Warning: Enormous spoilers below for The Last of Us and The Last of Us: Left Behind.
There have been very few video games that have universally excited queer gamers like Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us and its follow-up DLC The Last of Us: Left Behind, so I went through a full range of emotions — shock, excitement, fear, elation, fear again — when Deadline broke the news that a live-action movie adaptation is on the way.
If you’re unfamiliar with the game, here’s a quick crash course: The year is 2033 and America is a post-apocalyptic wasteland overrun with zombie-human hybrids whose brains and bodies have been addled by a mutated strain of Cordyceps fungus. A rebel group knows as the Fireflies believes a teenage girl named Ellie holds the answers to stopping the fungal plague, and it is a brash survivor named Joel’s job to deliver her to them. The game follows Joel and Ellie on their journey through battlefields and urban wastelands inhabited by thieves, cannibals, and those damn zombies. It’s more story-driven than even the Mass Effect series, and the graphics are just as gorgeous. And get this: It’s even gayer. A supporting character named Bill is revealed as a gay man mid-way through game play and the Left Behind DLC is practically Ellie’s coming out story. (Read Dana Piccoli‘s awesome review for more info.)
Now, here are five ways for Hollywood not to destroy this film adaptation.
1) Let Neil Druckmann do his work
Druckmann, the Last of Us creative director, is attached to the film’s script, which is a good sign. Not only did he create a critically adored story-based game; he has never hedged his bets when speaking candidly about his characters’ sexuality. After the release of Left Behind there was much debate online about Ellie’s sexuality, so Gay Gamer straight up asked Druckmann is Ellie is gay, to which he replied:
When I was writing [Left Behind] I was writing it I was writing it with the idea that Ellie is gay, and when the actresses were working they were definitely working with the idea that they’re both attracted to each other.
It is a little strange when I read stuff like “Oh girls are just confused at that stage.” or “They’re still finding themselves.” You could spend your whole life finding yourself. Again I think it’s weird because if Riley was a boy this debate wouldn’t be happening. No one would say “Oh maybe it’s just a friendly kiss.” No one would question that.
Let the man have his way! He won a Writers Guild of America’s Outstanding Achievement in Writing for Video Games Award, for goodness’ sake!
2) Give Bill his due
The way The Last of Us is structured, every run-in Ellie and Joel have with new characters creates a short story within the game’s larger narrative. One of those run-ins happens with Bill, a brusque mechanic who plays a major roll in helping Ellie and Joel survive. Miraculously, Joel doesn’t turn out to be a villain and he doesn’t die. There’s no way a two-hour action-adventure movie will be able to incorporate all of the side characters from the game, but leaving out Bill (or leaving out Bill’s very organic reveal about his sexuality) would be a real slap in the face.
3) Keep Ellie’s back story in tact
One of the tricky things about Ellie’s sexuality is that it isn’t explored until Left Behind, which was released as a DLC after the original game, but the events of which take place before Ellie meets Joel. There’s a way to incorporate Ellie and Riley’s love story into the main story, through either a flashback prologue or flashbacks interspersed throughout the movie, and here’s hoping that really happens. Understanding Ellie’s relationship with Riley is actually kind of essential to understanding Ellie’s character. One of the major turning points for Ellie in the main game is when she finds Riley’s dog tags. How much more effective that gut-punch will be if we know that Riley was more than Ellie’s military school buddy.
4) Cast a Riley
Obviously Sony needs to bring on someone to play Riley if they’re going to wow us with the kind of depth this story deserves, but it’s got to be the right someone. One of the best things about The Last of Us is that in addition to a handful of queer characters, it also includes multiple important characters of color. Riley is a fiercely independent young black woman who is torn between many loyalties. (She’s a member of the Fireflies, for example.) How about finding an actor who can give the character the gravitas and soul she deserves?
5) How about Ellen Paige as Ellie?
Almost as soon as The Last of Us was released, gamers noticed that Ellie kind of looks like Ellen Page. I mean, kind of exactly like Ellen Page. And she’s sort of named after Ellen Page. The character was reworked multiple times to look more like the actress who voiced her (Ashley Johnson), but the Ellen Page comparisons are never going away. Page seemed kind of miffed about it, mostly because she was voicing Beyond: Two Souls at the time, but one way they could make it up to her is by casting her in the film. She’s got the drama chops, the action chops, and it could be her first queer role since coming out! Win, win, win.
What do you think about the news that Sony is making a Last of Us game?