Thursday, March 25, 2010

Marxist Ideology and *The Last Man on Earth*

I've seen this movie many times and each time, I ask the same question: What would motivate you if you were the last man on earth?  I've always wondered what motivates Vincent Price's character to keep on, toiling during the day ridding the remains of the city of zombies and enduring the long night under attack by the undead.  In a sense, why live on when there seems to be nothing left to live for?

In The German Ideology, Karl Marx posits that "[a]s individuals express their life, so they are.  What they are, therefore coincides with their production, both with what they produce and with how they produce.  The nature of individuals thus depends on the material conditions determining their production" (Marx 653).  Essentially, Marx argues that not only is a man's life measured according to his production as a citizen but that in the process of producing he is also creating his life.  That production means life is ongoing seems to be implicit in The Last Man on Earth.  Vincent Price's character keeps producing life, even when all of the city seems dead, as he actively moves around the city.  The last man on earth goes about his daily routines because to stop does not only mean to surrender to the undead but also, to stop means a life that meant nothing.

What is perhaps, more interesting is the end of the movie.  The last man on earth is killed by other living beings who have assumed that he is one of the undead.  These beings have not only found a cure against the zombie disease, but that cure is a vaccine that the last man on earth himself have been working on.  That is, someone else has found a cure and the last man on earth has failed his societal purpose.  Thus, he is killed off in the end because his failure marks him as unproductive; he is like the zombies who have no function in society, no production to mark them as living.  How appropriate that other living beings who did not witness the last man on earth's activity and productivity should be the ones to kill him.  After all, in their eyes, he is not a producing man and his life is worth nothing.

Marx, Karl. The German Ideology. Literary Theory: An Anthology. Eds. Rivkin and Ryan.
      2nd ed. Malden: Blackwell, 2004. 653-658. Print.