McMillan’s Codex 50 By C.T. McMillan
Death Stranding (Trailer Analysis)
Metal Gear Solid (MGS) would not have made such an impression on me without director/writer Hideo Kojima. For all their faults I admire the games for the story and how they strike a balance between gameplay and narrative by keeping the two separate. Between spats of fun action are long cinematics that epitomize Kojima’s various inspirations in the form of military fiction that borders on realism. After studying the games I feel I understand the man, but I am perplexed by his latest endeavor, Death Stranding (DS).
Following his storied departure from Konami, the videogame division of Sony was quick to hire Kojima and his team, leading to the formation of Kojima Productions. After months of speculation DS was revealed at E3 2016 in a trailer. Of the many reveals during the event, Kojima’s latest stands out the most. There is a lot to unpack with many possibilities and interpretations based on three minutes of footage.
The opening frame is a quote from William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence:
“To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour”
What this excerpt and much of the poem seems to imply is that everything is connected. Nature, mankind, and the divine play a part in each other, their destinies and actions perpetually linked. The idea of existence being connected comes through in the following footage. The camera pans forward above black sand and turns to a pile of crabs on their backsides, each with a black cord in their mouths.
The camera follows one cord before a handprint appears in the sand, which fills with oil. More handprints trail towards a naked man on his side, wearing a pair of handcuff on one wrist. The man wakes up and finds a naked baby with a cord in the navel crying next to him. The man takes the baby, and a cut reveals the man to be modeled after actor Norman Reedus. The man holds the baby and appears to cry judging by his expression.
Then there is a close up and the baby disappears, the man’s hands covered in oil. Smaller hands appear in black on his thigh as they trail to his knee. Then he looks to the horizon and stands, the camera remaining stationary as his scarred, tubeless stomach comes into view. Then there is a cut to a rear shot of the man on a beach with piled whales and fish and icebergs in the distance. In the cloudy sky floats five figures with legs together and arms folded across their chests. The figures disappear before the title appears.
From what I can glean from the symbolism is that everything is connected. As Auguries of Innocence describes nature, mankind, and heaven are linked by their actions and I am getting a strong Matrix feel from DS. I suspect that energy is gathered by draining living things via the black cords. Perhaps this was the result of desperation, the oil soaked beach implying a resource disaster may have occurred, or that Earth has been taken over by a force subsisting on humans and animals. Another indication that people are being used for energy is that the baby turns into oil after disappearing.
This consumption of energy is forced because the man has severed his cord based on the abdominal scars. The handcuffs on his wrist show he is opposed to an authority that has most likely implanted the cords. His reaction to holding the baby shows he feels genuine sadness that people are being controlled and has made freeing them his mission. On his neck he wears “dog tags” that are probably trophies from people he killed or reminders of those he has lost.
As for the five figures at the end, they could be boss characters. Kojima he has an affinity for bosses in small groups throughout his games. Dead Cell, Cobra Unit, and Beauty and the Beast Corps from MGS number in less than seven members. Maybe the five figures are bosses that the man is trying to defeat. Also, their pose is similar to the posture of villains like Anubis from Zone of the Enders 2 and Screaming Mantis from MGS4.
This detail is rather unimportant to what I found, but I thought I would share my thoughts. The song playing in the trailer is “I’ll Keep Coming” by Low Roar, an indie group from Iceland. The lyrics describe being dead or being silence, but coming back to life or resisting depending on your interpretation. The setting on the beach is similar to Vik i Myrdal, a village in southern Iceland with black sand and similar rock formations like those seen in the ocean at the end.
Kojima is the kind of man that will include things he likes into his games no matter their significance. From anime to movie references, MGS is filled to the brim with a lot things that are irrelevant. He also loves good music and on social media he praised Low Roar and the song “I’ll Keep Coming.” Furthermore, the song title was used in the promotional material for Kojima Productions’ mascot Ludens.
As a fan I am well aware of the possibility that Death Stranding is an elaborate ruse hiding the real game underneath. Phantom Pain and PT are still fresh in my mind and I am anticipating the reveal that the game was Zone of the Enders 3 or Silent Hills all along. Based on usual trends, in a year or so we will see more of the game, including actual gameplay. The trailer leaves much to be desired, but I feel there is still so much to discover that I cannot see.