The Last of Us
Joel & Ellie, a highly unlikely pair go through the harshest of circumstances when they set out on a journey across a post outbreak America with intentions of their own. The world has turned around for the worst since 2003 as a deadly fungal infection has led to the transformation of people into zombie- like creatures and the society has collapsed. Cut to 2023, with not many survivors left, life has come to a standstill for the people as an authoritarian military regime has taken reins and they are at loggerheads with rebel groups, leading to an uprising that threatens their existence. Grieving over a personal loss from 20 years back, Joel decides to reunite with his lost brother and is tasked with smuggling Ellie, a 14-year-old girl who might be the only solution to this epidemic. The strenuous journey of the pair through the ruins and dangers on the way and their interaction with other survivors forms the rest of the story.
Adapted from a popular game from 2013, “The Last of Us” is created by Craig Mazin (Chernobyl) and Neil Druckmann (the original creator of the game) for HBO. Stakes were expectedly high considering Craig totally hit it out of the park with his relevant masterpiece Chernobyl in 2019. Video game adaptations have stayed true to the template set and as it is have not taken much of creative liberties to stretch beyond the norms of the storyline. “The Last of Us” is no different, it stays rooted to the original premise and goes a step ahead by replicating similar dialogues and scenes from the game as well. But what sets it apart is the fact that it decides not to reinvent itself but throw in a beating heart that binds the audience at every chance that it gets. The story moves at a steady pace over the course of 9 episodes with each episode signifying the importance of human relationships and the will to survive in a post- apocalyptic world.
The relationship between the leads Joel, played by Pedro Pascal and Ellie, played by Bella Ramsay is as good as the relationship between a variable and a constant. Two opposites in nature, this unlikely pair is brought together by circumstances forcing Joel to escort Ellie amidst all the madness and mayhem. Joel, tormented by a troubled past leads a secluded life with his partner, Tess (Anna Torv) and pretty much keeps to himself. When he must embark on this mission to fulfil his dream of reuniting with the only family he has, he is left with no option but to take responsibility for a 14-year-old who is somehow too big for her age. Ellie is a strong, fierce little woman who is best described as “mature beyond her years” and her innocence, playfulness and lover for puns brings about a gradual, but refreshing change in Joel’s dark life. While Ellie is highly compassionate in nature, she is also afraid of ending up alone and once she identifies Joel as a father figure, she decides to hold onto him and also helps him to regain hope and fight for a cause. The emotional bonding between the leads develops over time and by the end of it, they are almost inseparable. The dynamics at the end completely change as a semblance of hope has been restored in Joel’s life by Ellie and the pair have truly understood the need for their existence in each other’s lives.
The series begins with a scene from the 60s that features a talk show where the fungal infused scenario is being described as a possibility and cut to 2003, the unimaginable has happened as the world is struggling to cope up with this sudden outbreak whose cause is unknown and untraceable. The series begins on a very serious note where the makers capture the horrors of such a possible event by zooming in on the face of one of the panelists who predicts this epidemic. The first episode reflects the horrors of the early days of the outbreak when the world is struggling to find meaning to the events that unfold in their lives. The story moves 20 years ahead towards the end of the first episode where Joel and Ellie meet each other for the first time and embark on this mission together. The third episode which in my opinion, is the best of the lot stars Nick Offerman as Bill and focuses on his relationship with Frank (Murray Bartlett)- two survivors who portray a beautiful relationship as they find love in the face of hardship. Subsequent episodes introduce several characters like Melanie Lynskey playing resistance leader Kathleen, Gabriel Luna playing Joel’s brother, Tommy, Lamar Johnson & Keivonn Montreal Woodard as brothers Henry & Sam respectively (which again is a beautiful story about the bond between two brothers). All these characters are pivotal to the narrative as they have a say in Joel and Ellie completing their mission successfully. Filmed in Alberta, cinematographer team (Ksenia Sereda, Eben Bolter, Christine A. Maier & Nadim Carlsen) have done an excellent job in offering a post-apocalyptic world to the audience and some of the scenes are breathtakingly shot. The episode lengths vary within 81 minutes to 43 minutes and by the end of the last episode, you are bound to be hungry for more. The good thing is that Druckmann has already announced commencement of work on the second season.
Historically speaking, the most common adaptations were first made from literature to films and to video games thereafter. However, these days the trend has started to reverse and more and more frequently, video games are produced first and then transferred to films. The reason behind this is simple- “the similarities”. Games incorporate many cinematic features, aesthetics, and narrative. And back in 2013, when “The Last of Us” was released as a game, it was acclaimed for its noteworthy take on an apocalyptic world that portrayed realistic humans with complex personalities- a fresh departure to the video games on offer those days. “The Last of Us”, adapted into a 9-episode series has turned out to be one of the finest shows ever made. Despite the premise, the makers stay true to the adaptation of the game and do not overdo the horror bit. While the horror fanatics and game loyalists might have longed for more action, gore, thrills, the series decides to go the unconventional way and proves that it sometimes having a heart in the right place works well for everyone. With terrific performances from Pedro Pascal whose character arc from a loving father to a restrained individual to a loving father figure again is “the story within the story” and Bella Ramsay giving a strong and spirited performance as Ellie makes it a truly winning combination. Casting couldn’t have been any better. This one is my strongest recommendation for the time being!