The Last of Us is About Life More Than It Is About Survival
Otis Redding once sang about sitting on the dock of a bay, wasting time as he watched the tide roll away. It’s a great song and there’s some quality about the endlessness of the ocean colliding with the eternity of time and a lone individual in between the two.
Though I didn’t really come to write about the wonders of soul music; I still couldn’t help myself when I began whistling the refrain from the song as I traversed across the Colorado mountains with a young companion. That is of course in between the scenes of terror as we’re chased by biological horrors and murderous bandits.
If it’s just The Last of Us however, might as well enjoy each precious moment of peace one can scavenge.
I think what surprised me the most about The Last of Us, as opposed to other post-apocalyptic adventures, is that it offers a glimpse of a new world. It is one that may be infested with viral monsters, but also where humanity is slowly picking up the pieces after attempted stability and total collapse. So many other stories with similar themes revel in the collapse of civilization. William Golding was perhaps the first to show a group of ordinary boys fall off the societal charts and that man is man’s worst enemy. It’s always the sadistic enjoyment in knowing that the most cynical of us were correct; that once order falls, chaos reigns.
Cynicism is probably the easiest attitude to take up towards a post-apocalyptic society and the opening does well to play up the usual tones of a black-and-grey moral world. Joel begins bitter and angry and every-bit the survivor he is supposed to be. The compound they set out from is an autocratic cage barely keeping its power. But the world is big, and it grew larger overnight.
The tone of The Last of Us essentially boils down to equal portions of peaceful non-action, and explosive terror. Once I understood the rhythm of the game, it was easier, almost important for me, to appreciate the moments of peace. And they were very peaceful. Misty mountaintops, snowcapped plains, wildlife amidst ruins, it can’t be denied how beautiful the game looks, even at its most grotesque.
There was life, even if it wasn’t necessarily human life. It’s like seeing the world clock set back thousands of years. When humans were yet to dominate the food chain. They were at the mercy of nature and some congregated in tribes, and other continued to be hunter-gatherers. However, there is no opposition of sorts, of fight between good and evil between the two groups. Nor civility vs. barbarity, it’s simply the way nature works. There are groups that build, and groups that destroy. There’s nothing cynical about it when it’s just the process of natural selection. And then I realized something: The Last of Us is not a showcase for the horrors of a dead world, but the Petri dish of a new one.
It’s really fitting if you think about it. The theme of order vs. chaos is really a cynical point of view isn’t it? It’s a structured idea that implies a natural division of right and wrong (curiously, whether or not society is right and chaos is wrong or vice-versa is similarly cynically structured). The Last of Us is much more organic and natural than that.
I think the moments of tranquility in between the violent bursts of conflict isn’t meant as a respite so much is it is to show how much larger the world is, and how much larger it will get. There’s a scene towards the final chapter of the game that really drives home the idea that the world is growing more than dying. The old world already withered, but whatever was left is starting to grow again. Not so much death and rebirth as it is decay and growth.
The overall scope of the game, thematic as it is, actually does well to show a grander scale of this nature philosophy. The large, monumental buildings are covered in moss and fauna, the streets are flooded with water, and the signs are overrun with growth. The cities of man, given enough time, will eventually become swallowed back into nature. The clickers and infected, the people, they’re simply inhabiting a world that is proving the point far better than their conflicts ever could, and that they are small aspects of the natural order humanity has been fighting against for so long.
Imagine the human population as seeds (or pollen — I don’t pretend to understand botany). Flowers will sprout, but so will weeds. There will be flowers that bloom, or there will be predatory creatures to cut down a field. Still, things will continue to grow just as things will continually be cut down. If you think I’ve become enamored with this free loving, nature hugging lifestyle you’re mistaken. It’s just how things work and that’s what I really appreciated about The Last of Us. It’s nature, life and death caught in between the endlessness of a new world, and an eternity of time to grow again. I simply think it’s refreshing to see the process of creation in both a micro and macro level.
“Look like nothing’s gonna change
Everything still remains the same
I can’t do what ten people tell me to do,
So I guess I’ll remain the same~”
In the end there was a line uttered. A throwaway line, but an important one nonetheless that went something along the way of the chance for humanity to finally reclaim its place atop the social order. But that can’t happen because Joel, like Mr. Redding, traveled thousands of miles under the heavy weight of loneliness, just to make a certain dock his home. And they’ll both continue to sit there, because nothing at this point can change the natural course of the world.