Spitting out the Red Pill
Don Quixote is an interesting comparison, but Kojima is really more of a movie guy.
Think back. Do you remember Kojima saying that MGS2 was influenced by Terminator 2? It’s funny he would reference that particular movie, because just one year earlier Arnold Schwarzenegger was in another blockbuster film, named “Total Recall”. The film takes place in a future where a people can buy “virtual vacations”, which offer customers the chance to experience affordable and custom-tailored implanted memories. The protagonist, average man Douglas Quaid, undergoes this procedure in order to satisfy his haunting curiosity about Mars, but does so with the extra option of playing out this fantasy as a secret agent who has to save the planet. When the action starts, he can’t be sure whether he really is a secret agent or if this was all part of the vacation package.
Take a look at this handy 5 minute summary/review (some foul language) to see why this movie should be recognized as the true inspiration for Sons of Liberty, thematically speaking. I had my own handy compilation video to embed here, but it seems that the awful Total Recall remake being made with Collin Ferrel has gotten Tristar paranoid about copyright content, even when it’s intended for fair use. No embedding is allowed, period. Sorry, but this is the best I can legally do.
I think you’ll agree that after seeing the review of the movie — or preferably purchased the DVD and watched it in full — that it’s hard to ignore the overlap. It’s also hard not to think that Kojima’s comment about Terminator 2 in that interview was a little hint, designed to point diligent fans in the right direction. Without actually admitting it, he wants people to dig around and discover the VR Theory for themselves, by watching the old movies that inspired it. For example, the final moment of the movie has Quaid and his dream woman standing together in triumph, much like Rose and Raiden. She comments how she “can’t believe it” because “it’s like a dream”. Quaid, once again remembering that all his experiences have perfectly unfolded just as his custom vacation package promised, openly says that he thinks it might be a dream. She replies that if it is, they better kiss before he wakes up. Of course, you will remember the conversation between Raiden and Rose about whether his mission was a dream or not. He says he won’t let Rose be just a dream. By the end of the game he still isn’t sure.
The parallels are so strong, and Kojima is so well-known for his worship of classic Hollywood movies, that I have no problem saying it: Kojima intended fellow movie-loving players to use Total Recall as a practical decryption code for MGS2, like a cipher for filling its most important blanks. Questions such as, “what kind of VR device is Raiden hooked up to?” are illustrated by the film: he’s probably sitting in a high-tech lab with something hooked up to his head, while being monitored by scientists.
And let’s not overlook the fact that both Total Recall and MGS2 were huge bait-and-switches, too. People assumed Total Recall would be a typical, mindless blockbuster movie (it’s got Arnold in it, after all) but they were ultimately were faced a confusing story filled with questions about whether it was a dream or not. It challenges the viewer to question their own fantasies of violence and the dangers of escapism. Even the idea of misleading fans in order to foist such challenges on them was borrowed.
As mentioned in the review of the movie, Quaid’s secret agent exploits are interrupted by Dr. Edgemar, who calmly tries to persuade him to swallow a red pill, which represents his desire to return to reality. (This idea was cleverly paid homage by The Matrix when Neo is offered a chance to take the red pill as well, which would wake him up from his own digital dream — this time, a normal inconspicuous life.) By the time Dr. Edgemar confronts Quaid he’s already deep into his fantasy, so he suspects the doctor was hired by the bad guys to trick him into giving up. Look at this excerpt of the conversation:
EDGEMAR This is going to be very difficult for you at accept, Mr. Quaid. QUAID I'm listening. EDGEMAR I'm afraid you're not really standing here right now. Quaid can't repress a chuckle. QUAID Ya know, Doc, you could have fooled me. EDGEMAR I'm quite serious. You're not here, and neither am I. Quaid squeezes Edgemar's shoulder, verifying its solidity. QUAID Amazing. Where are we? EDGEMAR At Rekall. Quaid's cockiness wavers. EDGEMAR (CONT'D) You're strapped into an implant chair, and I'm monitoring you at a psycho-probe console. QUAID Oh, I get it; I'm dreaming! And this is all part of that delightful vacation your company sold me. EDGEMAR Not exactly. What you're experiencing is a free-form delusion based on our memory tapes. But you're inventing it yourself as you go along. QUAID Well, if this is my delusion, who invited you? EDGEMAR I've been artificially implanted as an emergency measure. (gravely) I'm sorry to tell you this, Mr. Quaid, but you've suffered a schizoid embolism. We can't snap you out of your fantasy. I've been sent in to try to talk you down. QUAID How much is Cohaagen paying you for this? EDGEMAR Think about it. Your dream started in the middle of the implant procedure. Everything after that--the chases, the trip to Mars, your suite here at the Hilton--these are all elements of your Rekall Holiday. And Ego Trip: You paid to be a secret agent. QUAID Bullshit. It's all coincidence. EDGEMAR What about the girl? Brunette, athletic, sleazy and demure; just like you specified. Is that a coincidence? QUAID She's real. I dreamed about her before I even went to Rekall. EDGEMAR Mr. Quaid, can you hear yourself? "She's real because you dreamed her?" QUAID That's right. Edgemar sighs, discouraged.
Ultimately Quaid spits out the red pill. He pulls the trigger, killing Dr. Edgemar and his last chance for sanity, and just as Edgemar predicted the walls of reality come crashing down. It’s a turning point in the story, where the action becomes bigger, faster, and more ridiculous — not unlike how Arsenal Gear and Raiden’s sob story about being a child soldier suddenly happen once the computer virus is implanted into G.W.! In both cases, the symbol of their willingness to partake in the lie leads to a delusion is free to reach new extremes without restraint. Running around naked while being told to turn off the game one minute, then fighting waves of high tech ninjas alongside Solid Snake the next? Raiden even carries Cyborg Ninja’s famous high frequency blade, and suddenly has the ability to deflects bullets with it!
Finger on the trigger, Quaid is torn with doubt. EDGEMAR The walls of reality will come crashing down. One minute you'll be the savior of the rebel cause, then, next thing you know, you'll be Cohaagen's bosom buddy. You'll even have ridiculous fantasies about alien civilizations--as you requested. But in the end, back on Earth...You'll be lobotomized.
With that said, the viewers are given the option to believe what they want. Was Quaid actually a secret agent whose memories were suppressed, or was Dr. Edgemar right about the freeform delusion? The movie doesn’t confirm or deny either view officially. Was Raiden in another simulation, or did he really have a sword fight with the ex-President on top of Federal Hall? It’s up to us to figure it out. The difference is that Total Recall didn’t have any real plot holes, whereas MGS2 has plenty of major ones, making any alternative to the VR Theory seem pretty stupid.
Ignorance may be bliss for these protagonists, but thankfully it’s not for us. As soon as we acknowledge the fact that the game is all a dream, we can start to really enjoy it, and pay attention to Kojima’s fascinating memes instead of dumb questions about ghost limbs and undead bisexuals.