Trailer Anatomy #003 – Emotional Resonance

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Trailer Anatomy is a series in which I analyze video game trailers. To see other entries in the series please click here.

Whether you’re a diehard Nintendo loyalist, a devout Xbox fan, or just an all around gaming enthusiast, you have to admit that Sony has been the undisputed king of press conferences for at least a couple of years now. From 2015’s E3 of dreams, to this year’s orchestral performance that accompanied the return of Kratos, and now 2016’s PlayStation Experience, it’s clear that Sony’s top brass have mastered the art of putting on a good show. PSX wasn’t a flawless presentation, there were some lulls here and there, but overall it flowed fantastically, and culminated with the perfect “we have one more thing” moment. As much as fans have been clamoring for a sequel to The Last of Us, most would agree that its story was pretty much perfectly self-contained, making the need for a follow-up questionable. Opening PSX with a Naughty Dog game was a genius maneuver, throwing off expectations, as having them both open and close the show would be too good, too much of a dream scenario, right? Apparently not. Simply dropping the game’s logo on the big screen would of been enough to send the gaming world into a frenzy, but instead they did one better, and gave us this gem:

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The trailer begins with a shot of a wooded area; the camera cuts back several times, revealing more trees, and eventually giving view of a few cars, dilapidated housing, and a stop sign that’s been tagged. This is Firefly territory.

Now, presumably inside one of the run down houses we just saw, we get a close-up shot of a trembling hand as it hovers over a guitar. After a few practice strums and some tuning our tattooed mystery character begins to play a song. The camera cuts from her hand to her mouth as she begins to sing, and that’s all the confirmation we need: Ellie’s back. We get several different angles of her as she plays, including an interesting close-up of the bottom half of her face, and with her eyes out of the frame we see a droplet of blood glide down her cheek, emulating a tear.

As Ellie continues to sing we see another character enter the house, and as he slowly makes his way towards her we get a first hand view of the destruction she brought upon the residence. At least three dead men are seen, one of which was shot through the eye socket, and another seemingly sliced open with a machete. When the man reaches the doorway of the room Ellie is in we get a side-view of his face, and a moment later we hear him speak, confirming it’s Joel. After Ellie finishes her verse the duo exchange a few words, setting the stage for what will apparently be a very bloody sequel.

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The very first shot of the trailer is just a forest—trees and overgrown foliage—no focal point to draw our eye, it’s as if we’re lost, without purpose. The camera then suddenly moves backwards, the trees we were looking at before are still there, though slightly blurred in the background, and we now have a focus: one tree in particular. We learn later in the trailer that Ellie’s goal is the complete and utter extermination of her enemies. Joel asks if she’s really going to go through with her plans, meaning she sat down, contemplated, verbalized, and mapped out her intentions. She has a focus; this was a premeditated assault. Ellie cannot see the forest through the trees, or tree rather, with this one tree in particular symbolizing her one and only goal, big picture consequences be damned. The camera hangs on the zoomed-in shot of the tree for about five seconds, and then continues to jump further and further back, but that one tree, easily identified through the unique marking on its bark, remains in the dead center of the shot, just as Ellie’s goal hovers in the dead center of her mind.

Once inside the house the first thing we see is Ellie’s hand, still shaking from the adrenaline rush. This lets us know that she’s not become completely numb to killing, but her ability to sit and play guitar right next to a freshly killed victim does speak volumes of her resolve. While only five years have passed since the end of the original game, the tattoo of a plant on her forearm can be seen as a symbol of her expedited growth as a person. Humans can often be boiled down to products of their environment, and it’s clear Ellie has been hardened by her experiences, not only those that transpired in the first game, but also whatever has happened since. The man lying on the bathroom floor with a hole in his skull points to her viciousness, and the man lying at her feet as she strums indicates her sheer lack of mercy. The wall outside the room she’s in has a large smear of blood on it, most likely from the guy she killed in there, indicating that he was wounded, and running from her. The bloody machete on the floor, plus the fact that Ellie does not appear to have any significant wounds, points to her killing him with the blade, which many would argue is a more visceral weapon than any gun.

The lyrics of the song she’s singing (Through The Valley by Shawn James) are very literal at points—it seems that she truly fears no evil, and she’s proven that she will kill her enemies—but there are metaphorical phrases to decipher as well. We see Joel’s silhouette appear outside the house just as she says “surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life”; during the first game it’s Joel who is broken, and Ellie proves to be his saving grace, but this lyric implies that those roles will be swapped this time around. Joel’s incredibly calm demeanor as he walks through the house can be attributed to the fact that he can hear her singing, so he knows she’s fine, but one cannot deny that when Joel first appears in front of the house he has a bit of a heavenly aura about him. Maybe Joel is dead, and he’s following Ellie in spirit. If he’s not dead, why exactly is Ellie so mad? Did Joel eventually explain to Ellie what really happened at the end of the last game? Is it really the Fireflys that she’s after, or is their logo placed in the trailer simply as a red herring? It’ll most likely be a few years before we get the answers to these questions, but it’s safe to say that this trailer has served its purpose well. Naughty Dog has done it again.

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Through the bloody environment, the music, and particularly the dialog, Ellie’s emotions resonate with a vicious intent. Naughty Dog has proven, with both the Uncharted series and the original Last of Us, that they know how to make compelling characters, and how to tell engrossing stories. Neil Druckmann (the series creative director) has gone as far as to say that the game will be about hatred, and this trailer exemplifies that perfectly.

“When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies but the pack survives.” – Eddard Stark