Spoilers for Life Is Strange are discussed in this post.
I’m more than a week out from finishing this game, and aspects of its story are still haunting me. I’m still listening to the soundtrack extensively, and as I’ve gotten to know the songs better, I’ve been thinking about how they connect in interesting ways with the story as a whole. I’ve also been thinking about the character of Chloe, and wondering what the deal is with fate apparently being hellbent on killing her. Beyond that, there’s all the texture the story provides for exploring the ways teenage girls are socialized to interact with people.
On the music front, there’s the Syd Matters song “To All of You,” which plays over the first scene where the player is given the opportunity to explore Max’s school before the fateful encounter in the girls’ bathroom. It’s a beautiful song with a lush guitar part and soothing male vocals that just kind of wash over you when you first hear them. It’s a song about a guy who fantasizes about participating in the lives of “American girls,” which seems like a decent thematic introduction to one of the game’s biggest fascinations: the way girls interact with each other. It’s not until the final episode when Jefferson is revealed to be the mastermind behind the abduction of girls in Arcadia Bay that the song takes on a more sinister bent (even though it doesn’t appear at all after that first scene), and we learn about Jefferson’s obsession with the loss of innocence and capturing that moment in his photography. The speaker of “To All of You” suddenly sounds less like he’s innocently pining for something ineffable and more like he’s some kind of secret predator. I still think the song’s quite good, but I can’t listen to it without finding its perspective and subject more than a little creepy. Of course, not all the songs have left me with this kind of impression. One of my favorites is the song “Lua” by Bright Eyes, which plays over a quiet scene in the game’s third episode where Max has crashed at Chloe’s house following a night of light breaking & entering on school grounds. The purpose of the song is to meditate on the contrast between decisions made in the midst of having fun and the realization of their consequences that come in the morning after; it fits perfectly with the scene, which marks the midpoint of the game as a whole and serves to signal to the player that all the things Max has been doing are gearing up to come back with consequences (this scene’s also the single best example of the quiet moments I described in my first post on the game; Chloe puts the song on her stereo while she and Max are still lying in bed, and the player’s free to just sit and listen to the entire song while the camera cycles through static shots of Chloe’s room; Rachael described it to me as that perfect moment when you first wake up when you know there are things to do, but as long as you stay in bed it can all wait). There are other musical moments, but these two stand out the most to me.
Moving on to Chloe, I’ve been thinking about her role in the story and the odd space she inhabits within the narrative. Like I said in the last post, Life Is Strange is Max’s story, and Chloe’s significance in it is entirely because of her significance to Max. I’m cool with that, and I think Chloe’s a fantastic character; what confuses me is the implication that she’s some sort of lynch pin in the time-space continuum whereby her survival past the week during which the game takes place results in a massive tornado that wipes out Arcadia Bay. Fate seems to be conspiring against Chloe’s survival, and Max is forced to pay a really heavy cost in order to protect her, but this situation is unique in the scope of the story. Max can intervene in lots of other people’s lives, protecting them from misfortune (the single biggest example is, of course, preventing Chloe’s father William from dying), and the consequences are never ecologically disastrous the way they end up being for Chloe. For some reason Chloe is a unique and beautiful snowflake in the world of Life Is Strange, and I’m not entirely sure why.
One possibility that I’ve been mulling over has to do with the game’s thematic interest in coming of age. You have the dark side of the transition from innocence to experience in the form of Jefferson’s creepy photography studio where he documents the event through his victims. The four that we specifically learn about in the course of the game are Rachel Amber, Kate Marsh, Max Caulfield, and Victoria Chase; Chloe is in just as much danger as Max, but when they’re ambushed by Jefferson, he kills Chloe outright in favor of subduing both of them. This is an interesting choice, because we know from Max seeing Victoria in the dark room at the same time as her that Jefferson doesn’t have a problem with photographing multiple victims in a single session. I think the significance here is that Chloe lacks the innocence that Jefferson’s obsessed with; she’s had a really difficult life already, and the frequent traumas in her past mark her as someone who is very experienced with her world. Chloe’s the one teenager in the entire cast who doesn’t have a veneer of innocence about her (even Nathan, who’s extremely mentally unstable and complicit in Jefferson’s crimes, comes across as sheltered in the various documents the player can see describing his relationship with his family). That’s significant because it explains why Jefferson would just kill her rather than capture her, but I think on a more cosmic scale, it explains why Chloe is marked for death in Max’s story. If she survives, it’s reasonable to read Chloe as not significantly changed by the events of the week (she’s a wonderful character, but I don’t think Chloe ever really grows the way that Max does). In a story about coming of age, Chloe’s already done that; her arc is finished.
Of course, this is all speculation.