Mythological Symbols in Resident Evil 4

Monday 1 October 2018

There are three instances where mythological symbols become prominent in the Resident Evil 4 story, something that is, by default, an extremely interesting element that is worth exploring; moreso since, not randomly, I would guess, those symbols are borrowed from three different mythologies around the world. While they can be all viewed simply as aesthetic additions and, in the two of the three cases as the puzzles that they essentially are, their literary and factual interpretation is equally important, in relation to the game's characters and their (back)stories.

The most obvious symbol is the Chimera mural in Salazar's castle. Coming from the ancient Greek mythology, the Chimera was a monstrous-looking, fire-breathing lion with a goat head emerging from its back and a tail with a serpent's head at its end, which was killed by Bellerophon, a hero and slayer of monsters.

The impressive relief shows Bellerophon attacking the Chimera

The mural in Resident Evil 4 appears in chapter 3-1, when Leon enters the main section of the castle with Ashley. The wall that it decorates drops down, blocking the passage leading forward, and upon seeing the impressive relief, Leon mentions that it is 'a beautiful decoration'. After taking a few seconds to admire our fearless hero for being an art-loving and cultivated zombie killer, we realize that what we actually see is half the mural: Bellerophon is there, but the three pieces of which the Chimera is comprised, are missing; so we need to find the three respective ornaments: the Lion, the Goat and the Serpent.

All those three aforementioned animals carry some major and essential symbolisms on their own. The Lion, referring to the beautiful feline that is considered the King of the Jungle, represents grandeur, bravery, beauty and leadership. Considering that Leon's name also means 'lion', it becomes rather obvious that, from an allegorical / metaphorical point of view, the Lion symbol is related to him. He too, like the king of the jungle, is beautiful and brave; he is also a charismatic leader whom all the others respect.

Leon is a particularly dominant character throughout the whole Resident Evil series. Having appeared in six games as a main character (I also count Operation Raccoon City and the upcoming Resident Evil 2 remake among those) and all three CGI movies as a protagonist, he has clearly established his status as one of the most popular heroes not only among the fans of the saga, but also among the game's developers. The combination of high intelligence, excellent survival skills, good heart and great looks, quickly turned him into a hero that could be loved as easily as breathing the air. Leon's charisma is something that could never pass unnoticed, inevitably being also admired by his enemies.

Leon is as charismatic as a hero should be

The Goat, which generally and commonly symbolizes vitality and energy, is nonetheless associated with the dark powers of evil in several myths, folklore and religions. From that specific aspect, in its secondary but no less important allegorical depiction, the Goat is related to all the evil that dominates in the story of Resident Evil 4: Lord Saddler, Salazar, Bitores Mendez and last but not least Wesker, are the powers of evil that destroy, kill and spread infections wherever they go.

Set in the middle of the Chimera, the Goat has a very prominent role in the symbol, just like the villains of the story affect everybody with their actions and decisions. Hidden somewhere in the backstage, Wesker pulls the strings, attempting to turn the outcome of the events to his own benefit. Saddler, the typical egomaniac psychopath with the Messiah syndrom, has no moral barriers and is the definition of Evil in full. Bitores Mendez is his second-in-command, but no less lethal and determined to exterminate whomever he believes to be a threat. As for Salazar, he is more like a pawn in Saddler's game, but his inflated ego - in contrast with his diminutive stature - cannot let him see things for what they are, and he is doomed to follow the path of Evil for the rest of his short and miserable life.

Salazar is a miniature dictator with zero perception of reality

The Serpent may allude to Evil on several levels, with the most prominent being its connection to the Devil and the original sin, but in the case of the Resident Evil 4 story it acts as a much more specific and direct symbol, being obviously related to the game's most memorable villain, Jack Krauser. From his notable mischievous gaze, which looks exactly like a snake's, to his trademark combat knife that has a serpent carved at the bottom part of its blade, Krauser seems to be no less than the human manifestation of what is, apparently, his spirit animal.

Jack's connection with snakes goes even further, however. If we trace his story back to his jungle adventure with Leon in The Darkside Chronicles, we will recall how during the first meeting with his future partner he immediately sensed the presence of a snake that was about to attack Leon, and instantly stabbed it on the head. Later on, one of the first things that he noticed when the zombified soldiers attacked them at the village, was the snake tattoo that they had on them. Jack had always been fascinated by snakes, feeling at the same time attracted and compelled by them. By embracing them as his symbol / spirit animal, he was able to tame them and subsequently gain several of their traits and qualities. Thus he appears as a cunning, villainous and sly, but at the same time extremely intelligent and highly perceptive man who has a very strong instinct and relies heavily on it.

Krauser is a lethal and complex character

Leon as part of the Chimera symbol is an inseparable part of the story, leading to its conclusion which is the elimination of all the evil that the Goat and the Serpent represent from the hand of Bellerophon who, in turn, as a monster killer, is another manifestation of Leon, the zombie killer. This means that Leon is represented by two symbols here (Bellerophon and the Lion), which brings us back to the duality of Leon's character as it is illustrated in the symbolism of the Golden Lynx puzzle.

Much later, in Chapter 5-3, we come across another mythological symbol which may pass unnoticed as it is not part of any puzzle and it is located on a spot that can be easily missed. Above the huge double doors that separate the rest of the island from the ruins, there is a depiction of Melusine, the two-tailed mermaid of the Celtic folklore.

Melusine watches from high up

Melusine is a spirit of the water and is usually depicted with a dual tail, either of a fish or of a snake. According to her legend, she was able to change forms, and thus could also appear with the normal body of a woman. The pattern of transformation is very familiar to Jack Krauser's story, as we see him change forms during Leon's final fight with him, which takes place just beyond that specific gate. Melusine as a symbol of Krauser's imminent shapeshifting acts as a minor allegory that kind of brings together his two appearances - the one that belongs to the Earth element (the Snake) and the one that belongs to the Air element (his final mutation which will grant him the wing-like arm).

In the same chapter, we come across the final important mythological symbol of the story. The Holy Beast that can be seen as a relief at the end of Chapter 5-3 is a variation of a triptych of the Incan mythology with the original sacred animals being the Puma, the Snake and the Condor. In the Resident Evil 4 story, we have a mural that depicts a Panther, a Serpent and an Eagle. Just like the Chimera mural in the castle, this here too is missing its three pieces, which in this case are three insignias with the three animals carved on them. Two of them, the Panther and the Eagle, are found laying on the ground in different parts of the ruins, and the last one, the Serpent, can be obtained only after Leon kills Krauser, as he is the one who holds it.

The Holy Beast relief is an exceptional symbol

The Snake here carries a more inclusive role than in its Chimera depiction. Considering that it is an animal that has the ability to change its skin, it represents transformation and rebirth. The Panther as a spirit animal symbolizes courage and power, but also aggression and fierceness. The Eagle symbolizes immortality and connection to the divine, as it can fly higher than any other bird.

The three animals depicted in the relief are interconnected, and the two of them are symbols of the same person, that is Krauser. Both the Serpent and the Eagle relate to him - the Serpent as a constant allegory of his inner self, which probably also explains why he decided to keep that specific piece with him, and the Eagle as the manifestation of his final mutation in which he appeared with a graceful but extremely lethal arm with blades that look like wings (as if foreshadowing this, the Eagle insignia is found on the ground, just below the pedestal where Jack's aformentioned mutation takes place). Because of the Eagle's allegory of immortality, it also hints at Krauser's desire to possess superhuman power, as well as at the possibility that he might not have really died in the end.

Jack's final mutation is as impressive as it is terrifying

The Panther, on the other hand, represents mainly Leon, but also Krauser on a sublevel: as a powerful and brave feline, it is Leon's symbol; but as an aggressive protector, it is more like Krauser. Somewhere deep inside him, Krauser had several things in common with Leon - he even mentions in The Darkside Chronicles that Leon and himself are two sides of the same coin - but at some point he decided to bury them and let the darkness inside him prevail. In the mural, the Panther subdues the Snake from which an Eagle rises. In other words, Leon defeated Krauser as well as his mutated form, and while Krauser was apparently exterminated, that original part of him that was the good soldier whom Leon met in the jungle, presumably still exists in Leon's memories, given the comment that he makes concerning his opponent at the end of the fight. Which, in turn, signifies that, under that light, the two characters are united in their common symbol of the Panther.


Unknown said...

This is very interesting as far as the symbolism. The original Resident Evil 2 also has a similar triptych of a Jaguar, Serpent and Eagle Stones. Access to the Jaguar Stone requires the use of two red gems referred to as Virgin Hearts (which is suggestive of Aztec human sacrifice) and the fact that all three stones are required for Claire to access the sewers that lead to the underground lab suggests a sort of descent into the underworld. There's also Eagle and Wolf Medals, as well as a Unicorn Medallion. If we're going with logic of the animal symbols representing characters, then I would guess the Jaguar is still Leon, the Eagle is Claire (the angel/valkyrie on her jacket has wings) and the snake is likely William Birkin, who goes through several transformations throughout the game. The Eagle could also represent Ada, who first meets Leon by firing near him suddenly from offscreen (akin to a sudden aerial attack by a bird of prey). Annette Birkin seems to engage in the same behavior as she also shoots at the characters suddenly from a distance. The Wolf is both William Birkin and the Tyrant, relentlessly dogging the characters' steps in search of Sherry, the innocent Unicorn.

This is all just guessing on my part and I could be wrong, but it's a fun thought experiment nonetheless.

hisbrokenbutterfly said...

That's very interesting! I love how these games offer us so much to think about!