies. He ‘flirts’ with one of the female dummies, imitating interaction.

I am legend main

Figure 2

This scene highlights the desolation and loneliness the main character feels as he says to the mannequin “Please say hello to me.” The sense of alienation is beautifully played and perhaps something that audiences could relate to. There is the idea here that many people are alone and desperate for human contact, for someone to “say hello to them”.

The discourse of alienation continues as John Neville encounters one of the mutants. There is a key moment in the film when he comes face to face with the mutant and it is here that the idea of discourse from our own ‘humanness’ can be debated. The evil, self-willed sadistic nature of the mutants could almost be a mirror image of ourselves, as we as a human race, continue to destroy, make war and kill each other as religion, inequality, injustice and greed ‘plague’ our societies and countries. If we are to survive and prosper in the future, we need to alienate ourselves from this uncaring, thoughtless aspect of our humanness.

Figure 3

Figure 3

A further link to the discourse of alienation relates to our continuing alienation from the world in which we live. In the film, scientists ‘mess with’ nature to find a cure for cancer, with catastrophic results. As one of the scientists says:

“Well, the premise is quite simple – um, take something designed by nature and reprogram it to make it work for the body rather than against it.”

Figure 2

Figure 2

It may be far-fetched but as we continue to abuse and ‘reprogram’ nature for our own benefit, we risk alienating ourselves from the natural world and the consequences of this are still unknown.

‘I am Legend’ provides a rich discourse analysis of alienation from others, ourselves and the planet on which we live.


Figure 1 – http://moviepilot.com/tags/i-am-legend-reboot

Figure 2 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yEs1gi9Dmqc

Figure 3 – http://www.blastr.com

Figure 4 – http://imlegend.wikia.com/wiki/Alice_Krippin



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