He had lost his family, and his entire way of life. He came face to face with evil and he pondered to himself, “Why has God allowed this to happen?” It is the essential question that everyone asks of tragedy. It is not simply a question of philosophical investigation or even of theological study, but the cry of the broken heart. You may think I am speaking of Job, the “righteous man” of Scripture, but I am actually referencing Robert Neville, the main character of the new to DVD movie I am Legend, a gripping and intense thriller with an amazing ending (warning: spoilers below).
In I am Legend Will Smith stars as a military virologist. Neville is the last man remaining on earth after a deadly virus sweeps the globe clean. Of course, that’s not quite true. There are other living beings, but they are not human. They were once human beings but now the virus has ravaged them and turned them into monsters: “Dark Seekers.”
As I sat and watched this amazing film I was captivated by the story, intrigued particularly by the significance placed on the role of human relationships, of friendship and communication. At various points in the movie this theme is brought out. Robert Neville’s only living companion in the film is a dog, Sam, whom he regularly talks to like a human being and deeply loves. Beyond this there are manikins stationed all around town which Neville talks to as though they are alive. His mind is slowly being swallowed by his isolation and when he finally meets with two other individuals he hardly knows how to relate to them (think Tom Hanks in Castaway). But my attention was abruptly diverted from this line of thinking when this new character, a woman, comes into the scene to describe how God had told her to come and find Robert Neville.
The woman, Anna, begins to speak to Neville of God’s “plan.” God told Anna to turn on the radio and in so doing she heard Neville’s broadcast explaining who and where he was. God’s plan was set in motion for Anna waited all day to meet Robert and only when he is about to kill himself does she meet him, saving his life. As the story progresses there is a confrontation between the two characters. Neville, who prays with his family in the beginning of the film, has abandoned God. If God does exist then He is cruel for unleashing this disease upon humanity and wiping out everyone he loved. God is evil! But for Anna God has a plan and he has brought her into Neville’s life for a reason.
Anna believes that there is a commune of survivors living in Vermont and she urges Neville to come with her. Neville refuses to believe. It is at this point, near the end of the film, that something amazing happens. While saying goodbye to his family, just before the effects of the virus had been fully realized, Neville’s daughter, with tears in her eyes, kisses her daddy goodbye and shows him her butterfly. The symbol re-appears, surprisingly at the end of the movie. The creatures have finally cornered Neville and Anna in a plexi-glass room. One creature, in an attempt to break the glass and get to Neville, has begun thrusting his body into the door. The resulting image from the cracked glass is nothing less than a butterfly, which corresponds with he butterfly tattoo on Anna’s neck. In that single moment Neville realizes the truth, “God does have plan,” and he gives the cure for the virus, which he has just discovered, to Anna and sacrifices himself to save her. She is to take the cure to Vermont and there save humanity.
Of course the recurring “symbol” is a bit cheesy, and even typical of films dealing with “greater significance” and “divine plans.” But here what caught me as breathtaking was the movie’s ability to raise the question “What is the relationship between God and evil?” It was the question that Job had, and the question that every reader of Job has. How does God relate to evil without being evil Himself? Those who have read the book know that the Bible does not answer the question satisfactorily. Instead of explaining why He has allowed evil God simply reiterates His sovereignty over all things! The same is true in I am Legend. God’s explanation for evil is nowhere to be found, but the truth that He is sovereign over it remains intact.
God rules, even where evil corrupts. He sent Anna. He spared Neville’s life. He gave him a sign. And God made a way for the cure to be sent to the right people. While Neville contemplated the darkness He could not see God’s sovereignty, but when Anna showed him the way there was the light. So perhaps there is something more to the idea of “friendship and socialization” in this movie after-all.