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Children of Men and I Am Legend: The formal similarities of these two films accentuate a stark contrast in how each represents a world shaped by the Anglo-American neoconservative movement. A comparative analysis of Children and Legend provides a glimpse into the political stakes of cultural representations of neoconservatism.
The first section examines the metaphysics of each film. Characteristic of neoconservative ideology, Legend offers the moral palliatives of Christianity to allay and even justify the dubious workings of disaster capitalism. Despite its religious allusions, Children presents amaterialist worldview not ordained by the heavens.
I use their work to illustrate how Children and Legend represent political space in diametrically opposed ways. Children takes place in London in , eighteen years after a pandemic of infertility renders humankind unable to produce offspring.
In the face of impending extinction, Theo Faron Clive Owen , a white, middle-aged bureaucrat, helps Kee Claire-Hope Ashitey , a black, inexplicably pregnant refugee, rendezvous with the Tomorrow , a ship belonging to the Human Project. Only one middle-aged man has supposedly survived the double-catastrophe of plague and monster invasion, Robert Neville Will Smith , an African American Lieutenant Colonel of the U.
Both films are thus set in major Western cities in the near future with main characters who pay the ultimate price hoping to reverse the catastrophic effects of a pandemic that incidentally struck in In a genre prone to religious allegory like end-of-times science fiction, these sacrifices carry Christ-like significance. I problematize reading Children as a religious allegory at the end of this section. For now, I turn to Legend also released during the Christmas season to raise the political implications of its Christ figure.
In the penultimate scene when the dark seekers attack, Neville, Anna, and Ethan convert a walled-in space of his lab into a panic room. Neville typically uses this enclosure to secure infected subjects that he has captured for his vaccination tests. Look, I can save you. I can save — I can help you. You are sick, and I can help you…I can fix this.
I can save everybody…Let me save you! Let me save you! Social de-evolution appears complete. Typical human behavior is now entirely absent. The abrupt pronoun change announces a discursive shift in his rhetoric from science to religion. Such nitpicky attention to linguistic detail might be insignificant in and of itself; however, the next scene indicates that Christ may very well return as a military scientist. The key scene occurs right before the dark seekers attack: Come with us, Neville…to the colony.
Everything just fell apart. There was no evacuation plan… Anna: There is a colony. How do you know, Anna? I said, how do you know? How could you know? He has a plan. Yes…I know how this sounds… Neville: But something told me to turn on the radio. Something told me to come here. My voice on the radio told you to come here, Anna. You were trying to kill yourself last night, right? And I got here just in time to save your life.
He must have sent me here for a reason. The world is quieter now. We just have to listen. Accordingly, he pulls the pin of a grenade and runs at the dark seekers, transforming himself from skeptical scientist to savior-cum-suicide bomber. Because fundamentalists regard their beliefs as knowledge, they can justify any act, however horrific, as divinely sanctioned. Moreover, the fundamentalist conflation of belief with positivistic knowledge imperils the status of belief an ironic inversion of the traditional fear that science undermines religion.
Anna may believe and Neville may convert, but they could also be delusional. Tellingly, the point of view passes from Neville to Anna in this scene, shifting from the subjectivity of a skeptic to the objectivity of a fundamentalist. Anna, the audience is asked to believe, is not a traumatized survivor suffering from supernatural delusions; God has truly spoken to her and sent Neville, as Christ, to die for her.
Robert Neville dedicated his life to the discovery of a cure, and the restoration of humanity. On September 9th, at approximately 8: We are his legacy. This is his legend. Like Neo Keanu Reeves in The Matrix , Neville fulfills his role as chosen one to restore humanity to its prelapsarian state.
In true romantic fashion, the salvation of an individual doubles as the salvation of humanity. Anna, Ethan, and the rest of civilization owe him their existence; they are his legacy. Although infused with religious themes, Children defends the secular principles of the Enlightenment. The next scene, in which Theo questions Kee about her pregnancy, juxtaposes this religious setup.
Cha, be wicked, eh? Her child may be a miracle, but Dylan is certainly not the second coming. Whereas Neville moves from disbelief to faith in a plan God has laid out for him, Theo develops from gullible believer to existential hero, to someone who courageously acts without any metaphysical guarantees.
He takes responsibility for helping Kee reach a human project spearheaded by a group of scientists. Like yin and yang. Or Shiva and Shakti. Look, Julian and Theo. Yeah, there you go. Julian and Theo met among a million protestors in a rally by chance. But they were there because of what they believed in in the first place, their faith.
They wanted to change the world. And their faith kept them together. But by chance, Dylan was born…Their faith put in praxis… Miriam: He was their sweet little dream. He had little hands, little legs, little feet. And in , along came the flu pandemic.
And then, by chance, he was gone. But, you know, everything happens for a reason. But Theo and Julian would always bring Dylan. He loved it here. This scene demonstrates a crucial difference in the two primary characters' belief systems. Miriam is New Ageist. She meditates, prays in a mix of creeds like an omnist, and believes in a universe guided by conflicting binary forces like premodern cosmologies which pit a masculine against a feminine principle. As an aged hippie, Jasper and his supposed witnessing of a UFO — a story Miriam shows extreme interest in hearing — does not appear to offer much of an alternative.
In the above scene, Jasper affirms a dialectical ontology that is at odds with Christian, New Ageist, and naturalistic worldviews. Jasper supports a dialectical ontology by giving Dylan the paradoxical status of an object of both faith and chance. As Marx famously explained: Acting to change contingent circumstances forms the basis of a dialectical ontology, of which Children exemplifies and Legend lacks.
The fact that Legend is a Christian allegory does not make it inimical to a leftist understanding of catastrophe and the cultural representations catastrophe inspires. An apocalyptic film need not be an opiate for the masses. Read exclusively as a Christian allegory, Legend merely develops one strain of the scrambled allegorical code of its cinematic predecessor, The Omega Man Legend should be of concern for leftists not because of its religiosity per se, but for its marriage of fundamentalist Christianity with neoconservatism.
The confluence of Christianity and neoconservatism cannot be properly understood without reference to neoliberalism as a political economic ideology. As David Harvey writes, neoconservatives. In this section, I argue that Children contests the neoliberal ideology that Legend upholds. Ostensibly, Children and Legend say very little about contemporary capitalism. Since the catastrophes in each film are not economic in origin, a straightforward Marxist allegory is not possible.
Christological allegories aside, we simply do not know who or what is ultimately responsible for jump starting the end of the world. The characters in Children discuss possible theories about what caused the infertility but none are verified. The culprit of the mutated virus in Legend is also unclear.
If humanity is culpable, did the government or the private sector fund the genetic modification of the measles virus?