All for Nothing

“Remember when he told Abraham to sacrifice his son?” the child asked Jesus, who hung on the cross. “Abraham was just about to kill the boy with his knife when God stopped him. If he saved Abraham’s son, don’t you think he’d want to save his own?”

If you have seen Martin Scorsese’s film, The Last Temptation of Christ, you would probably remember the iconic moment when Satan, masquerading as the youthful guardian angel, successfully deceived Jesus away from accomplishing his world-saving work on the cross. Though wounded, this “saviour” was literally rescued from his death, leaving mankind deprived of the salvation that God had planned to bestow unto his lost children.

It is one thing for a man to be willing to sacrifice himself for a great cause, yet another to be able to do so without being deterred by those around him. In the hypothetical rendition above, Jesus was led astray by a crafty enemy. However, it got me thinking about the other people related to the true historical event, particularly those who were close to the Saviour and genuinely loved him. Were they actually supportive of Jesus in his mission of atonement? Also, a question for ourselves: if someone we love is set on giving up life for the benefit of many, would we be glad for the opportunity to share in the noble journey? Or would we simply stand in the way?

As a videogame set in a world devastated by a zoonotic cordyceps infection, The Last of Us presents a comparable circumstance between its leading characters. The duo consists of Ellie, the teenager who possesses full immunity against the fungal contagion, and Joel, the experienced survivor tasked with escorting the girl across a dangerous country in order to locate a group (Fireflies) with the means to concoct a vaccine based on her unique condition.

Two paths. One destination?

Joel starts off concerned only with getting the job done. But as time passes, he begins to care more about Ellie, and to hold her as dear as the daughter he lost twenty years ago at the outbreak of the pandemic. “We don’t have to do this,” Joel says at one point. This reminds me of Peter (a disciple of Jesus), who rejected the idea that the Saviour’s life must be surrendered for the mission to succeed. Jesus confronted him and exclaimed, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me.”1

Even with good intentions, Peter’s attempt at misdirecting Jesus was interpreted as a direct attack from the enemy. And for Ellie, the suggestion made by Joel is equally astonishing. This may be the “last temptation” of her journey, and it prompts Ellie to reflect on their sufferings and transgressions — the lives lost because of them, the sacrifices made for the cause. “It can’t be for nothing,” she concludes before pressing on. Perhaps like Peter, Joel thinks that he would be doing her a favour by offering a way out; but frankly, that favour seems to be more for himself.

The real challenge is revealed when they arrive at their destination. After an unfortunate accident, Joel regains consciousness inside a hospital where he is told by Marlene, the leader of the Fireflies, that Ellie is being prepped for brain surgery — one that would leave her dead in the process of creating a cure. Admittedly, it is sad that Joel hasn’t been given the chance to say goodbye, but there is no excuse for what he does next. In an effort to rescue Ellie, he slaughters his way through the building and into the operation room, murdering the medical staff as well. He then snatches the unconscious girl away from the bed where she’s meant to deliver salvation to the world.

When Peter started waving his weapon around against the Roman soldiers arresting Jesus, he was immediately commanded to stop. “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”2 The Saviour was quick to rebuke, resolute in fulfilling what must be done; a great relief, to say the least. The same cannot be said about how The Last of Us progresses.

Right before departing the facility, Joel is caught off guard by Marlene. She could have killed him there and then, but decides to give the young girl’s guardian one more chance. “It’s what Ellie would want,” she says with much sincerity, while lowering her weapon. “You can still do the right thing here. She won’t feel anything.” Too bad that Marlene’s final plea is answered with bullets.

Questionable heroics.

It isn’t easy to let go of a loved one, for any reason. But at times, we would do well to remember that love means support, even if it leads to the forfeit of life.

For Joel, it is a difficult lesson given that Ellie has, in fact, renewed his meaning of existence. While searching for an exit out of the building, he carries her in his arms and comforts her like his baby girl, hearkening back to the game’s prologue scene with Joel’s biological daughter who dies in his arms. Nevertheless, he goes against Ellie’s altruistic desires; it can’t have been easy for her, too.

Even Jesus struggled with giving up his life, as he prayed earnestly for the strength to face the cross, to the point where “his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”3 Again, we should remember that if we have love, the best expression of it in cases like these is the offer of support. Don’t take it from Peter (and all the other disciples), who let Jesus down by provoking violence or dozing off in the hour that the Saviour longed for encouragement. And don’t take it from Joel, who singlehandedly sabotages everything for his own closure.

Clinging on by force blesses no one. The epilogue scene communicates the inevitable need for Joel to deceive Ellie from the moment she asks about the events that transpired. Despite the appearance of a relatively peaceful life ahead, the maintenance of their relationship is now dependent on lies. Meanwhile, the future of our species is looking bleaker than ever.

At least now I fully understand why this game was aptly named: The Last of Us.

  1. Matthew 16:23 (NIV).
  2. John 18:11 (NIV).
  3. Luke 22:44 (NIV).