'Death Stranding': Dissecting the Many Allusions to Film, Politics in New Trailer

From 'Apocalypse Now' to 'The Terminator' to Robert Mueller, the new gameplay trailer is rife with references and callbacks to the real world.

“We don’t need a country. Not anymore.” Kojima Productions on Wednesday released the gameplay trailer and release date for its highly anticipated PS4 exclusive, Death Stranding.

So, what is Death Stranding? Three years since its initial announcement, cryptic teases from legendary game director Hideo Kojima and guesswork from the web’s most committed video gamers, we finally have our answer. Well, sorta.

Kojima’s game, the first from his newly minted indie studio, carries the label of an action game, but it’s clearly much more than that as Kojima suggested in Wednesday’s press release. To try to pigeonhole Death Stranding is seemingly impossible, but the latest trailer — boasting the talents of Norman Reedus, Mads Mikkelsen, Lea Seydoux, Margaret Qualley and Guillermo del Toro — gives us a look at a post-apocalyptic America and Sam’s (Reedus) plight to put it back together by crossing into another world and reconnecting with the past. Even that description way oversimplifies what’s at play here, but it’s a fine logline to present what may be the title that proves to be the next great leap for video gaming.

Kojima has said that the "strand" in the title Death Stranding stands for strings and connections. He also has made no secret of the many influences, from movies, literature and music, that come to play within his games. And if you follow him on Twitter, you’ll find no shortage of passion and interesting takes on our media.

Death Stranding, as is clear from the cast alone, certainly has one foot planted firmly in the world of popular culture. The trailer features a number of allusions to film and television. The trench-war footage evokes Paths of Glory (1957), while Mikkelsen’s face emerging from the water is an obvious throwback to 1979's Apocalypse Now. And Mikkelsen rising from tar is almost identical to the naked time-travel emergence seen in The Terminator (1984) and its sequels.

And, of course, there are The Walking Dead and Hannibal references in both the casting choices and the roles that Reedus and Mikkelsen appear to be playing. But there also are less obvious visual and audio clues that suggest an inspiration from authors Aldous Huxley, Joe Haldeman and Thomas Pynchon, who was himself known for creating strings between almost everything imaginable in the physical and metaphysical realms.

Death Stranding’s other foot is deep in the muck of our real politics. "There's so many things happening in the real world, America and Europe, everything is actually connected by the internet. I'm kind of putting that metaphor in the game," Kojima said last month at the Tribeca Film Festival. How fitting it is, then, that the trailer’s release came on the same day as Robert Mueller’s first public statement since the Russia probe began.

When the general sentiment about the current state of politics, both in America and abroad, seems more hopeless than ever, it’s fitting that the lead protagonist, Sam, seems like the perfect avatar for our disillusionment. And let’s not forget about the “bridge-baby” which appears to be some kind of fetus-powered device that can take characters to the past in a way that seems to be a man-made means of exploring the “other side,” in a religious sense, that could either be real or manufactured. It’s these kinds of parallels that seem to drive Death Stranding, and the game’s emphasis on connections forged to our past.

But the past isn’t the only connection driving Death Stranding. There’s also the human connections, which the gameplay trailer suggests is the only way to move forward and rebuild. How the relationships between the characters showcased in the trailer will come into play remains to be seen, but it appears that Sam, and game players, are in for an emotional journey.

While the metaphors hinging on the influence of the past and relationships aren't novel, the majority of AAA video games take pre-existing genres and fit their message within that frame, be it zombies, modern warfare, treasure hunting or galaxy trekking. In Death Stranding, Kojima, despite his many influences, seems to have created something entirely new for video gaming, with rules and language that don’t adhere to the seemingly fixed aspect of any one genre.

The trailer blends dystopian futures, alternate dimensions, mythology, religion, body horror and war into something that results in a game that looks like it will take years to parse through in terms of both video game and film studies. But make no mistake, given Kojima’s reputation, video gamers will surely put in the time to untangle all that Death Stranding has to offer and create strands of their own.