Cut Scenes is Josh Wise’s regular column on the intersection between film and video games. This week, it’s Life is Strange: Before the Storm vs. Wild at Heart.
The Native American totem pole on campus, bearing witness; the radiant, inwardly-rotting blonde atop the town’s tiara; the warm diner, polestar for percolating locals: there belongs a statue of David Lynch in Arcadia Bay. It would be the sort of town-founder effigy befitting a true trailblazer – topped, of course, with a stony soft-whip quiff.
But in episode one of Before the Storm, “Awake,” a less obvious, more potent invocation is made. The gig at the old mill is a distorted reflection of Chloe’s troubled salad days – the stairs broken and unsafe, the walls lined with buzz saws, the bouncer a wall of frowning flesh. It’s no less inhospitable than the askance looks of school headmasters and parents, the threats of drug-dealers, and the icy shoulders of fellow students.
Wild at Heart was a film Lynch said was about “finding love in hell,” so he set about summoning one: a febrile hallucination of desert highways, sweaty hotel rooms, fly-blown bars, and shivery nights caught in barrelling headlights. Through this nightmare drive Sailor and Lula, two young lovers trailed through the generations as if by The Furies: ghoulish mothers, stump-toothed henchman, and their own cursed pasts dog their every step. When they go dancing, it seems as if they try and shake the curse from their boots, hammering them against the floor like pistons.
The dissolve from giddy romance – Lula pounding the bed with her feet like a child on Christmas morning, Sailor striking a Karate power pose – to thrashing, speed-metal mosh is as if hallucinated. Sailor, in his snakeskin jacket, exudes Americana – Elvis and sex, style and chivalry. Lula is an ingénue in the mould of Mamie Van Doren, blending sexual power with innocence and danger. In the club their blotted over in black shadow and strobed with lipstick red, they dance as if set alight, expunged.
Look at Sailor at 01:35: squamous, taut and coiled, rearing up in relish of violence. It’s his nature. In such a physical scene, Dern plays Lula as a forest fire – burning power, uncontrolled. She doesn’t deny the advances of this stranger, her role passive and poised. The two show their exposed flanks – Sailor’s violent past and Lula’s sexual trauma glimpsed between neon flashes of violence and lust.
There’s another fiery blonde back in Arcadia Bay waiting for Chloe. In a throng of bodies, Rachel Amber’s nature is born out: not quite the Laura Palmer facsimile that first leaps out, but the quiet power and volatile vulnerability of Lula.
Chloe and Rachel thrash together, looking for renewal in the euphoria of a crowd in pulsing mal sync – the sort that can cleanse the damp and dried sweat of a three-day festival. The emotion of the scene is in its vaporescent cocktail of colour – blushing pinks, cold white-blues, and foreboding blacks and browns. It throbs with Life is Strange’s signature art style: not beautiful but about beauty.
The livewire coiled through the scene is the same as Lynch’s: the teetering forces of power and weakness. Throughout Before the Storm Chloe fences herself with sarcasm; Rachel threads a brocade of mystique around herself, radiant but dying inside. Having just met, the two are unsure of how their paths will intertwine, of each other’s inner pain. As the two forces build to a flashpoint, Chloe throws back her head and lets out a scream, capsized with erasure.