Sunday, October 9, 2011

I Am Legend: Psychoanalytic Doubles

Like Contagion, Black Death, Outbreak, 12 Monkeys, The Help, Rise of the Planets of the Apes and any number of other films, the 2007 hit I Am Legend involves the spread of disease. In I Am Legend, it's a man-made disease which results in the effort to eradicate cancer and our natural desire for control is what unleashes all of the monsters.
Robert Neville being baited by the infected when one of his "mannequins" has been moved. This happens to each of us, every single day. When we ourselves are "infected," we can't treat other people as other people because we are not in touch with our own humanity, that is what "being sick" means spiritually; so when we are sick, we treat everyone as if they are sick, too, i.e., as mindless, emotionless mannequins, who can do no more for us than they can for Robert in I Am Legend. When Robert makes that desperate appeal to the female mannequin in the video shop, that's like anyone one of us making an appeal to another person but being unable to "connect with them" because of the wounds of our self and their self both getting in the way. In the above shot, when "Fred" has been taken out of the zone where Robert has placed him, Robert is upset and "his demons come out to get him," because when we lose a little bit of control in our lives, (the sicker we are) the less we can deal with it and we "lose it" and we become weaker and our demons become stronger.
One of the two most important moments of the film is as Robert Neville (Will Smith) puts his wife and daughter aboard a helicopter so they can be evacuated as he stays behind to research (since he's immune from the disease). As he watches, the helicopter crashes, killing them both. The rage, anger, sadness, loneliness and despair which comes into his soul as a result is the psychoanalytic double of the “alpha male” of the “infected” who lives in the darkness and shadows, the shadows of Robert's own soul. The second most important part is Robert's healing: the part at the end where the alpha male (as he's described in the script) and Robert "crash into each other," is Robert's letting go of his anger and sadness so it's not threatening him anymore; in other words, like a caterpillar and butterfly, the two come back together into one, unified whole.
On the left is the "alpha male" and Robert Neville (Will Smith). This is literally a part of Robert's own soul, controlling him, feeding off of him and "infecting him." Another way in which we can understand Robert being "an alpha male" is when his wife is scanned for the virus and she comes up positive and Robert, a high-ranking military official, commands the officer to scan her again and he does. The "alpha male" role, then, almost suggests that if Robert hadn't used his authority and his wife hadn't been re-scanned, she would have had to have stayed and maybe would have survived with Robert; this "tension" is a part of Robert's intense psychological turmoil that he is to blame for her death.
The purpose of the film, then, as is always the case of the psychoanalytic double, is for the main character to achieve unity. As I am starting out the “monster month” in anticipation of the Feast of All the Hallowed, and the victories they won and inspire us to win in our own lives, I will be citing the psychoanalytic double constantly. We have all ready touched upon it briefly in The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow and the Battle For America, where I stated that the Headless Horseman is Ichabod Crane because Ichabod has “lost his head” to superstition; likewise, in Se7en and the Eighth Deadly Sin, I posited that John Doe (Kevin Spacey) is really a psychoanalytic double for Detective Somerset (Morgan Freeman). Robert Neville in I Am Legend has the monster as his double because it's not really a deserted New York City that he's living in: he's living in the deserted space of his soul.
The desertion that is Robert's soul.
How can I state that this vampiresque creature is a part of Robert?
First, Robert does to the alpha male what was done to him. In trying to find a cure, Robert baits a trap for one of the infected; the alpha female, the mate of the alpha male, takes the trap and she's lifted into the air and taken away from the alpha male. This is exactly what happened to Robert, his wife was "baited" with security and she was taken up into the air and away from him. The rage which consumes the alpha male is actually the rage within Robert that his family was taken from him. When Anna and Robert retreat into the basement lab to runaway from the infected, the alpha female is now responding to one of the treatments. This symbolizes Robert's wife, Zoe (Salli Richardson), who is revived because of the cure of Anna bringing friendship and compassion back into Robert's life. As the alpha female revives, the alpha male dies, because it's Robert's soul mysteriously being healed and gaining strength against his demons.
The death of his wife and child just at the moment that he thought they were going to be safe from the certain death of the disease is an inherent inner-struggle for humans: in trying to eradicate cancer, the film reveals, a worse disease was created that killed more people; in trying to get his family to safety, an accident happened that killed them anyway. In our human attempts to control events, preserve our lives and alleviate our sufferings, we often do more harm than good.
Krippin (Emma Thompson) explaining how she "cured cancer" (to view the cure for cancer video clip here): "The premise is quite simple. Take something, designed by nature and reprogram it to make it work for the body rather than against it... The best way to describe it is, if you can imagine your body as a highway and you picture the virus as a very fast car being driven by a very bad man, imagine the damage that car can cause. Then if you replace that man with a cop the picture changes and that's essentially what we've done," and nearly three years later, everything is wiped out. This is important dialogue because this is the exact visual imagery the film provides for us: Robert driving his red mustang very fast down the deserted roads of New York (you can see this in the trailer clip above).
Robert and the German Shepherd Sam(antha) in Robert's red Mustang. When Sam becomes infected and Robert has to strangle her to death, it symbolizes how Robert has gotten closer to the infection within his own soul and he can no longer just use his reason (which the intelligent dog symbolizes) to continue his soul's journey; he needs greater spiritual guidance, and that is the love of friendship Anna provides and forcing the "infected" out of the shadows of his soul, but his reason is no longer enough.
So if the film presents us with this image, is Robert actually the bad guy, the virus?
We have to deduce that he is because the other person in a speeding car is Anna (Alice Braga) with her son Ethan (so in this aspect, she's Robert's exact opposite: female, has a son, no husband, not stationary, looking for a haven with other humans). Anna in the speeding car trying to save Robert is the "cop" who is policing the situation Robert is in. Robert, by holding onto his anger and sadness over his wife's death, is damaging his own soul (a spiritual cancer) because he won't let go; Anna, however, can see the damage he is doing and tries to help him, so in this way, the "theory" of Dr. Krippin is correct in spiritual terms and is what the entire film is about.
Anna fixes Robert eggs and bacon for breakfast: the eggs symbolize new life and the bacon is his appetites (which are usually a bad thing, until you have become so ascetic like Robert that you forget how to be human, so he needs to learn how to enjoy life again). Robert can't even recognize a special occasion anymore (finding other people). In this shot of her, Anna wears a blue shirt, symbolic of wisdom and, I believe, she has a butterfly tattoo(?) which symbolizes "rebirth," for her, Robert and humanity.
A really good argument against this interpretation is that Anna accidentally leads the infected back to Robert's house and they attack, so how could she be doing something useful? In the spiritual progression of the soul, however, we have to face the monsters, we have to face the sins, the wounds, the demons, because if we don't know what it is we are fighting, then we aren't fighting at all, but when we face it, that "sheds light on it" and, as we know, the infected can't stand the light because it burns their skin (incinerates them like vampires). Just as in Black Death, someone who thinks they are not infected actually is infected with a far worse (spiritual) disease than physical ailment.
In this shot above, Robert, in the bathtub, knows where to go to find grace (the tub symbolizes the cleansing of the soul, but as it's empty, there is no grace to heal the wounds of the soul). Robert, like most of us, is making his "infection" worse by clinging to his reason (which Sam symbolizes because German Shepherds are known for both loyalty and intellect) and his weapon; the weapon symbolizes his fear of his enemy (hence Robert's weakness), he fears the damage he thinks the "infected" can do to him, but in focusing on them, he doesn't realize the strength which he has within to heal himself and that's why he needs Anna.
That's correct, Robert's not alone. It seems like the "infected" are the ones not making him alone, however, the infection within him is what's keeping him from everyone else. What makes him "not be alone," is that Anna is there and helping him. The kind of prophecy of his little girl, Marley, talking about the butterfly just before she dies, is symbolic of the strength and healing powers of the child-like faith that is a part of Robert, and a part of us all.
In conclusion, Robert Neville is able to "discover a cure," because he himself is healed, and his ability to interiorly overcome his monsters is the greatest battle that each and everyone of us must engage in every moment of our lives, whatever our particular war (the loss of a loved one, frustrated dreams, abuse, depression, health problems, whatever our cross is) we have to face our monsters within and have the courage to know that we cannot be defeated when our strength comes from love.