In case any of my audience didn’t know, they are making a film version of The Last of Us. I have already talked about how the movie is going to suck, because there is no way that they could capture all the humanity of the game and the scale of time that the player was able to experience. Plus, there is NOBODY who can fill the role of Joel and Ellie in real life who will do the characters justice. For real, nobody. It just can’t be done. To try and do that is madness. But now new information has come out about the proposed film that has made me convinced even more that it is going to suck. There are some hardcore spoilers ahead, just so you know. So if you haven’t played the game, well, I guess you’ve been warned.
In a recent article, Sony said that the film version of The Last of Us is not going to be like the game in terms of story. This statement interests me because – the story of the game is both morally and ethically ambiguous.
Here’s the thing about modern America – they hate moral ambiguity in films. They don’t like to have to think too hard. Look at the success of filmmakers like Michael Bay. He beats people over the head with the obvious message that he is trying to get out. Then there is James Cameron’s latest work, “Avatar.” That film has a message so blatant that it might as well hold up a big sign telling people what to think. There is no subtlety in popular film. I mean, does anybody else remember that scene in “Twilight” where Bella lays out how she feels about Edward? I feel so bad for Kristen Stewart. That scene must have been as hard to shoot with a straight face as it was to watch. So when I think about a film version of The Last of Us, and I think about the fact that they are not going to follow the game too close, that leaves me a little bit worried.
There are a couple of scenes in the game that really get me thinking about this. The first is the creepy interactions between Ellie and the leader of the bandit group, David. David has her locked up in a cell and some of what happens between them is REALLY unnerving. The part where he grabs her hand and the look on her face when he does this is powerful subtle. It’s like a sex scene without anyone getting naked. She immediately sees what this man is for herself, and she doesn’t want anything to do with it. Then there is the final confrontation between the two in the restaurant, where David is beating her and choking her. She gets his machete and then starts hacking the man to pieces.
The other point of moral ambiguity is when Joel decides to take Ellie from the hospital after he finds out that the cure for the plague that she has in her mind could only be extracted by killing her. He decides to sell humanity up the river and doom the entire world to protect this one life that has given him a reason to live again. He slaughters his former allies and even kills the woman who paired him and Ellie up in cold blood. He lies to Ellie about what happened, so she doesn’t go back, once she comes to.
Lastly, there is the very end, when the two arrive back at Tommy’s compound. Ellie was skeptical of Joel’s lie, but never said anything until they get back. She tells him the circumstances of her infection, which tells a lot about her beliefs and shows that Marlene was right – Ellie would have wanted to die or the salvation of the human race. She makes Joel swear that what he told her was true, which he does without a moment’s hesitation. She knows that he’s lying, but decides to accept this lie, because Joel is now the most important person in her life. The father she never had. In him, she had also found a reason to keep going.
Will a film version of the game be comfortable with this level of moral ambiguity? Part of the reason that we accept Joel’s cold-blooded murder of Marlene is because we came to understand the darkness inside of him that was born from years of living like a monster. We came to care about the paternal relationship between him and Ellie. Especially when he is saying the same things to Ellie that he said to his own daughter when he is carrying her out of there. It’s a MAJOR tear-jerker moment when you are listening to his fear and his desperation, when he is trying to escape. Could a film have that kind of dilemma without alienating the simpleton audience that permeates our culture these days? Could the same people who liked “Avatar” like a film like this, which demands that they digest the same things that the characters in the game did? I don’t know.
I genuinely believe that this movie is going to suck. For real, there is no convincing me that it won’t. If I’m wrong, then I’ll eat my words. But there is no reason to think that it will be good. Sony’s rush to get this game turned into a movie baffles me, but whatever. I guess we’ll see how bad the damage is soon enough.
Until next time, a quote,
“Oh no, sir. With respect, can I stop you? No, with a poem or any work of art we can never say ‘in other words’. If it is a work of art there are no other words.” -Timms, The History Boys