Elements of Classic and Contemporary Culture in Life Is Strange 2

Friday 7 August 2020

Apart from its extensive references to JD Salinger's novel The Catcher in the Rye and its Resident Evil easter eggs, which I covered in two separate articles (here and here), Life is Strange 2 features many more references to both classic and contemporary culture, which are also worth exploring, as all of them are not simply there for the sake of it, but are moreover connected to the game's story and its characters in several ways. Some are more obvious while others require a bit more observation and search.

Finn's name nods to Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer's best friend from Mark Twain's famous novels The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Huckleberry, best known as Huck, is a young boy who lives in the margins of society; son of a drunkard, abusive father, he found it was better to live in the streets. He is smart and cunning, sometimes gets misguided, but he has a heart of gold. Pretty much like Finn from the game, that is.

Finn with Sean (left) and Huck with Tom from a recent film adaptation of Tom Sawyer

Additionally, Finn's full first name is Finnegan, referencing Finnegan's Wake, the novel written by James Joyce which is considered the most complex work of fiction of British literature and the hardest to interpret. It is written in a bizarre, complex style which consists of puns, made-up words and idioms and its story is like a maze. Something which, to some extent, applies to Finn who may have an extrovert attitude and social charisma, but he is also multi-dimensional, with many secrets and unexplored paths in his character.

This is not the only case where James Joyce comes into play in the game. When Sean and Daniel enter Karen's room at the end of episode 2, they find one of her toys, a bear called Ulysses. Ulysses may be the legendary hero of Homer's Odyssey, but it is also the title of one of Joyce's most famous novels. Both the Odyssey and Ulysses narrate numerous adventures that their main heroes go through, just like Sean and Daniel do during their journey.

By the end of episode 3, Sean is seriously injured and loses his left eye. Later in episode 4, Karen gives him an eye patch to cover it with. Interestingly enough, James Joyce used to wear an identical eye patch over his left eye, since he had many problems with his vision and had undergone several operations for this purpose.

Sean (left) and James Joyce with their eye patches

Sean and his destroyed eye also allude to Carl Grimes from The Walking Dead, who lost his right eye after being shot. From that point and on, Carl is always seen wearing a bandage over his eye, just like Sean during the months after his injury.

Sean (left) and Carl, both with bandaged eyes

This resemblance alone might have been random, but it is not, as it is related to a few more Walking Dead easter eggs.

While Sean and Daniel reside in the abandoned cabin in the woods in episode 2, they (well, most probably Daniel!) carve the message "Keep out, Wolves inside". In the first episode of The Walking Dead, Rick Grimes wakes up from a coma at a hospital and, while wandering around the deserted, bloody halls, he arrives outside the Cafeteria, where someone has written "Don't open, Dead inside" on the padlocked doors. Since Daniel's fascination with zombies is well known, we can easily assume that he wrote the message on the cabin wall, inspired by the one in the series.

Additionally, after Sean escapes from the hospital to find Daniel in episode 4, he comes across two hostile locals in the desert, one of whom is particularly violent and when he realizes that Sean is Mexican, he attempts to humiliate him in any way he can think of. If you choose to obey to him to avoid trouble, in the end he forces Sean to sing a song in Spanish. This scene reminds of one in The Walking Dead, where the bloodthirsty villain Negan forces Carl to sing a song for him in private. Although Negan's motives are different from the evil guy's in the game, the sequence plays out in a similar way.

The scene from Life is Strange 2

The scene from The Walking Dead

When episode 3 starts, we do not know much about Finn yet, but as the story unfolds, we have the chance to learn about him and his habits. While exploring his friend's tent, Sean spots a copy of The Lord of the Flies, the famous novel by William Golding. The book tells the story of a group of students who find themselves stranded on a tropical island after their plane crashes, and are forced to find means to survive in an environment where the wild and the unknown are not the most dangerous enemies. Apart from the book's literary significance, it also relates to the story of the game as the group of drifters led by Finn live a solitary life out on the road and are called to face several dangers every day.

That said, there are also references to Jack Kerouak's novel On The Road, where the main characters are in the course of a road trip that follows a route similar to the one Sean and Daniel take, which also ends in Mexico. The drifters' bohemian lifestyle, smoking weed, traveling through the desert, getting to California, all this alludes to Kerouak's story, which is, to a high degree, autobiographical, although he has altered the names of the real people who correspond to his fictional characters.

Kerouak (top left) and his friends in Mexico City

One of them is Dean Moriarty, whose real life counterpart was Neal Cassady. Cassidy's name is partly a tribute to him, since her own attitude is laid back and carefree like his was. Her most significant reference, however, is to Eva Cassidy, a singer and guitarist who used to play and sing in the streets for a good amount of her life, but died very young. Since the game's Cassidy is a talented singer and guitarist, we can assume that she used to sing from an early age, and probably adopted her nickname to honor the famous but ill-fated musician. Or maybe her friends called her that way because she would always sing and play her guitar.

Cassisy (left) and real-life musician Eva Cassisy

Pennywise took his nickname from the penny he is wearing as a pendant, as a reminder of the dear friend that he lost and is desperately trying to find. If we attempt to analyze his nickname more thoroughly, it hints at his street wisdom, since he tends to express philosophical questions several times during the game. The nick itself, however, nods to It by Stephen King and its main evil character Pennywise. Of course the game's Penny is anything but evil; sharing a name with such a terrifyinh character is pure irony. Maybe he was a fan of King's horror stories, and besides he is the kind of person who tends to believe in conspiracy theories and urban legends.

Having a copy of The Lord of the Flies is not Finn's only exhibition of literary interest. If we take the time to look around the drifters' camp in the forest, we will come upon a tree with the words "Bonjour Tristess" (sic) sprayed on them. We can be sure it is Finn who wrote them, as they are made with the same style and the same colours that he used to spray the target on the tree near the lake, so that Daniel could practice knife-throwing. The words allude to the novel Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan, which tells the story of a frivolous teenager who unwillingly causes a family tragedy. Though not directly related to Finn as a theme, the book and his life's story do have the tragic factor in common, only in his case the drama was caused by his father. But it's very likely that Finn didn't care much about the story of the book, and was more attracted to its pessimistic title (Hello sadness) which he liked to use as a quote, albeit he did misspell it on the graffiti. Or maybe he was directly quoting Paul Éluard's poem À peine défigurée, from which the phrase originally comes.

The scissors in the middle of the graffiti are also one more proof this was made by Finn, as he uses actual scissors a bit later in episode 3 to cut Sean's hair.

Kerouak also has written a novel titled Tristessa, which narrates the story of a real-life prostitute from Mexico whom the writer had met, and gave her the name Tristessa in the book. See Mexico is ever present in the game, from the very beginning; and several reminders show up as we proceed.
A rather unforgettable sequence in episode 3 is right after Cassidy, Finn and Jacob find out about Daniel's power and they swear to Sean that they will keep it a secret. When all are back at the camp, the sub-section that begins is titled Paradise Lost, and it is when Sean has to decide whether he and Daniel will agree to go to Merrill's house to rob his money. The title of this section is borrowed from John Milton's famous poem which tells the biblical story of the fall of man. In this case however its significance is not religious but rather literal. It foretells how the drifters, and together with them Sean and Daniel, are about to lose their freedom, and subsequently the relatively happy days that they were living in the camp, since the heist is going to happen anyway.

The whole episode 3 is titled Wastelands, taken from TS Eliot's masterpiece The Waste Land, a long poem full of symbols and allegories which is one of the most important works of literature of the 20th century. The whole structure of the poem bears some resemblance to the specific episode from Life is Strange 2, but also to the game overall: it deals with themes such as disorientation, distress and disillusionment, it features several characters who talk about various themes in turn and in the end comes judgement. Additionally, it is split in five parts, like Life is Strange 2 has five episodes, and there is imagery in each of them that can be related to the game's story sequences.

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