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A Christian Review of Will Smith’s “I am Legend”

I was really looking forward to getting in and seeing “I am Legend.”  I am always interested in seeing other post-apocalyptic scenarios played out (my own is here).  Finally, last weekend I was able to see it.

In “I am Legend” a cure for cancer goes bad and a mutation results in the deaths of almost the entire human race.  Will Smith’s character works for the military as a geneticist of some kind.  He is the one tasked with finding a cure and a solution.  He fails.  Through an incredible stroke of luck, he is also one of the very few that are immune to the disease.  Most affected by the disease die.  Those who don’t and who are not immune essentially become new species.  This new species  can only come out at night, leaving Will Smith to cruise the empty and lonely streets of New York City during the day.

The movie does an excellent job of portraying Smith’s loneliness.   If you’re a Christian concerned about profanity and gratuitous sex, etc, you won’t need to worry about that here.  There is tension, suspense, and some violence, but nothing an adult couldn’t handle.   I wouldn’t take my 15 year old (if I had one).

The movie tries to play into questions of fate and theology but not nearly as deeply as it could have.  In one moment of powerful insight, Smith’s character carefully and correctly points out that this horrific turn of events in human history are the result of Man’s activity,  not God’s. This lesson is forgotten when later the same character argues that there is no God based on his absence in light of the devastating casualties inflicted by the disease.  I won’t dwell on this.  I’m not sure if I’d call this a flaw in the movie.  I find that reaction perfectly understandable and a matter of personal struggle, too.

Passing over the subtle and perhaps unintentional evolutionary mythology (ie, these ‘new species’) and the internal contradiction presented by it (what’s the point of ‘curing’ what is in fact a ‘new species’?), the movie raises something for everyone to be thinking about.  Christians, atheists, biologists, construction workers, etc.  Namely, the scenario of a ‘cure for cancer’ spiraling out of control is perfectly plausible.  Scientists are currently at work on all sorts of genetic projects ranging from cloning to genetic engineering, etc.   Imagine letting a toddler in to play with a nuclear bomb.  The toddler doesn’t know what it doesn’t know.

I am not advocating that we stop our research programs or anything of that sort.  I do note that the hubris implied in the movie is alive and well in the scientific community today.  Many look down their noses on the average man on the street and insist that the complexities involved can only be handled by experts.  Perhaps this is true.  However, in point of fact our scientists are playing about where they don’t know what they don’t know and  the more we do know the more we learn just how dangerous that could be.

Nor can we be certain that just because a person is a great researcher it doesn’t follow that they have a good grasp of ethics.  Good researchers brought us the atom bomb, the Tuskegee syphills project, and weaponized anthrax.   Sure, they’ve brought us some good things too.  I’m not denying that.  The question (perhaps unintentionally) put forward by I Am Legend is:  “Just because we can, does that mean we should?”  We may recall the same question emerging out of the the Jurassic Park series.

What we need is crystal clear transparency out of the researching communities and a willingness from those communities to submit to the democratic process, even if they find the average individual to be completely unable to grapple with the issues that are raised.   We can’t assume that every scientist has benevolent motives or even that “because it will save some lives” and so bless every endeavor that we find that we have the technical capability to do.  I Am Legend is just fiction, but the more we know about the march of technology, it may not take all that much for it to remain that way.  Nor is it reasonable to hope that if all hell breaks loose it just so happens that the ones who can make things right are also the ones who ‘luckily’ remain alive.

“I am Legend” web page:  http://iamlegend.warnerbros.com/ 

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