Analysis of Cinematographic Techniques Used in "I Am Legend"

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Analysis of Cinematographic Techniques Used in "I Am Legend" essay
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I Am Legend (Lawrence, 2007) and This Is the End (Goldberg, Rogen, 2013) use color, sets, and acting to deconstruct codings of masculinity within post-apocalyptic films. This type of cinema asserts that ideas of standard sexual identities break down along with heteronormative society. The genre reflects American anxieties of the loss of white masculine discourse to foreign powers, made apparent after the events of 9/11. However, the concept of white masculinity is preserved in the cinema as it 'turns to a reactive strategy under which it redefines the normative by citing itself as a marginal identity' (Carroll, 2011:6). While the discourse of white masculinity is dominant in society, one of the alternatives to it is queerness, which serves as the 'resistance to a symbolic reality that only ever invests us as subjects insofar as we invest ourselves in it' (Edelman, 2004:18). This queerness can also develop from male companionship, as male characters question their sexual desires and 'hunger for something beyond what they can articulate...gravitate towards camaraderie and then a deeper intimacy' (Filippo 2013:163). The climax from I Am Legend, and the Emma Watson scene from This Is the End deconstruct the post-apocalyptic film's codes of white masculinity, presenting hidden structures that perpetuate male hegemony while altering the viewing habitus in the loss of traditional cultural politics.

The use of color exhibits the preservation of heteronormativity. In the climax of I Am Legend, Robert Neville (Will Smith), is trapped in the basement laboratory of his house, while dark-seekers, mutated humans infected by measles virus, try to kill him. During the climax, the color tinting signifies the restoration of masculinity during the end of the world. The scene contains warm colors of brown, orange, and gold, signifiers of comfort and protection. This color tinting is more significant when compared to the rest of the film. Many of the sequences prior show Neville hunting for food in the empty streets of Time Square, also containing warm hues of brown and orange, protecting his masculine actions. The scenes with dark-seekers include washed-out sage colors. The strange foreign monsters wash out Neville's warm sense of protection, similar to the fear of non-white males washing out, and marginalizing white, male privilege. The climax shows the idea of reclaiming white manhood from the threat of foreigners. The use of color plays with audiences' traditional views of what is acceptable, to align them with masculine discourse. For example, the masculine Neville is wearing a white shirt, signifying purity, while the unique dark-seekers wear black clothing, meaning evil. The color tinting of the climax returns to the warm colors of brown and orange from previous scenes of the film. The signifier of Neville killing himself and the dark-seekers with grenades, as well as the signified protection from the warm color scheme, creates a sign of protecting and thus reclaiming patriarchal authority. The color shows the preservation of patriarchal systems through their marginalization.

The sets and props make the audience question what is necessary for the future. In the film, Robert Neville is a doctor. In search of a cure, he kidnaps dark-seekers and tries to administer vaccines, while also tending to his wounds and attempting to revive his pet dog earlier in the film. Thus, his basement laboratory is a symbol of maintaining health. Average filmgoers understand the traditional connotation of Neville's medical lab as a center for aid to those in need. However, the laboratory loses its meaning as a place of healing when its singular staff member, Dr. Neville, eventually kills all of the people within it, including himself. The viewer becomes conflicted by the symbolic nature and reality of Neville's laboratory. It invites viewers to question the effectiveness of traditional institutions and, thus, other hegemonic codes. Because of this, separate pieces of set design/props become examined in the scene. Before detonating the room, Robert Neville gives a vial of the cure to two other survivors, Anna (Alice Braga) and Ethan (Charlie Tahan), to escape the facility and distribute it to other survivors. The vial itself and its signified aid create a symbol of hope for the future of humankind. The little boy, Ethan, also becomes a signifier. In films, children mark symbols of heteronormativity, and the 'rigid sameness of identity that is central to the compulsory narrative of reproductive futurism' (Edelman, 2004:21). The dark-seekers and their unusual outward appearance form a sign for the alternative to white masculinity: queerness. While the vial and the boy in the scene offer hope for reclamation of heteronormative values, viewers question whether or not they can be trusted, as seen through the conflicting message of the laboratory. The sets subvert traditional conceptual maps, allowing audiences to change their viewing habitus.

The casting and acting show how the suppression of queer and non-white identities becomes natural. In the sequence, Robert Neville reverts to a naturalistic style. The character's emotions and movements are subdued, in a manner of acting that seems much more natural to audiences than that of the hectic, stylized, violent tendencies of the dark-seekers within the same scene. With Neville's subdued emotions comes a subversion of traditional masculine heroics in cinema. The post-9/11 era created a discourse of heroics based on firemen, which produced 'white ethnic masculinity that recodes multiculturalism as whiteness and heroism as the domain of masculinity' (Carroll, 2011:19). However, the casting of Will Smith, an African American, as the lead protagonist, goes against the idea of white ethnic heroes becoming normative. Also, when looking at a photo of his deceased daughter in the scene, he expresses sadness, reminded of his responsibility of being a father. Dedication to family in distress fulfills a masculine role of leadership, but Neville's sympathetic reaction queers his character, as parenting is a trait traditionally aligned with femininity. Robert Neville sacrifices himself to save Anna and Ethan. With a white actor, this action would seem heroic, but with Smith, it becomes tragic, representing the death of non-white, queer masculinity. In the hopes of reinstituting traditional society, Neville's acting, as well as the suppressive forces of white manhood, become natural.

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Through the film's climax, I Am Legend is a film that asserts ideas of traditional masculinity in the form of a post-apocalyptic zombie movie. The film makes apparent the damage caused by societal structures, as scientists' attempt to cure cancer, results in the deaths of millions of citizens and the downfall of civilization. The film shows that, in the time after society's collapse, there are alternatives for change, in the forms of hidden non-white or queer identities. Despite this, traditional concepts of gender are preserved, by depicting white manhood as marginalized and helpless in times of crisis. Meanwhile, the film portrays futurism and its preservation of traditional values as modes of fulfillment.

In comparison, the apocalypse of This Is the End affects the lives of wealthy celebrities. The movie portrays capitalist politics as a mode of preserving masculine identity and heterosexual desires. However, a biblical global apocalypse results in a portion of humanity to ascend to Heaven, while others, including most Hollywood celebrities, to fend for themselves in a dystopian setting with demons. Because wealthy characters in the film are unworthy of eternal happiness, the film asserts the harm caused by masculine ideals to one's self and all of society. Unlike I Am Legend, the film does not portray the reinstitution of traditional masculinity. It instead asserts that change in political discourse will lead to salvation. The film uses comedic overtones and representation of male companionship to deconstruct heteronormative ideals and revealing them as hostile in the apocalypse. The film exhibits this through the Emma Watson sequence.

The use of color shows that queer identity hides within homosocial interactions. In the sequence, six male celebrities are held up in the house of James (James Franco). Once they come across Emma (Emma Watson), they invite her to stay with them. Through a misunderstanding, Emma steals their drinks and threatens them with an ax. Before the dispute takes place, the colors of the scene signify a sense of comfort for the characters. The color tinting uses warm hues of red and brown, which hints of the protection of heterosexual ideas. However, the clothes of characters connote something else. Three of the celebrities each wear shirts with colors pink or purple. These colors are associated with femininity. When placed with the image of male socializing, it creates a sign of queer homosociality. Through male companionship, or 'bromance,' characters reminisce over past experiences, while at the same time discovering their altered views of sexuality. The portrayal of 'bromance' in Hollywood films 'displays the same nostalgia for adolescence and sexual ambiguity that the New Hollywood buddy film did' (Filippo, 2013:17). Thus, similar to how the collapse of the studio system led to the politics of New Hollywood, the destruction of heteronormative society in the apocalypse can lead to newfound queer discourse. The color scheme connotes protection from outside forces, as well as protection of the characters' 'bromance.' As the color is welcoming, it engages with the viewer to change their viewing habitus, and align with representation beyond traditional codes of masculinity. The warm colors indicate that the protection of homosocial bonding can broaden one's mindset and what is acceptable.

The sets and props exhibit how masculinity is inherent in capitalism. Earlier in the movie, Franco's home is shown as lively and exotic, as celebrities come to his house for a party. His house also contains material possessions signifying success in Hollywood, and increased privileges as a white male. The props reveal examples of masculinity, such as a statue in Franco's home that resembles a male penis. The set design of Franco's house values material wealth caused by capitalism, which creates manual labor in a system that values white men. The manual labor within capitalist systems become 'tied to assumptions about masculinity and the relationship between work and the body' (Carroll, 2011:89-90). Also, from the audience's perspective, the luxurious house looks inviting. However, by the time Emma Watson returns to Franco's house later in the movie, the house is not as lively as it was before. The spaces of the home are empty, and the windows and doors are sealed up. It makes the house look less inviting to viewers, who, in turn, question their faith in the capitalist system that caused Franco's wealth. The audience loses trust in patriarchal systems, along with the house's loss of status and male privilege. This loss is shown during Emma Watson's return to the house, as she wields an ax, which connotes her power compared to her male opposites. Watson smashes Franco's penis statue, symbolically emasculating the home of its male, capitalist dominance. The set design shows how symbols of masculinity and capitalism are just as nonexistent as the house is at protecting male characters from outdoor threats.

The acting style opens new alternatives for queer expression. After Emma Watson misinterprets a conversation between her male hosts as them planning to rape her, she threatens them with emasculation and steals their beverages. The performances of the cast are stylized and unrealistic. As the men back away from the ax-wielding female, they are each holding up their arms in defense, yelling over each other, and widening their eyes in shock at the destruction of Franco's penis statue. As Watson chops down the barricaded door, she lets out a scream that mocks masculine battle-cries. The exaggerated acting doesn't match with the serious subject matter of female objectification. The subject matter would be more suited for traditional, natural modes of acting. The exaggerated acting replaces conventional forms of acting, similar to how queer identity can replace heteronormativity. Comedy works beyond normative behavior to 'defamiliarize the compulsory monosexuality that governs our logic of desire' (Filippo, 2013:178). The stylized acting signifies queer identity and how it offers an alternative to monosexual behavior. Though the dispute in the scene is accidental, the male characters are perceived as predators in the post-apocalypse in their search for manly desires. It is by realizing this hypermasculinity and rejecting it, that males can survive the apocalypse.

Contemporary society contains heteronormative discourse that suppresses anyone who is not a white male. Through post-apocalyptic cinema, audiences can learn of hidden systems that heteronormativity fears and condemns. Both I Am Legend, and This Is the End present these fears while demystifying codes of masculinity. Their aesthetic properties allow audiences to become aware of these codes and how they persist through forms of futurism and capitalism. As a result, viewers change their habitus to accept different gendered discourse and avoid suppressive systems in society.

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Expert Review
This essay engages with the deconstruction of masculinity in post-apocalyptic films "I Am Legend" and "This Is the End." It explores the use of color, sets, and acting as tools to challenge and dismantle traditional codes of masculinity. The essay adeptly delves into the representations and symbolism in both films, demonstrating an understanding of how these elements contribute to the overarching themes. However, the analysis could be strengthened by deeper connections between the two films and a more focused exploration of how they challenge societal norms. Additionally, the essay would benefit from clearer transitions and a more coherent structure to enhance readability and flow.
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What can be improved
Comparative Analysis: Establish more explicit connections between the two films, highlighting both their similarities and differences in challenging masculinity. Thesis Clarity: Refine and explicitly state the main thesis of the essay in the introduction to guide the reader through the subsequent analysis. Structural Cohesion: Organize the essay with clear topic sentences and transitions between paragraphs to ensure a logical and coherent progression of ideas. In-Depth Exploration: Dive deeper into the implications of the cinematic techniques used to challenge masculinity, providing a more nuanced analysis. Conclusion: Summarize the main findings and insights, emphasizing how the two films collectively contribute to the deconstruction of masculinity.
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