Day 1003... Typical human behavior is now entirely absent.
This film (2007 directed by Francis Lawrence, Rated R, 101 mins), takes place three years after the accidental and catastrophic release of a genetically modified version of the measles virus. The original intent behind the creation of said virus was the elimination of cancer. In this purpose it was a success; however, the virus had some unexpected side effects.
"Six billion people on Earth when the infection hit. KV had a ninety-percent kill rate, that's five point four billion people dead. Crashed and bled out. Dead. Less than one-percent immunity. That left twelve million healthy people, like you, me, and Ethan. The other five hundred and eighty-eight million turned into your dark seekers, and then they got hungry and they killed and fed on everybody. Everybody! Every single person that you or I has ever known is dead! Dead!"
Imagine for a moment the magnitude of that set of statements. This movie was harrowing in its totally believable presentation of a world where a man is totally isolated from everyone. The cityscape of New York that we've all seen a thousand times are completely barren, ghostly as the wind whistles through the buildings all around you.
No shuffling footsteps of the beggar asking for your change...
Not even the hum of electricity...
Because in the city that used to house over eight million people, you are the last human being left, and for the last three years you have been utterly alone...
They work very hard in this movie to convey the crushing loneliness that any person would experience in such an environment. They show Dr. Neville (will Smith) forcing himself through a daily routine to try and keep balance in his life. They show him treating his dog (the only surviving member of his family) like his child, reminding it to 'Eat its vegetables otherwise its going to have to eat twice as many tomorrow' and such. But enough of my sprawl, let's get down to brass tacks.
The first scene of the movie, taking place in our post-apocalyptic world, is Will Smith driving a very nice mustang down the overgrown streets after a herd of deer. We then see him exit the car with his dog in tow, tracking the deer through the abandoned Times Square. All seems to be going well as they catch one unawares and Dr. Neville draws a bead on it only to get the jeebus scared out if him as a family of lions (presumably from the zoo), pounce on the deer and drag it away. Neville hears his watch alarm go off, looks at the sun, takes his dog and goes home. The thing I loved about this scene was how they used every aspect of it to make the world a lonelier place, from the abandon cars he has to maneuver around, to entire buildings covered in quarantine tents. The city is deliciously devoid of all traces of active human life.
The next thing we see is Neville's home after he abandons his hunt. For the most part it is surprisingly normal, with the exception of the bays of generators under his sink, he has pretty much all the conveniences that you and I enjoy today, including an iPod, running water, and a very nice Plasma TV. One of the most interesting thing about the film in my opinion was the things that he chose to have in his house. "Starry Night" is on the wall for instance, not a copy mind you, but the "Starry Night", presumably taken from a museum after the fall of mankind. Another interesting aspect of the scene is how basically normal his routine is. He gets home, eats dinner, tells his 'kid' (dog) to eat it's vegetables and punishes it with an extra bath when it doesn't. Everything is normal until the alarm on his wristwatch goes off again, for a moment we are lost in time with the character as we feel him trying to go out against the loneliness of his life and he is brought back to reality by the 'call of his child'. We find out in this scene that Neville's house is highly fortified with thick steel shutters over all the windows and weapons all around. The scene closes with Neville and the dog going to sleep in the bathtub, fully armed, listening to the screams of the monsters all around his home.
We now enter the flashback sections of the film where we see Neville's family being picked up by Neville in military convoy. During the ride his wife and he discuss the fact that the virus has gone airborne and that they are sealing off New York in a total quarantine. They also discuss that Neville will be staying, saying that New York is 'his site' and that 'he's not going to let this happen', while his daughter is in the backseat telling him "look daddy, it's a butterfly!!"...
Neville's eyes snap open and you see him wait a moment take a breath and the next story begins. We see more of him trying to live a normal routine. He gets up, exercises on a treadmill, with his dog on a smaller one next to him. Showers out and then we see him head downstairs to check in on his work. Neville enters a UV flooded room full of 'medical' equipment and we see him set his computer to record as he goes and check on a bunch of lab rats he has infected with KV and a new serum/cure? Some of them are dead, most of the rest of them are attacking the Plexiglas cages and one of them is well, acting like a rat. He notes that it's aggression is lowered, that it's getting pigmentation back in it's skin and that it's pupils are dilating. This scene was less disturbing than most simply because we see his work in this scene. When you see the rat's in this scene it's your first look an an infected critter, it's also our first chance to see how methodical he is in his work. It's also the first time we are introduced to the possibility of seeing one of the infected humans as Neville deems that his newest serum is ready for human trials.
So our second day of the film Neville starts with a quick morning trip to the movie store. When he gets there we see that he has mannequins set up outside the store, and even greets them by name on the way in. He goes in the store and drops his old movie back on the shelf and while he is getting the next one he seems to notice out of the corner of his eye a well dressed female mannequin in the adult video section. He stutters to the 'clerk' about her on his way out to gather corn with his pup. Next thing we see is him talking to his dog about not having anything to say to her, but eventually coming to the conclusion that he will talk to her tomorrow. The whole scene is very humorous and enjoyable as we again see Neville trying to keep up the threads of an ordinary life. It is in the same breath both utterly comedic and utterly tragic in that that character of course must realize that his illusions are only that.
The next scene starts with a voice over of Neville calling out to anybody left, promising food, shelter and security as we see him sitting at a very exposed northside pier and later hitting golf balls off of a very abandoned stealth jet, on a very abandoned air craft carrier. The dog then notices a deer running through the street below and the quest for fresh meat begins again! Sam (the dog) chases the deer into a dark building at which time Neville begins to panic because he knows that he's probably just lost his best friend. Against his fear he tracks the dog through the building to find the infected humans eating the deer before it's even cold. He makes some noise backtracking to find his dog and we have a full on running jumping out of a building escape at which point we see that the infected humans are very sensitive to UV as one gets burnt alive right in front of us. This scene was more than a little horrifying, greatly due to the fact that most of it takes place in near to complete darkness, and when you finally get to see the infected humans that are encircling the carcass of the deer eating the raw flesh in an almost synchronized fashion. Visually very, disturbing. I'm not quite sure how the infected were able to rip through deer hide with their bare hands, and I'm not sure I really want to know.
The next thing we see is Neville drawing a small vial of blood, locking the dog in the car, explaining to us that he can still get infected, and setting a trap for one of the infected people. He smashes his vial of blood on his trap for bait and waits. Soon enough we are hearing strange noises and somebody takes the bait. Neville knocks the infected human out with his rifle and right after that the 'alpah male' infected human walks out the door and screams at him as his skin starts to sear. He then retreats back into the darkness. The second time I saw the movie I realized that this was the personal throw down between the 'Alpha Male' and Neville and that this would definitely play out later.
The next scene is back in the lab and we see that he has chained his subject to a reinforced gurney and has sedated it at six times the normal amount. The subject still has a pulse rate of 200 bpm, a temperature of 106 degrees, and a severely accelerated breathing rate. You can tell that he is prepping his new serum for trial on this subject and as he injects the serum for a moment it seems to help but just as suddenly the subject has a seizure and dies on the table. Very frustrated Neville injects (adrenaline?) directly into the heart of the subject and after she resuscitates puts her in a Plexiglas room, seals up the room and makes his way upstairs. By far the most interesting and disturbing thing about this scene is the behavior of the infected human. Even at six times normal sedation it's still breathing as if it's running a marathon, every muscle looking tight enough to spring at any second and it's violent reaction to the medication is absolutely bone chilling. I think it even adds to the fierceness that it's a woman that he's captured. To me there is something about seeing ferocity or rage, that when it comes from a woman makes it more effective. At this point I believe that either there was an editing error in the movie or that it was implied that it was the end of the day because we see a couple of things in the next scene that really shouldn't be able to happen if the infected are completely allergic to sunlight.
The scene starts with Neville looking a map where we see several building are X'd out and we see him making obvious preparations to go outside again. The next thing we see Neville is rummaging through an empty apartment, checking the medicine cabinets, the cupboard, and the living room, he makes off with a bottle of booze and then starts on his way back out the door. On his way out of the building he notices a closed off room with a note on the door that says “Don’t Open Until Christmas”, as he opens it he sees that it is a nursery fully decorated, and obviously never used. You can see the guilt, pain, and grim determination painted across his face as he makes his way out of the apartment.
On his way home from the apartment ransacking Neville sees the same apartment building that he found the hive in and notices out of the corner of his eye that one of the dummies that he had left in front of the movie store. He immediately becomes agitated, taking his rifle out of the vehicle while he screams at the mannequin to ‘TELL ME IF YOU’RE REAL FRED!!!’, when the mannequin doesn’t respond he shoots it to pieces in the square and then realizes that the infected must have moved it there. Right after he realizes it didn’t get there on it’s own he sinks into immediate powerful paranoia and begins visually scanning the buildings around him as he looks for the infected. Momentarily losing his sanity he wastes a lot of ammo shooting the buildings around him succeeding in breaking a lot of windows. This is where the aforementioned editing error probably took place. You see while it is explained in the movie that infected dogs can come out at dusk, there should have been no way for the infected humans to move the mannequin except at night, and there was no verified ‘night’ sequence so we’re left to assume it’s a continuity error or that they simply didn’t chose to show Neville sleeping. After calm returns Neville examines the remains of the mannequin, as he steps closer for further examination he hears a snap and realizes that he is caught in the same snare trap he used for the infected. As he is lifted up in the air his head gets smacked against the ground and leaving him suspended, bleeding and unconscious. This scene was almost comedic right up until the very end, watching him open up and blow half a clip on a mannequin was satisfying and yet disturbing in the same breath.
In this flashback we see Neville and his family trying to make their way through the quarantine lines with the help of local solders. Desperation, panic, and fear are everywhere as the few people who realize what’s going on are trying to make their escape. The whole city port is being closed and only small, select groups of people are being allowed to leave. The chaos is absolutely believable from the perspective of the viewer.
Neville and his family make their way to the front of the lines and get scanned. Neville and his daughter are fine, but his wife comes back as a positive scan and the military starts trying to divide up the family almost immediately. Neville pulls rank on the present solder and demands that his wife be rescanned. They do so and this time she passes and the family is let through the lines.
They make their way out to the helipad and Neville sees his wife and daughter shuffled into the chopper. He reaches through the door, kisses them both goodbye and accepts the new puppy that he just got his daughter for Christmas because his daughter tells him ‘Sam will protect you!’. Neville breaks into tears as he sees the helicopter take off.
Neville wakes the ‘dusk’ alarm of his watch as well as the barking of his dog to realize that his situation is indeed dire. He is stuck quite a way in the air and dusk is nearly upon him. He reaches up and manages to cut the rope holding his leg but manages to stab himself with the knife as he hits the ground. He starts crawling his way back to his SUV with the knife in his leg as the infected humans appear at the broken window with several infected dogs on leashes. Neville crawls quickly telling Sam to get back in the car, Sam isn’t listening anymore. The infected release their dogs who continue to taunt ‘Sam’ as they are trapped for a few seconds behind a single beam of sunlight falling down between the buildings and Neville reaches his SUV and his pistol just as the sunlight dies and the dogs get to one another. Sam and Neville are able to kill the infected dogs but not before Sam is severely wounded, and therefore infected.
Neville gathers Sam back into the SUV and drives as fast as he can back to his lab. He gets the two of them down the stairs and injects Sam with the working animal serum as quickly as possible. He sits down with her on the floor, cradling her in his arms as he sings “Don’t worry about a thing” to her, but sure enough he soon sees the signs of the disease winning and in a few moments she is trying to kill Neville herself. Neville is forced to choke Sam to death as he sits there crying. Easily the most difficult scene of the movie to watch as you have to watch the character struggle with killing the only friend he has left in the world. I can’t even begin to imagine that pain that the character would be feeling as the soul crushing loneliness settles in on him and he realizes for the first moment that he is completely alone in his battle against the world.
The next thing we see is Neville back at the video store, keeping his promise to Sam. He walks right up to the mannequin in the fur coat and says “I told my friend that I would say hello to you today, so hello”. Neville stands there with a look of utter hopelessness on his face as the mannequin doesn’t respond. The tears begin streaming down his face as he says “PLEASE SAY HELLO TO ME, PLEASE SAY HELLO TO ME” to the uncaring doll. Another very difficult scene to watch but imperative because it shows us the humanity that Neville had been able to carry up until this point, the humanity which he is beginning to lose.
The next scene begins with a shot of the northside pier at night and someone sitting at the desk that Neville is usually at. We see many infected humans sneaking their way up the desk in the hopes that they are going to get a handy snack only to find that a surprise, albeit an ill-conceived one, is waiting for them. Neville fires up the SUV which now has UV lights blazing on top of it and floors it, slamming into and killing many of the infected but the ‘alpha male' is with this group and soon enough they destroy the lights and overcome Neville’s vehicle. Just as the 'alpha male' makes it’s way into the cap of Neville’s SUV there is a massive flash of bright light and the creatures flee. We see flashing images of Neville lying in a vehicle mumbling about "Staying out until dawn" and how “We can’t lead them back where I live”, and then he passes out after giving the driver his address.
At this point we jump back the helipad and we see the helecopter starting to take off. Neville watches as he see his family being lifted off to 'saftey'. As they get a little farther from the Helipad a jet blows by and launches a missle to take out the brooklyn bridge.
Neville watches in alarm as the jet speeds away and the bridge colapses. He alarm changes to horror as he watches another helecopter (the pilot obvioulsy panicked), careens into the helicopter carrying his family.
Neville awakes slowly in his living room to the sounds of breakfast being prepared. He looks down to find that his wound has been stitched and that he is comparitively alright. He gets up slowly and moves the bookshelf, takes a gun out of the drawer and makes his way out to the kitchen. He enters the room to see a woman and a young boy staring at the gun in his hand. He sets it down and joins them for a breakfast of eggs and bacon.
They eat in silence for some time but after a while they begin talking and Neville asks them where they came from. She tells him that they used to be out on a navy survival vessel, that they moved to Maryland after supplies ran out, and that they are on their way to Vermont where there is supposed to be a colony. Neville immediately gets incensed and tells her that there aren't any colonies because 'Nothing went the way it was supposed to go!'. When she disputes this he becomes even more angry and smashes his plate against the wall. The woman (Anna), jumps back with her son (Ethan), and draws her own gun.
Neville stares at her a few moments looks down at the food on the floor and apologizes, stumbling over his words, obviously very frustrated and upset. He tells them both that he is very sorry and gets obviously frustrated saying "I was saving that bacon!". He goes upstairs to cool off and when he comes back down he plays along with Shrek (on the TV) for few minutes. When Ethan looks back at him he says "I'm sorry, I just really like shrek", with a smile on his face.
Neville goes back into the kitchen and apologizes one more time to Anna. They begin talking again and she asks him if he is 'the' Dr. Neville at which point he says he is and takes her down to his lab to show her the work he's been doing. We see the same sedated creature as before and we see that he is prepping her for another injection of his serum. She asks him if he's found a cure and he says that the injection will most likely kill the creature but he is surrounding her with ice to try and bring her temperature down to make the drug more effective.
After this the two of them head back upstairs and notice that Ethan is asleep on the couch. Anna asks if there is any place that they can sleep and Neville leads them up to his daughters old room and puts Ethan in bed. Anna notices the pictures of the little girl and asks Neville who she is. He responds by telling her that she was named Marley, after Bob Marley.
Neville is amazed when he discovers that Anna doesn't know who that is and launches into what is obviously his favorite story about Bob Marley as he puts the record on. He explains that Bob Marley believed that hate and racism was a virus that could only be cured with love and music. He tells her how Bob Marley inspired him to keep going by telling her a story about how he was shot two days before a benefit concert that he was a part of, and even though he was shot two days prior he still performed anyway. Neville explains that when Bob Marley was asked why he still performed he responds with "The people who are trying to ruin this world, they don't take days off". It's right here that Neville exposes his personal philosophy when he looks her in the face intently and say "Light up the dark". What I loved about this scene was it shows us where Neville gets his cast iron will, and precisely why he feels so strongly that he must keep working to save whats left of humanity.
This is when Anna explains to her that everything that's happened between her and he is God's will. That it wasn't a mistake that she turned on the radio and heard his voice. That her search for sanctuary won't be over until she reaches the survivors colony. At this point Neville becomes completely enraged explaining to her that everything couldn't possibly be God's will because nothing went according to plan an there is no God. He begins to speak some more when all of the sudden he hears a shout from outside and realizes that the infected know where he lives now.
He and Anna rush to the window, open up a slit in his thick steel shutters and see that Alpha male leading a pack of infected right for the house. Neville runs to a panel and flips a bunch of switches turning on a bunch of UV floodlights he has set up around the perimeter of his house. The infected are able to knock a few of them over before the lights slow them down much and they punch a hole in his defense. Neville grabs another control and waits until the first wave of infected are even with his explosive barrels and vehicles and then detonates it killing most of the infected. Bad luck starts all over though as the explosion knocks a couple of Neville's shutters off the hinges and the concussion knocks him over as well, giving a couple infected time to get into the house.
The situation quickly goes from bad to worse as Neville saves Ethan from one of the infected and soon enough the three of themselves barricade themselves into the lab. The first thing they notice as they get there is that Neville's subjects seems to be showing definite signs of improvement as her breathing has slowed and pigment has started to return to her skin. At last Neville has found the cure! It's right then that several infected break into the lab and the three of them find safety in the last place they have left, which is a massive Plexiglas room that Neville uses for his experiments. The alpha male comes rushing down the stairs and sees Neville parked in the lab with his lady, and begins to smash through the Plexiglas and right away Neville notices that the shape of the cracks in the glass. They are in the perfect shape of a giant butterfly. Right then he flashes back to the moment of his daughter in the back seat telling him to "look at the butterflies". Chaos turns to silence as Neville realizes what he must do. He takes a quick blood sample from the cured patient and locks Ethan and Anna in a small heavily protected closet. As Anna makes room for Neville to get in he closes the door and tells her that it wont stop until they get him. He then walks over to his desk calmly pulling out a grenade. As they break through the Plexiglas Neville throws the grenade through and blows himself and all the infected in the vicinity up.
The next thing you see is Anna's vehicle driving down a country road and its light out. She stops when she gets to a barricade in the road and then you see the barricade open. She is welcomed into the survivors colony and you see her handing off the cure to someone. Then Neville gives a voice over explaining that he became legend because he died to save the rest of humanity.
In the Final Estimation
Ultimately the move is a satisfying experience, but the butterfly motif was a little overdone. That with the fact that the butterfly itself really has no personal reference beyond the fact that his daughter said it to him one day in the car makes that whole aspect of the film seem contrived. The fact that it came up so many times in the movie kept you looking for a deeper meaning with it. I suppose it could be argued that Nevilles character undergos some kind of transformation, but frankly he never so much as wavers from his primary conviction that he must be the one to fix this whole mess. The whole appeal of his character is that he is a titan, an unstoppable force of goodness who cannot and will not be moved.
Ultimately I enjoyed the film enough to buy it after I borrowed it from a friend, but you have to be willing to accept the fact that what is supposed to be one of the films more touching moments is going to feel plastic and fake.