Uncovering the Meaning Behind the Elusive Cure in I Am Legend

I Am Legend focuses on Robert Neville, seemingly the last survivor of a pandemic turning humanity into vampiric mutants called Darkseekers. Neville spends his days finding a cure using the virus that caused the outbreak. But what does the cure really symbolize? Why did the movie change the original ending, and what meaning did that alteration lose? As both a tech geek and movie fanatic, I’ll analyze the deeper symbolism around the cure storyline and endings in I Am Legend.

Recapping Neville‘s Plight in I Am Legend

First, a quick plot recap for those less familiar with I Am Legend. The story follows virologist Robert Neville after a cancer cure based on genetically engineered measles mutates into an uncontrollable plague called KV, devastating humanity. The pandemic killed 90% of the population and turned 9% into the vampire-esque Darkseekers, who are severely harmed by sunlight. Neville seems naturally immune, leaving him alone in New York City trying to use the original engineered measles to develop a cure.

Neville‘s Character Arc in the Novel vs Movie

The original novel actually follows Neville over three years as he slowly transitions from confident scientific pioneer to a man plagued by trauma and doubts. But the movie condenses this character arc into a shorter timeline. While book Neville ends up a conflicted, depressed man, movie Neville remains driven and optimistic about his cure experiments right until the end. This key change seems meant to make film Neville a more conventional hero figure.

The Novel‘s Nuanced, Unsettling Ending

The original novel culminates in Neville realizing the infected have formed their own new society, with him as their feared monster and legend due to his cure experiments. Director Francis Lawrence described this as a "very, very bleak ending" where Neville realizes he is "the antagonist in their story." Neville accepts his fate and allows himself to be killed, realizing there is no place for him. This ending suggests perspective skews notions of good and evil – Neville causes great harm with good intentions.

Test Audiences Hated the Original Ending

However, test audiences reacted very negatively to the original ending according to Lawrence: "People were upset when he died because he had become this iconic figure that represented survival and the perseverance of the human spirit." So the ending was changed to portray Neville as sacrificing himself to save humanity after discovering his cure, casting him unambiguously as the hero.

Meaning Lost in the Theatrical Ending

While this version satisfies audience desires for a heroic finale, it loses the thoughtful nuance of the original ending. Director Lawrence acknowledged the altered ending was "fundamentally different" but felt Neville‘s character arc remained intact: "Yes, he‘s schonky and yes, the story has now changed. But I felt like it was okay and the spirit of the book was not lost." Do you agree with Lawrence? Or does changing the ending to make Neville an undeniable hero undermine the novel‘s morally gray themes?

Other Symbolic Elements in the Film

Beyond the changed ending, I Am Legend contains other symbolism around Neville‘s character. For example, his eerily lifelike mannequins represent the family he‘s lost. And his ritual ofDrag to Collectmannequin.jpeg hunting the Darkseekers at night reflects an uncontrollable drive. "He hates them, but he needs them at the same time," explained Lawrence. These elements underscore Neville‘s trauma and the fine line between his cure experiments seeming driven by noble intentions or obsession.

Using Past Pandemics to Give Context

While fictional, the scale of damage caused by the KV virus mirrors real pandemics. The Black Death in the 1300s killed an estimated 30-60% of Europe‘s population. And the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic infected 500 million worldwide, killing estimated 50-100 million. Like KV, these were novel viruses that spread aggressively in an immunologically naive population. KV mirrors fears of what an engineered pathogen could potentially unleash today.

Pandemic Estimated Death Toll
Black Death 30-60% of Europe‘s population
Spanish Flu 50-100 million deaths worldwide
KV Virus in I Am Legend 90% of humanity

Darkseekers vs Traditional Vampires

The Darkseekers also have key differences from vampires of legend:

Vampire Traits Darkseeker Traits
– Fanged bite to feed on humans – Infect through plague virus
– Immortal – Degrade over time
– Turned by another vampire – Turned by engineered virus
– Repelled by garlic, crosses, etc – Severely harmed by sunlight

So while vampiric in some ways, the Darkseekers have a scientific origin and nature closer to zombies infected by a rabies-like virus.

Is Neville a Selfless Hero or Dangerous Fool?

With the novel‘s original ending, Neville realizes the infected have evolved into their own new society, with him as their legendary boogeyman. He accepts that he caused great harm with good intentions. But in the theatrical version, Neville is an undeniable hero sacrificing himself to pass on a cure. So which is Neville really – a dangerously deluded man or selfless savior?

A Matter of Perspective

As a fellow tech nerd and cinephile, I don‘t think there‘s a clear answer here – it comes down to perspective. With the theatrical ending, Neville appears an altruistic hero similar to scientists who died handling deadly pathogens to advance medicine. But through the eyes of the evolved Darkseekers in the original ending, he seems a destructive monster harming their new society. When we believe we‘re doing good, it can blind us to harm caused to others. Both endings offer thoughtful perspectives on human nature.

The True Meaning Behind the Cure

In the novel‘s ending, the irony is the brutal legend Neville became was far beyond any cure he could conceive – the true change had occurred in the Darkseekers evolving, not his serum experiments. As Lawrence explained, the butterfly embodies this metamorphosis and "represents change and the fact that the creatures have changed and he‘s sort of stubbornly not changed with them." The cure drives Neville but proves only a destructive illusion by the story‘s end.

Verdict: The Theatrical Ending Falls Short

Personally, I found the original ending‘s morally gray analysis of Neville more compelling than making him an unambiguous hero. The ending was likely changed to satisfy audience desire for a more uplifting finale. But for me, it stripped away the nuanced symbolism around perspectives of good and evil. I respect where Lawrence was coming from, but the novel‘s ending stayed truer to its theme of evolution and humanity‘s flawed nature. The meaning behind Neville‘s cure is that we can create false monsters in the name of doing good.

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