There was to be a great joke played out in the latest film incarnation of Richard Matheson’s novel of the last surviving man on Earth. The old racist movie cliché is that if a black man is one of the central cast, he’ll be the first to die. So casting a black man as the last surviving man in Matheson’s tale seemed like perfectly mad twist given how the book ends, a joke that would do Renny Harlin’s DEEP BLUE SEA, where LL Cool J is the lone survivor against smart shark attacks, one better. However, Hollywood’s commercial belief in soothing heroic endings turns the casting of Will Smith as Robert Neville into something of a sick hoax where the old cliché is given new life for the current generation.
In the book, Neville is described as a white scientist with blue eyes and blond hair, weighing in at 200 and some odd pounds. While having an English name, he’s also of Germanic origin. The Master Race parallel was obviously intentional, given that the story is about our species' one lone survivor indiscriminately killing off the now dominant competitors. 'Indiscriminately,' because although his rivals in this Darwinian competition look the same, have the same feeding patterns, similar totemic fears of garlic and religious icons, and the same nocturnal behavior patterns, they're of two types: a more bestial, lower order form and a mutant human-vamp hybrid capable of highly rational thought. Neville is a classic tragic figure, holding on to the last vestiges of our civilization’s rationality by pathologically trying to find a cure for vampirism even though he’s immune and more than willing to annihilate the Other through a more physical remedy while it sleeps. His success via the latter means has made him a fearsome legend in the hybrid community as the ravager of their race.