Saturday, July 24, 2010

I Am Legend: A Review

Here's the thing. I believe that Science Fiction (even the kind that has a bit of horror thrown in for a bit of spice) needs to be progressive. It needs to look forward, not backward.

And I am Legend fails utterly and completely.

But first - the positives. I love the movie with Will Smith, but they really shouldn't have changed the ending. The book ending was complicated, full of switched around perspectives, and absolutely brilliant (possibly the only thing that was brilliant in the novel). But really, the movie and the book are like two different universes - I guess, the movie would be like an alternate reality or something, where people were bearded (but not evil)...okay, nevermind, Star Trek references aside.

I think my biggest beef with I am Legend the book was its representation of women. And boy, did it leave a lot to be desired.

It begins with the vampire women doing this Sexy Dance in order to lure him out of his house. Naturally, he hates and despises them for this and describes them as "lewd puppets." He also targets the women vampires for his research methods, and he even asks himself why he only targets the women for his tests but then the issue is never really addressed When he meets Ruth (another problem entirely), he treats her cruelly, harshly, while imposing his own set of gender preconceptions on her that the story itself does not complicate or even question.

For example,

He had forgotten about sobbing women.

He grunted, getting the uncomfortable feeling that she was playing with him. That's ridiculous, he argued. She's just a woman.

How can she look at them so calmly, he wondered, ask me questions, make comments, when only a week ago she saw their kind tear her husband to pieces?

As he sat looking at her, she arranged the folds of the robe around her legs and he got a momentary glimpse of a brown thigh. Far from being attracted, he felt irritated. It was a typical feminine gesture, he thought, an artificial movement.

"Tell me about yourself," she said. Another typical feminine question, he thought.

It irritates me because the author highlights the emotions of women -- it's not just women he forgets, a woman's strength, a woman's resourcefulness, a woman as a person, but it's their sobbing. The idea is reinforced when he doesn't understand how she could just stand there calmly, asking him questions about the vampires outside his doorstep because she had just, supposedly, lost her husband to them a week before. Here, he expects her to be an emotional mess, incapable of reasonable thought, a being of pure emotions simply because she is a woman (in juxtaposition, Robert himself had to kill his vampired wife and survive on his own for three years; naturally, because he was a man, he never wondered to himself how he could still rationally function so soon after the tragedy of his wife and daughter).

The author also heightens the artificiality of women - her gestures simply cannot be...curiosity, they must be womanly and, because they are womanly and meaningless (which no...the bastard kidnapped her, why wouldn't she want to know more about him), Robert also labels them as artificial.

The story itself does not undermine Robert's own prejudices and hypocrisy (meaning, I don't care if a character is a misogynist pig, but if the story backs him up and says yes, he's right in his perception of women, that pisses me the hell off) because Ruth ultimately is a "fake" - she's not a woman, she's a bloody vampire. And even as a female vampire, she's still completely emotional ("She must have been startled by his cry then, even though she'd been expecting it, and forgotten all about her job [to spy on him]...")

A few months ago, I wrote an entry about Avatar and Pocahontas, how the idea of a woman falling in love with an outsider is a popular theme in American literature. I am Legend is no exception. Ruth, the vampire, falls in love with Robert.

She warns him of the vampires coming to execute him, she tells him that she was going to warn him again, that she was going to help him escape, and is glad that he is so brave before she gives him a kiss.

What. The. Fuck.

Even if Robert was afraid that Ruth was a vampire and thus was treating her so cruelly, that doesn't excuse the savagery of it. And why should she fall in love with someone so deeply she'd be willing to betray her people? She knew him less than a day. He killed her husband.

The way the author portrayed her "love" in the story - I'm not buying it. I find it mildly insulting. Perhaps if she believed that his execution was wrong, perhaps if she wanted to not birth their new society with violence -- and yet, despite the thousands of living vampires Robert has massacred he's giving HER a lecture about violence! -- and wanted to save him out of principle instead of out of love - that, I could understand. That I could respect.

But no. A kiss in the dark and she suddenly loves him. She's not even a person - she's always and completely a tool: used to spy on him, used to love him. Again, her emotions are highlighted - she is incapable of reason (even her decision to help try to minimize the violence of the new society is because Neville asks her to, not because she believes it's wrong). His perception that she is a "brainless convert" is never really refuted by her actions...she simply, always succumbs to her emotions. Instead of complicating stereotypes, it simply reinforces them.

No comments: