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The Hidden Meaning in "The Last Of Us"

*Spoilers for "The Last Of Us" (2013)* Obviously *

If you know the story, you'll understand, if not.. at least watch the opening scene before reading, here:

This is my interpretation of the story. Its about divorce. Alright, that's it, there you go, that's my entire essay on The Last Of Us.

But really, throughout the whole game, there's not one mention of Sarah's mother, we have no idea why she isn't present, she's just gone. Society collapses around Joel, and Sarah is taken from him by the government, his world ends both literally and figuratively. In my opinion this neatly parallels the typical process of divorce, and beautifully captures the heaviness associated with having your life torn apart despite every effort to preserve it.

We pick up 20 years later.

Joel lives in a quarantine zone in Boston as the pandemic persists. He's tasked with smuggling a 14 year old girl named Ellie to a hospital in Salt Lake City, motivated by a generous reward. He eventually discovers that the girl is immune to the virus, and she may be the answer to synthesizing a vaccine.

Over the course of a year or more, Joel and Ellie fight their way to Utah, the two develop a deep bond and form a father/daughter type relationship. Eventually, they reach the hospital and doctors and scientists are there researching a cure. They inform Joel that they can develop a vaccine with Ellie, but she would not survive the operation.

Joel chooses to kill all the hospital staff, take Ellie and leave Salt Lake City. When she wakes up, he tells her that they had already experimented on other immune subjects and couldn't develop a vaccine (of course he's lying). Ellie makes Joel swear he's telling the truth, which he does, and the story ends.

The conclusion of the game parallels the beginning, Joel is yet again faced with losing a child, but this time is faced with a decision: save Ellie or effectively end the world, since she was the only hope for curing the virus. This is an expression of Love, since a major theme of this story is Love, or more specifically loss and grief. Joel Loves Ellie so much that he would trade the whole world for her life (Literally). This is not necessarily an uncommon technique in storytelling, especially in Sc-Fi, to use extreme circumstances to express a deep emotion. Maybe the story sets it up so that a character has to literally wait a thousand years for their loved one, or actually travel through space a million miles or more, and even then has an emotional connection to a spouse or child (Looking at you, Interstellar). I feel that The Last Of Us was able to achieve this in both an incredibly articulate and grounded way, without performing too many story telling gymnastics to make it work.

I'm not much of a gamer at all, and it was purely by chance that I came across this story. I was extremely sick one fall in 2015 and my roommate had a Playstation 4 which became my primary source of entertainment during a 5 week quarantine. I played through this game and I've been slightly obsessed with it ever since. I rarely come across story telling so compelling that it sticks with me for years after. Maybe the video game medium allows you to immerse yourself in the story more so than a feature film and results in a greater impact, but as someone who's awful at video games and has a hard time getting through even fairly easy games, it might have actually taken away from the story a little bit for me. Regardless, this story still changed my life, I wasn't surprised to find out the writer had been trying to broadcast it in some format for decades, first trying and failing to have it published as a comic book, a novel, then pitching it as a TV Show, before finally convincing someone to give him a small budget to adapt it into a video game. I'm really glad they did, because discovering something truly poetic and genuinely deep does not occur often for me, in a sense, its what I need to survive.

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