Many of my favorite stories revolve around revenge. There is an immense pleasure in seeing someone who has been wronged getting revenge. You took something away from me, I take something away from you. You do something to me, I do something to you. It is not a simple whim to see the person you hate to sink into the abyss (especially if he sinks because of you).
Revenge was the first form of justice. In prehistoric tribes, revenge was seen as a symbol of power and whoever did justice to himself gained the respect of other people. The message was clear: ‘I’m not a person to mess with”.
If, on the other hand, one remained helpless and submissive in the face of an injustice, one was perceived as a weak person and the whole tribe sided with the executioner by adopting the good old mentality of the ‘hunter and prey’.
The Last of Us II: the cycle of revenge
Certain things are not easily forgotten. Just the title I put in for this post will piss someone off.
Over time, things have changed. Forgiveness and leaving everything behind are preached. On the other hand, it is better to live happily than to live in the past and remember every day what has been done to you. To put it in the words of the great Frank Sinatra: ‘The best revenge is success.’
Getting revenge has apparently been shown to benefit both mental and physical health. Having personal satisfaction through the suffering of those who attacked first is written in our DNA. A bit like saying: ‘What I lost (whatever it is) won’t come back but at least this prick (whoever he is) got what he deserves’. It is no coincidence that many stories in the media use the leitmotif of revenge: it is something that each of us has thought about at least once in our life. Lately every story I have read and experienced (Berserk, The Count of Montecristo, The Northman, Vinland Saga) revolved around revenge. One story in particular caught my attention: The Last of Us II.
I liked The Last of Us II way more than the first one. Here you are. I said it. The first was nothing special.
I loved it: from the first to the last frame, The Last of Us II tells a simple and effective story that explores the feelings of frustration, revenge and PTSD of both protagonists, Ellie and Abby. Each one has excellent reasons to get revenge.
Trauma and forgiveness
Ellie witnessed the death of her adoptive father Joel by Abby, who saw her father die by Joel. Unfortunately, revenge is a vicious circle and could last forever as this game demonstrates. Ellie’s psychological and physical condition get gradually worse as she embarks on a mission to avenge Joel.
She will have to give up her friends of hers, the family she had in Jackson (the city where she lived with Joel) and her moral code. Ellie will destroy everything she has built up in the present, like her relationship with Dina, in order to stop the visions of Joel’s death that don’t make her sleep at night. As that saying goes: ‘Whoever seeks revenge must dig two graves: one for himself and one for his enemy.’
Living in the past leads to condemn the present and losing everything that has been built. So, if revenge is not an option, forgiveness remains the only alternative.
Ellie seems to understand this and lets Abby go when she realizes that her death won’t get her Joel back. An ending that has long been criticized but which is deeply human. Ellie realizes that she has lost everything and does not want Abby to face the same fate as her: she does not want the bond between her and Lev to be broken because of her.
When Ellie comes home, obviously, there is no one waiting for her. She had to choose between hate and forgives and she chose, at least the beginning, hate. However, Ellie finds the guitar that belonged to Joel. Everything has remained as it was before. She begins to play the guitar but on her journey towards revenge she has lost two fingers and has some difficulties: even the last bond she had with Joel (the guitar and the fact that he himself taught her to play it) is gone.
A final flashback is shown to us: Ellie berating Joel for not sacrificing her to save mankind. Joel tells her that he would make that choice once again.She was the daughter she had lost and mankind meant nothing to him. The world and human emotions revolve around selfishness. Joel is no different from Abby who is no different from Ellie. I think Ellie has figured all this out in the end and she decides to make amends. She forgives Joel, she forgives Abbie and she forgives herself. Naughty Dog’s sequel turned out to be a truly brutal game. Everyone here learns their lessons but the price is far too cruel.