September 11, 2015

The Last Man On Earth: An Argument For Insanity

This past week on Here Be Spoilers, Larry, Jake, and I sat down to watch Vincent Price in 1964's The Last Man on Earth.

She's being watched over by Edgar Winter!

For those of you unfamiliar with the film, it is the first of three films that were based on the Richard Matheson (thanks, Barry!) novel, I Am Legend, the other two being The Omega Man with Charlton Heston, and, of course, I Am Legend starring Will Smith.

While I haven't seen The Omega Man yet, although it is on our list of films to watch for the show, I have seen I Am Legend. And though I didn't much care for it, the story is pretty straightforward, showing Will Smith's character trying to maintain his sanity while he works alone on the deserted island of Manhattan to find a cure for the plague that has turned millions into what appear to be poorly-rendered CGI zombies that were rejected from the original Resident Evil game. His primary focus, other than not going crazy, is trying to find the cure.

And going for walkies!

And, if you've seen the movie, you know how it ends. I don't want to give away too much, but everything explodes (literally) and everyone dies. It's a real "feel good" kind of movie, on par with Fried Green Tomatoes, is what I'm saying.

The main idea, though, is that Smith's character (I cannot remember if his character has the same name as Vincent Price's in The Last Man on Earth, and, honestly, I don't care enough to look it up) is focused on getting things done so he can get his family back.

This is very much not the case in The Last Man on Earth.

You see, I have a theory. And, although it may seem like I'll be trying to be funny with this in order to keep it light, I think it's still a legitimate argument that requires some serious consideration.

Before I go too deeply into it, let me outline the plot as I saw it, and then we can get on with the theory itself.

The short version.

Vincent Price is Dr. Robert Morgan, a virologist who is alone in his (unnamed) town. Well, as alone as he can be with dozens of vampire-like pale people lurching around and gathering at his house at night to demand he come out so they can, I don't know...Maybe kill him or something. It's never really established what they have against him, although a look at his other activities might be an indicator.

During the day, Dr. Bob (as I call him) drives around in his station wagon, gathering bodies of those who have succumbed to the virus, driving them to the giant pit where the army was dumping them, and burning them. The fire is constantly going. He also drives around (there is a lot of driving going on in this movie) and finding people who, while stricken with the virus, have yet to die. When he finds them, he kills them by hammering stakes through their hearts with the most effeminate swing ever recorded on celluloid. It must take hours to just kill one vampire/zombie.

The rest of his time, which, after these activities, really isn't a whole lot, is spent making new stakes on his lathe, trying to contact anyone who might be listening with his ham radio, and, when he's finally run out of other stuff to do, trying to find the cure. He really doesn't spend a lot of time doing the one thing that you would think he should be completely focused on.

Science-y stuff!

At one point in the film, while car shopping (because the zombie/vampires took it upon themselves to tear his car to pieces), he finds a labradoodle and chases it around for a while. When he discovers it, too, is infected, he stakes it and buries it.

Then there is the flashback sequence, which felt like it took up about a third of the movie, where we see that Dr. Bob's wife and daughter, as well as his work colleagues also fell to the virus. In one truly heart wrenching scene, he tries to keep the Army from throwing his daughter's body into the giant fire pit. That's the basic idea of the flashback, but it was way longer.

Finally, he sees a woman (Ruth) and chases her down, piles her in the car, and takes her back to his house, where he gives her a transfusion of his own blood and then threatens her with garlic. (Because vampires.) She claims that the garlic only bothers her because she has a delicate stomach, but we then find out that she is infected. However, before he can turn her into a potsticker, she explains that she has been working with another group of scientists who are also working on a cure, and they've made some progress. Their serum allows an infected person to keep the virus in check with injections. While not a cure, it's certainly a step in the right direction.

For some reason, however, the scientists don't think he's made enough progress and decide that he needs to die. After a chase and a shoot-out, he is trapped in the church where his wife's body is kept in a coffin, and they spear him with a metal spike, killing him.

Should not have gone to Taco Bell before the big shoot-out.

Now we come to my theory and the reasons behind it.

To put it succinctly, I believe that everything that we see in the film is a hallucination in Dr. Bob's mind, possibly brought on by the death of his daughter, and, as a result, he has become a serial killer that is going on a rampage. The only way he can be stopped is for him to be trapped by an undercover police officer (Ruth) who allows herself to be taken hostage, in order for her fellow police officers to track Dr. Bob and bring him to the equivalent of whatever passed for justice in 1964.

Let's look at the facts:

1. Everything we see is from Dr. Bob's point-of-view, and everything seems somewhat off-kilter. When his house is surrounded by the vampire/zombies, the one who leads the group is his closest coworker, which seems unlikely to me. This guy stands outside the door, hitting it with a piece of wood and shouting "Bob...come out..." in the most bored-sounding way I have ever heard. Speaking as someone who has seen no small amount of zombie movies, it's pretty much established canon that they don't talk. They grunt, growl, and moan.

2. Although he is supposed to be searching for a cure, he is shown doing almost no medical-type work at all, outside of the flashback scenes where he is in the lab before the the outbreak took his wife and child. Instead, he drives around, looking for bodies to burn.

3. This is the big one: When he runs out of bodies to burn, he goes and makes new ones. There is a good two- or three-minute montage of him driving, kicking in doors to find someone screaming, and him coming at them with his hammer and his stake. Are the people screaming because they are in the grip of this mysterious virus? Or are they terrified that an insane man kicked in their door and is there to make them into kebabs?

Is this the activity of a sane, rational mind?

4. When his car is destroyed (by an angry mob?), he just saunters out and steals a new one. As he is looking, he gets easily distracted by a small dog and gives chase. As he runs around town trying to catch it, his inner monologue keeps insisting, "I must find that dog! I must find it!" And when he finally does, he almost immediately decides it is "infected", and kills it with a wooden stake, wraps it in a blanket, and buries it in his back yard. (With the stake still sticking out of the blanket!)

5. Speaking of the stakes, he also has a serious OCD complex that requires him to make dozens of these things on a lathe in his garage every single day. And by the end of the day, they are all gone. His bloodlust cannot be sated!

6. When he meets Ruth, his immediate reaction is to assume she is infected, and he shoves a string of garlic into her face. And while she says she doesn't like the garlic because of her tender stomach, he uses her reaction as an excuse to justify killing her, saying she has the disease.

7. When the other "scientists" come looking for him and interrupt his attempted murder of Ruth, none of them are seen from the front. They are faceless men in black, waving machine guns around and shooting at him. I would not have been surprised to see one of them turn around to reveal a badge on the front of their shirt. And how many roaming groups of scientists (that's a real thing, right? Like free-range scientists?) wander the countryside strapped with automatic weapons?

The Nihilists from The Big Lebowski have had enough.

8. His death takes place where he keeps his wife's body. Although his flashback claims she died, we don't actually see her when she is dead. Is it possible that she is alive in that coffin, and he ran there to use her as a potential hostage in order to escape capture?

Now, I realize all of this is just speculation, but when taken as a whole, it presents an interesting possible alternative to the original story. Everything that we see could just be the deranged thoughts of a man who has lost his grip on reality and is working to find a way that allows these horrible things to happen and keep his conscience clear.

Anyway, that's about it. Tune in next week, when I write a detailed thesis on why the Jedi are an evil, manipulative cult who use their abilities to make weak-minded space hillbillies help them revolt against their government.

All the best,
Derek and Bosco