I am Legend is a 2007 sci-fi thriller that tells the story of a military virologist trying to find a cure for a contagious virus that has turned people into vampire-like creatures. It’s based on the book I am Legend (1954) by Richard Matheson, to which Warner Bros has had the rights since 1970. In fact, in 1971, the company had already made a movie (The Omega Man) based on the book. The 2007 movie has two endings and differs quite a bit from the book. Before we get into that, let’s explore the story and the themes. Here’s the plot and the alternate endings of I Am Legend explained in comparison to the book; spoilers ahead.
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I Am Legend: Plot Explained
The movie begins with an off-screen voice that later reveals to be a TV. The news seems to announce the discovery of a successful cure for cancer derived from genetically modified measles. The woman talking on the TV is Dr Alice Krippin (Emma Thompson), the scientist who unintentionally brings humanity to its knees.
What are the creatures?
The creatures are infected humans. Later, as the movie reveals more and we connect the dots, we discover that the Krippin Virus (KV, as called by the protagonist) is highly contagious through all bodily fluids, touch, and is airborne. To worsen the situation, the KV affects animals too.
Once contaminated, the person (or animal) starts to lose all hair, and their skin becomes highly UV light sensitive, just like a vampire. They socially de-evolve and become mere animals of prey thirsty for blood and living in packs, or so we’re made to think. They’re incredibly violent and powerfully screech, which isn’t the best thing if you’re wearing headphones while watching the movie.
In I Am Legend, why is Robert immune?
Though the virus is highly infectious, some people are naturally immune to it, just like our protagonist. Such is the case even with a wide variety of viruses in real life.
Some people might ask an interesting question: “Why would it derive from measles? Wouldn’t it be more accurate to use rabies as the support for the new virus since the illness exhibits symptoms closer to the ones we see in the movie?” It’s an insignificant detail, but it might be a valid question to which we don’t have an answer unless we contact the writer.
The scene cuts to three years later, where we see shots of a desolate city: the post-apocalyptic New York. The squares, metro stations, streets, and houses are empty.
The only human presence we see is the protagonist, Robert Neville, a military virologist. He’s in a fast car driving with his loyal German shepherd, Samantha. They try to race a herd of deer running through the city. The scene is spectacular as the protagonist desperately tries to follow the herd and shoot one of the animals. The first attempt fails as the pack enters an abandoned traffic jam, where Robert is forced to stop.
He gets out of the car and starts looking for a deer. He’s slowly preparing to shoot the deer when a lioness steals his kill. Robert retreats when seeing the lion and two cubs approaching. But something more critical sends him home empty-handed, the watch beeping.
As he returns home to eat and bathe the dog, the watch on his wrist beeps again. This time, the protagonist slips into a brief moment of staring into the void, mute, deaf, and motionless. Thankfully, the barking snaps him out of it. He closes all the windows and doors with special steel panels and locks.
Why sleep in the bathtub?
I believe Robert wanted to ensure he slept lightly, as he’s always prepared for the worst. A cramped, cold, hard surface like a bathtub makes for a perfect place to get enough rest but not overdo sleeping. He sleeps with the dog and his trusty ole Automatic Riffle.
What is the watch for, and why is it essential for Robert?
The digital watch is an alarm to go home (if not already there) and barricade himself. The vampires are called Darkseekers because they seek the dark and avoid UV rays. So, when the night approaches and the last ray of sunshine disappears, they come out to look for food and ravage anything they can find. So, the clock reminds Robert to go to his safe place before night comes.
Flashback #1, the lab, and loneliness
Here’s where we have a brief flashback of when he picked up his daughter, wife, and dog to take them out of NYC as the island was being quarantined. We understand that the heart of the pandemic was NYC (“This is ground zero”, as the protagonist says) and that Robert was working on a solution. As he was driving his family to safety, a Darkseeker slammed himself against the car, causing his daughter Marley to scream.
This memory dream wakes Robert up, and after a workout, he descends into his underground laboratory. We find out that he’s trying to develop a cure for this disease. He’s recording the results of previous antidote trials on rats, but the results are awful. Nevertheless, one antidote seems to be successful: compound number 6. The rat didn’t die or continue to be a vampire. It simply returned to its normal state. Robert thinks the next step is creature trial.
Later, he’s stepping out to return a CD at the empty record shop where there are mannequins instead of people. He proceeds to talk to them as if they were alive.
He then goes to a desk on a pier overseeing the destroyed Brooklyn Bridge, where he records a message that he airs on the radio. The transmission encourages survivors who might hear it to come to the pier and join him as he can provide food, shelter, and other necessities.
In this segment, we find one of the film’s themes, loneliness. Societal collapse is a nightmare because humans are social animals and need to be with their kin. The entire movie conveys a sense of solitude that seeps through all the seems of the scenes.
How does the protagonist deal with that? Well, he speaks to his highly intelligent dog and replays news and TV recordings. The record shop scene is quintessential to understanding how loneliness is corroding the protagonist’s heart. For instance, he salutes the mannequins and even creates sceneries in his mind with one of the female mannequins pretending to be interested in her but too shy to say hello.
Also, music is a critical companion. Robert constantly plays “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley, which he later reveals as one of his favorite artists.
First interaction with the Darkseekers
Robert goes on another deer hunt which almost ends up grim as Sam follows the deer into a dark building. Robert goes into the block slowly, sweating profusely and quietly, calling out to Sam. He knows he’s in the lion’s den. Robert finds the dog and fights off a Darkseeker while waking others up. He runs and jumps off a window, landing on the vampire who previously jumped him. Robert then sets a trap to catch a monster for his lab trials. He captures the alpha female of the pack as the alpha male watches.
The specimen is taken to the lab, where Robert tries his antidote, but it doesn’t work. So, he brings her back to life as he records the results on videotape. Here we find that he’s been living on his own for 1001 days.
Flashback #2 and RIP Sam
Another flashback opens, and the evacuation of the city continues. At the island’s border, people get scanned by soldiers—Robert and his daughter test clear but not his wife. A second scan reveals that she’s negative, so they move along. They say goodbye, and Robert wakes up from his memory dream.
The creatures possess intelligence
He goes out with Sam and finds one of the mannequins moved. Robert shoots at it, but when he steps closer to investigate, he falls into a trap similar to the one he created earlier to catch the alpha female.
He passes out, wakes up, gets hurt, and fights off vampire dogs with Sam. Unfortunately, Sam gets infected and is killed by Robert as she transforms into a Darkseeker. He tries to save Sam with the antidote, but it doesn’t work.
Revenge, Flashback #3, and Anna
Robert goes on a purge of dark seekers with his car and almost doesn’t come back alive. The twist is that another survivor, Anna, who heard his message, came to save him.
What Happens To His Family? Why does the helicopter crash?
Robert’s family dies in an accident. The last flashback reveals that Robert’s daughter and wife died right at take off from the pier because of a collision with another chopper.
When Robert wakes up from his memory dream, Anna and the little boy with her, Ethan, look like his wife and daughter. While Anna tells him about the survivor reserve in Vermont, Robert is confused, angry, and hostile. The protagonist refuses to believe her and retreats upstairs.
Later that night, he explains to Anna that he’s trying to fix the damage the virus has caused. Quoting Bob Marley, Robert says he can’t take a day off as long as others won’t take a day off from making the world a bad place.
I Am Legend: Ending Explained (Theatrical)
The theatrical ending of I Am Legend shows Robert sacrificing himself to allow Anna and Ethan to escape with the cure, and they reach Vermont.
The Darkseekers follow the scent and trail of blood to Robert’s house, where he tries to deter them with powerful lights and bombs. He fights with the alpha male and retreats into the lab as the hoard of Darkseekers invades his home.
Robert, Anna, and Ethan retreat into the glass chamber, where the alpha female previously captured is heavily sedated. The Darkseekers try to break the window, and Robert realizes it’s over. But then, he discovers the antidote is turning the female into a person again. He’s found the cure!
He takes a vial of the female’s blood and gives it to Anna as he closes her into a little iron chamber.
What happens at the end? What happened to Anna?
Robert quickly looks at a family photo and clutches a grenade killing himself and the attacking Darkseekers. The next day, Anna and Ethan reach the reservation and give the vial to military officials. Humanity is saved.
I Am Legend: What is the alternate ending?
The DVD released in 2008 offers a new ending, where the Darkseekers retrieve the female specimen and leave Robert alone, who goes into the reservation with Anna and Ethan. Here Robert understands that these creatures have created their own society, and he represents a villain for them.
Now, if you’re a cinephile and spend some time on review channels, college paper help sites, and forums, you might notice that a percentage of people say that the book is much better than the film and that this ending is much more intellectual.
What does the butterfly mean?
The butterfly the Darkseeker draws on the glass is the tattoo on the Darkseeker woman’s arm. This scene shows us that Robert is the one who has been traumatizing them, kidnapping the Darkseeker’s mate.
They are not mindless zombies; they live in groups and have families. It’s the next stage in human evolution brought about by medical accidents. And Rober is the Urban Legend that has been their boogeyman. This ending is closer to the book and also explains the name I Am Legend.
I Am Legend: Book Vs Movie
The book’s plot differs from the movie, as many adaptations change the story a bit to fit specific audiences better.
The novel starts with the assembled group of survivors, and the vampires aren’t as troglodyte as the movie depicts. In fact, the vampires are humanoid and can easily blend into the human population. There’s a character, Ruth, who later reveals to be a vampire spy sent to destroy humanity from the inside.
At the end (similar to ending 2.0 of the movie), Robert understands he’s become the villain. The protagonist sees that he’s killed and tortured many of the loved ones of these hemocytes. Fatally wounded, he mutters the words “I am Legend” to indicate that he’ll be remembered negatively.
So why change the original so drastically?
Director Francis Lawrence revealed that they tested the 2.0 version (later released in 2008), and the test audience didn’t love it. They much preferred that the hero, in a typical Hollywoodian style, sacrifices himself for the good of humanity, thus remaining a positive character until the end. Meanwhile, the Darkseekers remain the antagonist group to be destroyed or reverted back to humans. Sad, isn’t it?
But the people who read the book found the ending much more intellectually stimulating because of the narrative changes in the novel. Hence the book’s ending makes much more sense, and it could be a psychological moment of self-reflection. The point where the hero is seen in a different light, from the vampire’s perspective, might have been more interesting.
Closing Thoughts and I Am Legend 2
Whether you liked the novel, the movie, or the 2.0 ending better, it’s clear that I am Legend is an experience. Moreover, thinking about where cinema was in 2007, having a movie that pushes you to dive deep and change your perspective, is quite innovative.
Lastly, Will Smith, now the producer, has planned a sequel to I am Legend in the indefinite future. But because of the ‘Chris Rock incident’ at the Oscars and the various projects excluding him, we might get I am Legend 2 sooner than we thought.
Did you like the film? What were your thoughts on the plot and alternate endings of the movie I Am Legend and the book. Drop your comments below.
Barry is a technologist who helps start-ups build successful products. His love for movies and production has led him to write his well-received film explanation and analysis articles to help everyone appreciate the films better. He’s regularly available for a chat conversation on his website and consults on storyboarding from time to time.
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