I might be the only person on the internet comparing the Playstation 2 and PSP role-playing game Persona 3 and this year’s movie Act of Valor, so bear with me here. (Also note that there may be spoilers below for both Persona 3 and Act of Valor.)
Saturday I finished my 120-hour epic quest in Persona 3, a pretty standard game about Japanese high school students fighting demons in their school after midnight, shooting yourself in the head to summon spiritual beings, and leveling up by eating fast food (at familiar joints like “Wild Duck Burger”). Saturday night we went to see Act of Valor at the base theater, and with the intense experience of the ending of Persona 3 fresh in my mind, the film about war and sacrifice made an interesting juxtaposition with the themes of the game.
For sacrifice is one of the final themes of Persona 3, as the main character – the silent protagonist who you control for the duration, and whose personality is only expressed through your choices as the player – willingly gives up his life in the end, choosing death in order to save his friends (and indeed the rest of humanity). It’s an act several orders of magnitude larger in scale than the SEAL jumping on a grenade in the final firefight of Act of Valor, but one that’s no less personal. And indeed, those “damn few” SEALs put their lives on the line for an entire nation, the citizens of which – much like the people of the fictional city of Iwatodai – may never know from what they were saved, or by whom.
The more overarching theme of both works, though, was that of facing death, and living in spite of that inevitability that awaits all living things. Act of Valor quoted Tecumseh:
When your time comes to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home.
And Persona 3′s final enemy, Nyx, had her own quote:
Celebrate life’s grandeur… its brilliance… its magnificence… Only courage in the face of doubt can lead one to the answer. Beyond the beaten path lies the absolute end. It matters not who you are… Death awaits you.
Death is a journey that all life must make; the only choice left is how to face it, and sometimes, when to begin. In Persona 3, Nyx urges the characters to give up hope as death descends upon the world; after all, if death is known and inevitable, how can one continue living under that crushing burden? But the characters make the decision that the SEALs in Act of Valor already made: they choose to fight, and to live as best they can, with the time given to them. In both cases, this also gave them the freedom to choose sacrifice – voluntarily choosing death for the life of others. Not a berserker’s death (or that of a kamikaze), but a calculated decision, made in an instant.
Can such a decision be made in the moment? Or is it made long before, with “hard sweat of the brow” and long nights of doubt, ultimately arriving at that quiet steel, that state sought by many but attained by few? Neither work provides answers, but both suggest that only by facing death and acknowledging it can one live freely, unburdened by the fear of the infinite.