Official Death Stranding Trailer Breakdown
Death Stranding

The new trailer for Kojima's Death Stranding has astounded many, including me. There are theories all over the internet as to what it all means and I am dying to take a crack at it. While analyzing the first trailer, I discovered the text Kojima mentioned inspired him, Kobo Abe's The Rope. I think we can continue to apply that same theory of interconnectedness to this trailer too. There's a lot to get into here, so strap in. Here's the trailer:

Up first, we see the umbilical cords attached to each crab in the opening few seconds, much like the opening of the first trailer. There are also several pregnant crabs, as shown by the swollen mid-section of the body (timestamp 0:43). Second, WWII airplanes fly overhead, also with cords attached. Both of these are something to keep in mind as we go through this analysis.

Now we get to the really interesting parts: the inverted rainbow and the “United Cities of America” pin. The simple upside-down nature of the rainbow implies a reflection or inversion, as does the pin with “cities” instead of “states”. An almost but not quite reflection of our world as it is today. That's the basics, but there's so much more.

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An upside-down rainbow is called a circumzenithal arc. It is caused by the sun shining through ice crystals in the clouds. I admit it takes one hell of a cold day to see one, and it's often paired with a similar phenomenon called a sun dog, but isn't exactly rare. That said, the rainbow has quite a bit of significance in Japanese mythology, particularly Shinto and Buddhist tales of creation. In Buddhism, the rainbow is “the highest state achievable before attaining Nirvana, where individual desire and consciousness are extinguished.” Shinto praises the rainbow as something very similar, a bridge or stairway to the gods.

How does this relate to Death Stranding? Well, if the rainbow is enlightenment, then its inversion must mean the opposite, ignorance. Or more interestingly, in a state of pitiful or contemptible intellectual or moral ignorance. Let us combine this thought with the presence of oil in the trailer. Japan, of all the first world countries in the world, has a rather intimate relationship with the pollution nuclear and fossil fuels cause. Remember, they're the ones that came up with the Kyoto Accord. For a country that dedicates an entire national holiday to commemorate nature, it's probably safe to say that the Japanese are not impressed with those that disregard nature in favor of pollution. Why, they might even consider such people to be woefully ignorant.

Keeping that idea in mind, let's move on to Guillermo del Toro's lobotomy scar across his forehead. This is seen most clearly at timestamp 1:02. Lobotomy is an extremely outdated surgical procedure that cuts or scraps away the connection to and from the prefrontal cortex (frontal lobes of the brain). The more popular way to do this, was through the eye socket, using the ever familiar fine ice pick-like tool from most Hollywood depictions of the craft. In del Toro's case, the lobotomy required sawing through the skull to access the brain. Lobotomies were thought to “cure” psychological illnesses, like depression, hysteria, or psychopathy. In reality, however, they turned the patients into vegetables that were barely able to respond to any outside stimuli. Del Toro's character, of course, doesn't behave anywhere near the usual victim of such. However, the scar implies that del Toro's character at least underwent part of the lobotomy procedure. This means that someone either thought he had a mental illness, or he does actually have one.

Death Stranding

Now onto the most interesting part of the whole trailer: Mads Mikkelsen and the subtle changes in the trailer. The beginning shows the bridge area full of bricks and rubble, yes? At 2:45, oil has filled the space and dead fish have replaced the rubble. Mikkelsen bleeds from the darkness with his skeleton soldiers and sends them off to find/kill... someone. If oil, black umbilical cords, and skeleton soldiers represent this “woefully ignorant” side, than the white umbilical cord and live child must adhere to the enlightened side.

These might start to look like some familiar concepts. Nature vs. humanity, the old Romantic notion that humans destroy nature with their oil and resulting pollution. The idea that one day we'll have to pay the price for what we've done to the Earth is something that has been toyed with in many video games. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided states that we've turned so far from nature as to prefer the ignorance of machines, Fallout explores the wasteland left after humans have destroyed the Earth, and Mad Max does the same. Indeed, even the connectedness that The Rope speaks about is something the Romantics often refer to. William Blake in particular, who was quoted in the first trailer, stated that one might “see a World in a Grain of Sand.” It is a declaration on the wonder of nature: how something seemingly simple can be connected to something profound.

Alright, so from a rainbow, a lobotomy scar, and oil, we get the basis of a Nature vs. Humans plot. Death Stranding isn't going to be that simple, of course, but it's certainly something to go on. I know I'm not the only one that needed to muse on this trailer for it to make any sense. The inverted rainbow suggests not only the reflection of our world, but the “woeful ignorance” of pollution. From that, we connect to the prevalent oil in both trailers and the death of fish/nature. The lobotomy scar implies an outcast or rebel, whether based on mental illness or not, rebelling against the ignorance and striving for enlightenment. If my theory is correct or not, we can all agree that Kojima is making a profound video game – even if none of it makes sense yet.

Christine Pugatschew
Christine Pugatschew

Contributing Writer
Date: 12/07/2016

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