A Short Analysis of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’

Three weeks in already! For those of you returning, welcome back. This week’s serving will be a bit on the lighter side due to school and the fact that I was not most impressed by my writing in my last blog post. Due to how complicated and diverse of a character Elizabeth is, I feel as if for the purpose of the second part I should actually replay the damn game instead of relying on my memory. Expect it sometime in the next month, as BioShock Infinite is quite a lengthy game (especially with its DLC added into the equation as well).

As for today, I will be cheating a little. Earlier this year in my English Honours class, our teacher got us to analyse a song or poem of our choosing. The kicker? Only one-half of a page, and of course my temptation and ambition got out of hand. I chose the worst choice possible: Bohemian Rhapsody. Personally my favourite song by Queen, it speaks on multiple levels in such an artistically genius and varied way for a theme that may exist, yet perhaps the entire 6-minute bombast may actually mean nothing.

I should also clarify that I am well aware that this analysis does not live up or hold a candle to how amazing this song truly is, but there is only so much that can be said in half a page. Without further delay, here is the music video for the song. Enjoy!

The song ‘Bohemian Rhapsody” (written by Freddie Mercury) is both literally and figuratively an operatic suite in its presentation; its seemingly broken components tell an epic to the complex theme of suicide. Mercury opens the song by questioning if he is “caught in a landslide, [where there is] no escape from reality” (lines 3-4). The use of a capella creates a warped, dreamlike image where not even a trance can divert the struggle the speaker is going through, with the metaphorical landslide in his opposition. The song later transitions into a piano solo, where the speaker regretfully exclaims his suicide in a climactic and sorrowful tone, saying “[he’s] got to go, [leaving everyone] behind to face the truth” (lines 23-24). Alliteration emphasises this inevitable departure, while euphemism covers the mental instability of the speaker that is to unfold. The constant bantering of “Bismillah [(in the name of God)]! No, we will not let you go (Let him go!)” (line 40) may seem to be whimsical and comedic, yet the repetition of this line and the allusion to God reveals a strong desire of the speaker to both continue and end his life, with his mental pressure creating an endless battle against even faith. In all, this song perfectly captures its title: the Bohemian is one with an affinity for themself, and as a rhapsody they even have affection to ending their own life itself, yet the show must go on.

Mercury, Freddie. “Bohemian Rhapsody”. AZ Lyrics. Web. 7 Jan. 2016.

I hope you enjoyed this small slice of analysis for the week. Expect next week to be of a similar quantity, yet of different content on the contrary.

Does Emotional Storytelling Outweigh Plot? – Part 1

(WARNING: Spoilers for BioShock Infinite)

Welcome back to take two! Terrible pun aside, today’s course will be a more concise one that covers a topic that is not as broad, and will only focus on one piece of media. I hope that it may also overlap with other works (perhaps Titanic, I dunno…), but as with the title, does emotional storytelling outweigh plot?

To begin, what do I specifically mean by emotional storytelling outweighing plot in the case of this post? To summarize with an analogy, have you ever been in love and commit actions that defy any sense of logic? While these actions cause satisfaction, will they scrape at the back of your head with such nuance that only much later you realize your mistake? This is how prominent emotional storytelling exists in fiction: it takes all attention away from other aspects of the work such as plot and setting, and (for example) instead pits drama and character interaction ahead of all else. We easily find ourselves invested in our emotions, and watching a movie, playing a video game, and reading a book is no different. If there is literally zero plot progression, a character that your entire mind is invested into may change your opinion from zero-to-eleven quite drastically.

When I initially played BioShock Infinite (released by 2K Games back in 2013), this character was none other than Elizabeth.

For those of you who haven’t played the game (which you should), Elizabeth is the heir of the games main antagonist Comstock, the leader of a political party in the floating city of Columbia that has an ultra-nationalistic ideology (that takes Americanism to its extreme). She is locked away from the rest of the city, and held by awe by its populace as the “Lamb of Columbia”, who will emerge to clear out our undesirable world below.

The player is Booker DeWitt, a troubled former Pinkerton agent with an excessive gambling debt who has a deal to “bring them the girl and wipe away the debt”. This girl is none other than Elizabeth, guarded away in her tower protected by the menacing sight of the Songbird. While this is true, the game pulls at your heartstrings much earlier on in the serene, pristine streets of Columbia, and this is where I give the game an immense amount of credit: this early game section where you simply walk. This opening section is where we will begin our examination.

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Columbia is all its stylistic glory akin to the 1893 World’s Fair.
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The angelic tower here is Monument Island, where Elizabeth is held.

While I don’t want to drone on about the overall world of Columbia and its interesting characters, the beauty of this place is astounding and alluring. The former picture of the last two is the first sight of the city, and with an ethereal e-piano playing in the background, it may be one of the most memorable sights in any video game I have ever played.

Upon entering the city, you are met with a myriad of harmonic voices singing “Will the Circle be Unbroken”, and opens Columbia to be the perfect utopia: clean, vintage, and plenty of idealistic values that seem absent from the world we dwell in. This concept is very manipulative is making you feel very positive emotions, and is presented in a way where you press on forward. The tip of the iceberg may be when a barbershop quartet sputters up from the depths of the infinite blue skies and sings “God Only Knows”, and this is perhaps where I say that words cannot describe how beautifully this sets up the world in terms of tone. Instead, you can experience it for yourself (also listen to the rest of the soundtrack, even if you have no intention of playing the game):

So far, I have presented the emotional entourage of BioShock Infinite’s opening in brief strokes, and this should hopefully give off the harmonic and angelic tone that I experienced myself. Yet… Where is the rest of the story? Let’s take a look, shall we?

  • BioShock Infinite does very little to explore its characters in this opening, and Booker is very much closed off at this point.
  • The audio logs do not serve to explain and serve the setting, but rather give foreshadow on plot and explore background (at this point) characters that are important nonetheless.
  • The practical existence of Columbia is hastily explained as a scientific marvel…

I should note that none of these above points are particular problems, yet tone and emotion are definitely the key player at this point of the game, soon to be followed by a character-driven force that defines its remainder. Many complaints I may have about BioShock Infinite may be in comparison to the original BioShock, which I regard as superior is some aspects. This includes an immersive and fully fleshed-out backstory, world, and side characters that make it feel almost real.

I have spent much time covering the opening of the game, yet it is such a prime example to delve into and analyze that we are not even done.

Later on, the game introduces vigors, a beverage that makes its wielder become inflicted with supernatural powers, such as summoning a vigorous flock of crows, or a blistering inferno of fire from their fingertips. While little to nothing is done in the game’s story to explain or signify vigors, they are introduced as a saleswoman almost tries to seduce Booker into a free sample, giving off a utopian sense that everyone is content with themselves and would never be anywhere else. Even idle chatter from citizens is so happy-go-lucky that I wish there was more if it.

Moving along, this opening walk-in-the-park is put on full breaks when it is interrupted by the game’s first insight into its theme of ultra-Americanism. Almost like a swift punch to the gut, the peaceful tone of the game is jerked out and replaced with a root of America that still feels pain today: racism. The player is presented with a stage, a baseball, and a black woman and Irish man tied to a pole, with the populace simply laughing and cheering as if they are watching whimsical tricks at a circus.

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Such a switch of the portrayal of regular men and woman can incite feelings of disgust and perhaps horror. The game then gives you two options: throw the ball at the interracial couple, or the man presenting this display. I assume the majority of players took the latter option, yet they are stopped as they find out that Booker is the “False Shepard”, sent to Colombia in order to stray Elizabeth away as prophesied by Comstock. Following this, a combat sequence pits the player against the police force of Columbia takes up a larger part of the opening, and this is where we will stop and analyze this change of heart.

I have definitely spoken on how Columbia is now thrust into a more negative spotlight, yet its pristine nature still persists later on into the game. My question is: what purpose does this scene serve? The theme of racism in this game definitely fits in greatly with the theme of Americanism, yet both are not prime focuses too far in. Perhaps it fits as an allegory for Booker’s character, as he has a history rooted in racial violence, and Columbia will literally be a second Ark destined for himself as a human being. Yet with a twist later on relating to an underground faction of other races called the Vox Populi and the point where the plot (in my opinion, perhaps not yours) ends up too convoluted into its own theories and “deep” messages (including inter-dimensional travel…), I feel as if this scene ultimately goes nowhere and the plot falters in retrospect.

Once again, does this mean this scene is bad? Definitely not. We see a more sinister side of Columbia rooted into its nationalism, yet these are people who may very well be like you and I. While the setting and backstory give a clear backseat to tone and character exploration, did you notice upon your first time playing the game? If you did notice, did you care? Personally, I can say that I did not notice this as the game is extremely effective in telling an emotional tale that left me genuinely moved, and this opening is only the first foray into a tale of twists and turns and an unexpected conclusion that may leave some confused, yet is a prime example of where the subject of this post comes in hand.

For next post, I will be looking into the character of Elizabeth, who I believe to be the emotional core of this game that transcends into possibly one of the best FPS protagonists at the climax of the games DLC, Burial at Sea Part 2. With this, I will leave a few more images of Columbia to paint its vast sprawl in all its glory.

The Flaws of Interconnected Universes

Well, welcome to my first blog post. Before we get into the topic at hand, you may be asking what the content of this blog is to be. As someone who is very interested in entertainment and literature, my aim is to provide blogs related to these in the form of analysis, reviews, and such. Starting a blog has always piqued my interest, yet I feel as if now I am ready to proceed with it. I will most likely not make posts on a regular, scheduled basis, but I want each one to definitely have its importance. Without further delay, let’s get into the topic at hand.

Lately, I have been watching a series of movies. These movies currently define entertainment and are vastly enjoyable to a casual movie-going audience, story fanatics, and the old guard of geeks as well. Of course, I am talking about the Marvel Cinematic Universe or MCU.

MCU

Currently, the MCU is composed of 13 released movies, two television series, and two Netflix series as well. With plenty more to come, this series is showing no sign of slowing down, but instead the contrary. Did you know that next year we can expect three new movies? The fact that we waited years for sequels such as Tron: Legacy or Star Wars: The Force Awakens seems inconceivable when put up to this.

I will assume that most of you are familiar with the concept that the MCU brings our favourite heroes together from all corners of the universe (literally), and has the old-time wish of seeing them fight together under a common banner. I mean, who wouldn’t want to see Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor dish it out against an alien invasion in New York City?

But wait, what if I’m not familiar with Thor? What if I watched all three Iron Man films, but not any of the others? Why is this film called Iron Man 2 if its focus is also dedicated to setting up the Avengers Initiative as well as Black Widow and Nick Fury? Why am I completely lost on all happenings during Iron Man 3?

To most, these are non-problems. However, they do present some interesting questions in terms of setting up a vast universe with self-contained, intricate stories that all feed into one narrative that brings very different flavours into the same dish. In terms of the above questions, they are all reasonable, yet they do present the fact that these movies are meant to feed into each other, and that although the movie may be Iron Man 3, it’s the seventh movie in the MCU and meant to be watched as such.

This type of shared universe is a bold concept, as many of us are used to linear stories such as Star Wars, where each movie tells a chapter of a larger plot. While the MCU tries to accomplish this as well, there are some instances where some movies focus too much on setting up its expansive narrative when they should not. For instance, let’s talk about Avengers: Age of Ultron

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Directed by the amazing Joss Whedon (please bring Firefly back), this movie is important in that all that has happened in the second phase of the MCU had to build up to this climax of sorts and pay off.

There’s just one problem.

Or maybe a few…

In this phase 2 of the MCU, we’ve had Iron Man 3 deal with the “genetic perfection” of the human race (which goes nowhere), Thor: The Dark World which sets up the Reality Stone, which then gets shelved until we will inevitably see it again later on, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, dealing with taking down SHIELD and the resurfacing of Hydra, and perhaps the only film to have at least some bearing on AoU excluding the original Avengers. Guardians of the Galaxy is a great film on its own, yet at this point, it doesn’t contribute anything imminent to the overall story.

Now there’s no problem with having self-contained stories, but there has to be a sense of overall momentum in the overall MCU. Phase 1 was about assembling the Avengers and providing context and origins for them, which it does remarkably well. Phase 2 is just… A muddle of stories that end in a passage to more stories. Huh.

Back to Age of Ultron, it spends too much time on setting up for what will happen rather than what is happening at the moment. Iron Man and Captain America’s difference in ideologies, the eventual threat of Thanos and the Infinity Stones, and of course there’s the lack of focus due to all these intersecting plot points and characters both old and new. And the threat of the movie’s antagonist Ultron is self-contained and exists very well within the confines of this movie. Nothing led up to this character, and after he’s gone… Hooray?

The second phase of the MCU is riddled with great stories, but not a great story to sum it up. The villain-of-the-week trope in fiction is ultimately one that does nothing to help a universe, yet the MCU does just this. Hey look, another attempt to end the world! Let’s go stop it! This is exactly what these movies do, and after Thor easily stops an attempt to destroy the entire universe, what horror and shock can viewers be left with?

In an inter-connected universe such as the MCU, each story has to contribute to a larger narrative at hand, but also progress the plot in its own way and feed off of each other. There has to be a payoff and cohesive plot-points that are consistent with the story you are trying to tell. If this is not met, the theory-crafting of a universe is ultimately pointless until you really reach the end of the line, and what are you left with following that?

For example, the upcoming Rogue One: A Star Wars Story has an excellent concept that lets it stand on its own within a larger story, but is very relevant to the overall mythos of the Star Wars universe. We get a look at how bloody and grey the Galactic Civil War truly is, which offers an entirely new way to look at an old conflict. The plans for the Death Star very much connects this to the first movie and paves the way for great storytelling and world-building.

Back to the subject, there is another topic of interconnected universes that is present: Needing to go out of your way to understanding a key plot-point. This may not be a flaw for the MCU necessarily, which handles this very well due to how self-contained much of its stories are. If I needed to watch the entire first season Agents of SHIELD to understand a major plot point of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, this would present a major flaw in storytelling that would leave casual fans confused and the more faithful may either be content or disappointed, depending on the payoff and portrayal of these external plots.

Instead of the MCU, let’s look at one of my favourite franchises that have committed this mistake: Halo.

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The image above is the cover art for Halo 4, a game that has an excellent an emotional story for a first-person shooter, which is not an easy feat to accomplish. Back in 2012, each piece of the expanded universe contributed to the overall mythos of Halo, yet the problem I listed above is right at home in this game. The alien empire of the Covenant is back in Halo 4, which takes place four and a half years following Halo 3. In that game, we are left with the implication that the Covenant is all but crumbled, and that the Elites/Sangheili were now our allies. While this is, of course, unrealistic, this is what the ending of that game implied. If you jumped straight into Halo 4, you will notice that the Covenant is both back, but now headed by the Sangheili. Why may you ask? Well, the game does not provide the answer straight to you; instead, you will need to read between the lines or pick up the Kilo-Five Trilogy of novels, and completely understand why they are back.

The same goes with the games main antagonist, the Didact. An amazing character with absolutely chilling and memorable lines, his hatred of humanity and backstory is left blank in the game’s plot. A scene part-way through the game attempts to explain his character, but mostly serves as a reminder for those of us who read the Forerunner Saga of novels. How about the ancillary terminal videos? Well, those only explain his characters in brief streaks, so if you want the full explanation the books are a necessity. This is perhaps my biggest complaint with the game’s story besides my personal wish that the campaign could have been longer, but it remains an extremely valid one.

As a video game, Halo 4 should not have had this problem. Despite many popular beliefs, video games are an excellent medium to tell vibrant stories on and set up universes in ways that films would never be able to, and perhaps even novels. There could have been a codex of sorts, or parts of the game could have highlighted and explored the past of the Didact and the resurgence of the Covenant in mere lines of dialogue in the emptier parts of the campaign. This would still preserve the plot, yet also enhance it as the pacing could still be kept consistent. I’m not talking about character dialogue that is essential to the plot, but audio logs and idle chatter that is put in front of you for dissection and world-building.

Overall, universes where everything weaves together in a cohesive way are excellent in both theory and execution. It is when the pieces are laid out as pieces that the problem begins to root up. Side material that is essential to understanding a larger story is not a good thing, and neither is side material that goes nowhere when we expect it to be important and know it is important. World-building is essential, but not at the expense of story-telling. I love both the MCU and Halo, yet I will recognize both as ambitious storytelling mediums that lack a central vision due to the idea of having these pieces become one picture.

I will end this post with an interesting thought: What if Star Wars‘ universe was inter-connected? Wouldn’t the plot feel smaller, and smaller stories feel insignificant when put under the shadow of larger ones such as the movies? This is why tradition is sometimes key in telling grand tales.