Elden Ring is a metaphor for current-day cinema
Last year’s newest video game hit by FromSoftware: Elden Ring, presents players worldwide with a dark fantasy full of metaphors built around gold and trees. The protagonist is aptly called The Tarnished, meaning a gold that has corroded to reveal a discolored dark underneath. The game world that the player is free to explore, is designed with verticality in mind, starting from the lush landscapes of the beautiful surface to the ethereal underground depths of rotted roots. On the surface, the giant Erdtree stands tall forever on the horizon, a symbolic parallel to the Norse tree of life named Yggdrasil. But as the intro of the game itself states, the falling leaves tell a story, and slowly this facade of a glowing golden tree burns away to reveal what secrets lie in the shadows beneath.
Unlike reality, death in Elden Ring is not a cosmic certainty. Due to a governing principle called the Golden Order, physical bodies may die but their souls evidently return back to the Erdtree, awaiting rebirth. What once was Destined Death has been subverted for a purpose greater than the player’s knowledge. What’s left of the dead are Remembrances — memories and powers of great lords and demigods now subsumed by the Erdtree. Though necromancy in life as we know it may pale in comparison, there has been an odd surge of resurrections in the world of cinema that feels just as unnatural as the fates of Elden Ring’s occupants. Recent blockbuster movies have had a habit of bringing back old actors and long-dead franchises for reboots, sequels, and nostalgic reminders of Hollywood’s heyday. It appears that the higher-ups of Hollywood long to bring back their golden age just as much as the Golden Order of Elden Ring wants to stay in control to bring back the time of their renown.
How many new ideas and intellectual properties have been introduced compared with the previous two decades? Now, actors whose films ended ten to twenty years ago come back to reprise a role meant for a different time and audience. They regurgitate lines and fan-favorite quotes for a substantial paycheck, in exchange for character development and emotional continuity. They are often even given a fresh sheen of CGI makeup, to fool the flow of time. Overworking visual effects artists and assuming creative control, all these efforts are done by huge production companies in an attempt to provide a product that is consumable to the largest audience possible. They paint the visible surface as pretty as possible to hide the fact that there is nothing of substance underneath. What’s left is a cardboard cutout of Hollywood’s greatest hits, a faux gold that tries to replicate the beauty of past successes, but only ends up tarnished in hindsight. Their goal is no longer to create innovative art but to make something that’s marketable for the most amount of people, to please everyone and offend no one. They feign inclusivity by doing the bare minimum to appease the LGBT community, the Chinese market, and the feminist movement, without doing any foundational work that supports great stories.
The worst offender is using state-of-the-art artificial intelligence such as Deepfake and Respeecher to create the illusion that actors haven’t aged. This uncanny valley disconnects the audience and separates the characters from the people playing them. Unlike humans, these live-action cartoons still look and sound the same even after all this time, they appear seemingly just as we remember them in our childhoods. But we know they can’t, there is a line for suspension of disbelief, and without actors, the characters lose humanity, their souls kept like copyright whilst their bodies live on without them, undead and no longer their own. This is not even talking about reanimated actors, real-life deceased’s likenesses being recreated artificially for cameos and fan service. An act arguably not dissimilar to digging up graves for spare change. If actors’ voices and performances are saved and owned by companies for future use even after their demise, it is terrifyingly on brand with the depressing dark fantasy of Elden Ring.
Before the 20th century, nostalgia was actually considered a psychological disorder. It was a title appointed to those who feel isolated and alienated, spellbound by their own idealized memories and mistaken recollections (Rosen, 1975). Nostalgia itself as a state of experience is ever entangled with its sister feeling: trauma. They are both similar in the sense that they are oriented backward, to a familiar past that is exaggerated in either pain or pleasure. This familiarity is what gives a sense of hominess, and what will thereafter determine dispositions toward future situations (Pintér, 2014). The past is only ever as good in comparison with a more horrible present. Just as this obsession with a former era makes most of Elden Ring’s people blind to new ways of living, current-day Hollywood adamantly retreads old ground, rejecting new ideas and input.
If Luke Skywalker looks and sounds the same in 2022 as he did in 1983, whilst Mark Hamill has naturally aged 40 years since then, why not just recast and get a fresh take on an old song? Maybe people want to be fooled, they want their childhood icons to act exactly the same way as they remember them. As the audience feels the march of time, maybe they want to believe that their icons do not. Maybe they want 71-year-old Michael Keaton to still be Batman but move 30 years younger, to repeat the same lines they heard in the theatre way back when. Maybe then they’d feel younger too. The negative reaction to how different Old Luke acts in 2018’s The Last Jedi underscores this perfectly; people want 71-year-old Mark Hamill to play 23-year-old Luke Skywalker. People are getting more protective of the characters that they were born with. So to not offend a part of their audience, companies cater to the least sensitive thing out there: nostalgia; unknowingly infantilizing the audience to revel in anachronistic artifacts.
So how does Elden Ring attempt to solve this problem? There are alternative paths presented in the story for players to choose from. One of them is to make death permanent again, restoring the natural state of things. Another is to look to the stars, free the world from past shackles, and try something previously unthought of. Maybe A24 and their emphasis on unique indie and more experimental films will pave the path for creative cinematic progress, or maybe it’s something no one has even imagined yet. Whatever it is, there is a time for everything, especially for change, and while the Golden Older stole Destined Death, Disney stole the comfort of endings. Franchises used to finish their stories, leaving their characters to live on in each of our hearts and minds. Now they limp on defiled, soulless and forgettable.
Pintér, J. N. (2014). The Never-ending Present: Trauma and Nostalgia. Book in Hungarian: The Never-Ending Present: Trauma and Nostalgia, Budapest, Harmattan, 2014. https://doi.org/10.13140/RG.2.2.30657.22885
Rosen, G. (1975). Nostalgia: a “forgotten” psychological disorder. Psychological Medicine, 5(4), 340–354. https://doi.org/10.1017/s003329170005697x