Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice
No Gods, No Devils

Brendan Main | 4 Jan 2011 11:51
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Normally, according to the rules of noir, this is all fair game. If every sinner is flawed in The Land of the Dead, then they deserve whatever lot they can shake out. But throw in a true innocent, and everything changes. Meche is that rarest type of spirit, combining a pure heart, a quick wit, and gams up to there. No matter how rotten the system, no matter how fixed the game, it seems a shame to leave her wandering in the wilderness. In this, Grim Fandango shares not only the tone of noir, but also its cynical, yet surprisingly humanistic ethic - that there exists no moral compass in this world save what we bring with us. This may mean something far different from person to person, but it suffices for a code of ethics in a game where the sinners live alongside the saints. And it's precisely because of this that Manny Calavera falls somewhere in between. In the final scene, a cigar-chomping bigwig calls him out for his cynicism, asking, "What happened to you, that caused you to lose your sense of hope, your sense of life?" Manny's answer is short and sweet, with the brevity of a tombstone: "I died."


Not a bad answer. It's good to hear that eternal rest hasn't ruined his sense of timing. But this darkly comic moralizing reminds me of another hardboiled meditation, written by Raymond Chandler around 60 years prior:

"What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that. Oil and water were the same as wind and air to you. You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell."

Entombed in a mausoleum or rotting out in a swamp, dead is dead, and the messy business of life is for the rest of us. Manny and Meche, wide awake through their big sleep, at least have a chance to decide for themselves how they will spend their last few days in this limbo. How unfamiliar, to play a game that doesn't have all the answers, and does not even promise the safety and sanctuary of a "happy end." What matters, rather, is whatever fun you had along the way. In Manny's words, "Nobody knows what's going to happen at the other end of the line, so you might as well enjoy the trip." In removing itself from the black-and-white thinking that shapes much of gamedom, Grim Fandango also invites us to rethink about what we know about the big questions. From the Land of the Dead comes a game about life. It gives us an underworld without angels or demons - all we have, instead, is each other.

Brendan Main hails from the frosty reaches of Canada, so he knows a little something about "gleaming white deserts that stretch to the end of the world."

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