During Sony’s E3 2016 conference, we were treated to a very vague and completely perplexing teaser trailer for Hideo Kojima’s first game under his own label, Kojima Productions. Starring Norman Reedus, we’ve heard that Death Stranding is going to be a surreal action-adventure… but really we still don’t know anything.
Or do we?
Let’s look so far into Hideo Kojima’s cryptic tease that we ourselves eventually become stranded on an island where our own speculation beaches itself because it’s so puzzling.
First off, if you haven’t watched the trailer, you better watch it now:
What’s it all about? Only Kojima and his team will truly know, but let’s have a go at breaking everything down, shot by shot.
William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence
The trailer starts with a handpicked quatrain from the very beginning of William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence. An augury refers to a sign of something to come, or an omen of what will happen in the future. It connotes consequence, and taking a look at the poem in its entirety, the relation to the scenes in the trailer become (somewhat) clearer. Not really, but go with it.
“A Robin Red Breast in a cage,/Puts all Heaven in a rage.”
“The wanton boy that kills the fly,/Shall feel the Spider’s enmity.”
“A dog starv’d at his Master’s Gate,/Predicts the ruin of the State.”
“A Horse misus’d upon the Road,/Calls to Heaven for Human blood.”
Auguries of Innocence is essentially a compilation of couplets that juxtapose innocence with brutality. Wanton acts of cruelty such as caging birds won’t go down well with Heaven, whilst killing a fly will see nature turn against you. Throughout the poem there are constant references to animal suffering: dogs, birds and horses all suffer at the hands of humanity. And every time, there are severe consequences for us. Blake suggests that our actions are tied to the divine and the greater numinous universe. Human cruelty will come to be judged eventually and it seems that it won’t just be a slap on the wrist – it’ll be apocalyptic.
“The Bleat, the Bark, Bellow & Roar,/Are Waves that Beat on Heaven’s Shore.”
Seeing as naked Norman Reedus ends up on a beach of some sort, the couplet with “waves” in it naturally caught my attention. Again, it’s stating that the passions and terrors of this world are like an ocean that produces waves in Heaven. All our actions (causes) merge into a giant sea of horribleness that knocks on Heaven’s door, prompting an effect of some sort.
Is the sandy shore Norman finds himself on an allusion to Heaven’s shore?
“Every Tear from Every Eye,/Becomes a Babe in Eternity.”
We also see Norman clutching a child to his chest in anguish. Well, going by this quote, if you shed a tear for something, it’ll fix itself and get made right. So, is there hope for the baby? Or is the baby a vessel for making things right again?
Yep that’s a crab’s corpse, but it’s also got a black wire leading out of it. Bit strange.
Norman’s naked which connotes a rebirth of sorts. It could also suggest an element of experimentation and the possibility he could’ve been in a facility handled by dodgy scientists with latex gloves.
There’s a wire leading from his chest (belly button I’m assuming) to the baby, acting as a futuristic, man-made umbilical cord. It’s certainly indicative of a strong connection with the child and could suggest that it’s his child, or even stranger; a child he’s given birth to.
He’s wearing sci-fi handcuffs but isn’t impaired by them in the slightest. This raises a number of questions: Is this a metaphor for him being shackled or stranded? Has he freed himself from something sinister? Or is he the wrongdoer, once cuffed and arrested?
His body is also littered with hand prints that have marked his skin.
Hand prints move towards our protagonist as if there’s an invisible creature crawling towards him. These prints sink into the sand and immediately fill with a black ink or oil that feels a little out of place when it comes down to the very natural setting. To me, they seem menacing and corrupting in some sense.
These hand prints make their way around Norman and the baby. What’s odd though is the fact that there aren’t two in conjunction with each other.
We get another look at the hand prints that cover almost every inch of his birthday suit.
Clearly the baby means a great deal to him and he sobs with grief.
The baby suddenly disappears and his hands are covered with the same black ink that filled the hand prints that moved to surround him. Whilst it could suggest the baby melted into tar, wouldn’t we see a big puddle by his knees? What we can’t see in the screenshot is the next sequence of events. Tiny baby hand prints run down his leg and out towards the ocean.
Could it be escaping from him? Is it being snatched away from him in some manner? Has it joined the “other” invisible creatures? All these questions relate to my theory that the baby is leading him towards whatever’s out there in the sea.
His hands being covered in black ink suggests there’s a connection between him and whatever “it” may be. Perhaps the ink staining his skin is representative of the sins he’s committed in the past, robbing him of his child?
Missing a belly button, there’s a giant cross taking its place. Connected to the wire/umbilical cord, it looks as if he’s been cut open and messed around with. And we can’t ignore the religious symbolism of the Christian cross; a universal symbol of suffering and sacrifice, but also triumph and salvation.
Is our protagonist then a sacrifice for a secret plan to make things better? Has he been robbed of what’s believed to be a prodigal child that he wishes to rescue from some crazed corporation?
It’s also worth noting that the hand prints seem to surround his flesh, all reaching towards one thing; the cross shaped scar on his chest.
He stands up and the camera pans out, allowing us to see that he wears a necklace with six dog tags that also strongly resemble padlocks. Dog tags are primarily for identification purposes, used to identify dead or wounded soldiers by looking at the personal information etched onto them, whilst padlocks are used to lock things away; secrets or safe-keeping.
Also take note of the dragon shaped tattoo on his right bicep as we’ll come back to that later.
Additionally, courtesy of Kotaku, zooming in on these tags shows that they’re actually engraved with mathematical equations that reference things such as relativity and quantum mechanics. Things that fly way over my head, but seem in line with the sci-fi, otherworldly vibe and notion of time having some significance here.
In the final sequence we’re bombarded with confusing details. The first thing we’ll notice are the whales and other sea animals beached on the shore. This could be a reference to cetacean stranding, the bizarre natural phenomenon where these creatures – predominantly whales – beach themselves. Harking back all the way to the wire poking out of the crab carcass at the start of the trailer, these decaying corpses also seem to have wires running into the ocean. And taking a look at the whale on the right, we can see odd markings that suggest something’s happened to them. Is this ocean in some way related to suffering? And is this why they’ve decided to take their own lives as they’re unable to sever their connection with it?
This is where the dragon shaped tattoo comes into play, and also proves to be fascinating connection if it is one. The English word dragon derives from Greek δράκων (drákōn), “dragon, serpent of huge size, water-snake”. It’s the “water-snake” we’re interested in here and diving deeper into Greek Mythology we find that the word kētos, latinised as ‘cetus’ denotes a large fish, whale, shark or sea monster – hence, Cetacean stranding. Cetus also refers to a constellation named after the “cetus” or giant sea monster who Cassiopeia’s daughter, Andromeda, was sacrificed to before being saved by Perseus. Undoubtedly a connection can be drawn between the etymology of the word “dragon” and its connection to the sea. What’s more, dragons are sometimes associated with eternal life or immortality with societies such as The Order of the Dragon using the mark of the ouroboros (dragon or serpent eating its own tail) as one prominent example. We suspect there’s more of the tattoo we’re not seeing and it’s difficult to ascertain if any of these connections are even so much as relevant here, let alone why he has a tattoo of a dragon – if it is even a dragon.
Turning our attention to the sky, we see five figures in a perfectly straight line that seem to be bearing down on poor Norman. It’s difficult to glean any meaning from their existence at the moment, but one could argue that they could be related to the dog tags he’s wearing. To add further confusion, the figure in the center appears to have his arms crossed, whilst the others to his/her side have their arms down to their sides. Personally, I have a feeling they’re actually images of the protagonist himself due to the underlying theme of rebirth, divinity and time. Just don’t ask me for any more reasoning.
The title “Death Stranding” evokes the sense of rebirth. Rather than ceasing to exist, it implies that you’re reborn in another world, stranded in some capacity. It could also refer to two other things: strands of wire and the strands of ink that appear to be running down the title. This begs the question, is the black oily substance running through the wires?
Looking up beaches and volcanic islands led me to a dead end, until I stumbled into an article which mentioned the Black Sand Beach located near the village of Vík í Mýrdal and its similarity to the beach Norman finds himself on. Further research tells us it’s not somewhere you’d go for a swim, and a monument has been erected on the beach in memory of the many lives that have been lost to its dangerous waters. If this is the beach were Death Stranding‘s trailer is set, it’s interesting to question why Iceland is involved. Just don’t question us, we have no idea.
We hope this onslaught of speculation has at least tickled your curiosity or added some tiny nugget of insight into Kojima’s maddeningly cryptic Death Stranding. It was immensely fun to write and we can’t wait until the day we see more of this game and get some concrete answers.