Ash has a bachelor's in English Lit. She loves analyzing fiction and obsessing over books, film, and television.
Life is Strange is a graphic adventure video game developed by Dontnod and released by Square Enix in 2015.
Since the game's release, I've found myself creepily lurking and observing the fandom (always a mistake, since it always leads to me eventually hating the game) and it continues to amaze me how fans could miss some of the game's themes.
I mean, the information is right there. If you actually talk to some of the characters (not even all of them!), it's hinted over and over that Native American spirituality is a big theme in the game. Spirit animals are a huge part of this.
I've noticed that some, not all, of the characters seem to have spirit animals that are there to help us understand who they are as people and their story. While I probably haven't picked up on every animal, this article is a list of the ones I've noticed over the years.
But first . . .
What is a Spirit Animal?
A spirit animal is a Native American tradition. I have no idea which tribes. It's basically something I've read in books and also seen in various media (movies, TV, even songs). So I don't have specific knowledge. My knowledge about spirit guides basically comes from what I've seen in fiction. And since Life is Strange is a work of fiction, it makes sense that I could apply rules from other works here.
Basically, in the media (again, can't speak for actual tribes), a spirit guide is a messenger and/or teacher who comes in the form of an animal in order to (you got it) guide and teach.
These spirits usually take the form of animals that the person can relate to in order to impart wisdom. So you can start to see how spirit animals apply to the world of Life is Strange.
Max is a Deer
It kinda drives me nuts that people want to insist that Rachel Amber (ugh) is the deer that Max repeatedly sees. Except . . . that's not what the developers were doing at all.
If you speak to Samuel, the custodian at Blackwell Academy, he will talk to you about spirit animals. He will tell Max that if she's seeing a deer, then that is her spirit animal. He will also remark that his spirit animal is a squirrel.
Throughout the story, Max is guided by the deer. It guides her to the lighthouse in an attempt to guide her to safety during the storm, and it tries to guide her away from the junkyard, knowing that Frank is coming to confront her and Chloe.
There's also the fact that Max repeatedly wears deer symbols on her shirts and jewelry. In the ending where Chloe dies, she wears a gold deer necklace to the funeral, the implication being that the deer spirit led her to that conclusion.
Hell, Max even looks like a deer. She has a long face and tawny brown hair. Like a deer, she is also meek and shy, plain and yet beautiful, graceful, serene.
Max never panics. Even when she's in the middle of some deep s*it, she is graceful and calm in the way she either runs away or fights back. This is the spirit of a deer to a T.
Again . . . the deer is not Rachel Amber. Which leads me to . . .
Rachel is a Chameleon
I don't like Rachel Amber like . . .at all. So I won't spend much time talking about her. But Rachel's spirit animal is definitely a chameleon.
Rachel is referred to by Jefferson as a chameleon, the implication being that she can blend into any group and manipulate anyone into liking her. People who are able to do this have no souls themselves. They are empty and completely void of real personalities, which makes it easy to copy others and blend in with them in order to make them like them.
This is also why narcissists are often referred to as chameleons. They basically do the exact same thing. They have no personalities of their own, so they mirror everyone around them in order to hide what they truly are, make people love them, and surivive.
I am completely convinced that Rachel Amber was a narcissist and the the twist about her character arc is that she wasn't actually someone worth pitying when she died. She was a crappy person who lied and manipulated everyone around her, only to get fooled in the end by a bigger manipulator (Jefferson) and killed as a result.
While playing Life is Strange, I got a lot of Rebecca vibes. The book Rebecca is basically about a mousy woman whose husband was previously married to a narcissist (Rebecca), only he's the only one who knew what she truly was. After Rebecca's death, everyone is still in love with her and they keep comparing her (unfavorably) to the man's new wife (our mousy protagonist).
The parallels between Life is Strange and Rebecca can't be a mistake. Rachel Amber was a narcissist. Yes, she wrote a letter to Chloe that made it seem like she was "worried" about Chloe's feelings. But it's my belief she was more worried about losing Chloe's admiration (aka supply) and less about hurting her feelings. I doubt she gave a real crap about Chloe at all (which in turn makes Chloe even more tragic).
Again, Rachel is a tragic figure but not one to be pitied.
Chloe is a Butterfly
The game practically screams from the mountaintops that Chloe's spirit guide is the blue butterfly. The butterfly first appears the first time we actually see Chloe in the game, while she is arguing with Nathan in the bathroom.
Max sees the butterfly land on a trash bin and remarks that it feels like a "spirit" as she is taking a photo of it. Later at the end of the game, the photo of the butterfly causes Chloe to realize that she is supposed to die. And later at her funeral, the same blue butterfly lands on her coffin.
In other words, Chloe's spirit guide led her to the proper conclusion.
But why a butterfly? Well, I volunteered in a botanical garden once. There were these giant blue owl butterflies (so called for the "owl" eyes on their wings) that would land on people and ride them out of the garden. My job was to chase these butterflies with a net and bring them back. (It sounds like fun, but I dealt with a lot of covert racism while I worked there, so it wasn't.)
Butterflies are . . . kinda dumb. They will land on anything, touch anything, go anywhere, and ultimately get themselves killed. They are beautiful, wild, and . . . really, really dumb.
That is Chloe, basically. Chloe does a lot of dumb crap to get herself killed throughout the game. She plays with a gun in the junkyard and accidentally shoots herself; she hooks her boot in a train track and gets stuck; she runs through the dark loudly screaming for Nathan, which allows Jefferson to shoot her in the head . . . Chloe is dumb, reckless, and wild and Max basically spends the entire game chasing her with a butterfly net.
The solution to the entire story was to let the butterfly die. Butterflies only live twelve months anyway.
Frank is a Dog
Frank Bowers is a drug dealer who, for whatever strange reason, is loved by the fandom. Google his name and "Protect Frank Bowers!!!" will come up in the results. I'll never understand why . . .
Here is just a brief list of Frank's sins. Frank . . .
- Is a forty-something man who sleeps with teenagers. (Yes, Rachel was 18 but something being legal doesn't make it moral.)
- Sells date r*pe drugs to mentally ill teenage boys (he was indirectly responsible for Kate).
- Threatens teenage girls with knives (both Chloe and Max).
- Violently charges at and attempts to attack tiny teenage girls over spilled beans.
- Fetishes lesbians (that's most straight men but as a lesbian, I still found it disgusting that he had lesbian posters in his trailer. My sexuality is not your p*rn. Fight me).
- Repeatedly insults and belittles Max for no reason whatsoever
- Hooks kids on drugs
The list goes on and on. And yet, the fandom thinks he's a good guy because he's sad at the end of the game and also likes dogs?
No. Frank is just a rabid, wild dog that needs to be put down. It's the entire reason why Chloe can shoot both him and Pompidou, killing them in cold blood. That's what they are: dangerous and rabid dogs.
It's easy to love them because they sometimes make you laugh ("I WAS EATING THOSE BEANS! ARE YOU INSANE?!?") or because they're sometimes cute or sad, but they're still dangerous animals. That's the reality.
I think Rachel knew this, too. There's a letter in Frank's trailer where she scolds him for frightening her (he probably got violent). After that, she realizes she can't control him and leaves him for Jefferson.
I really hate the way fans site Frank's life and backstory for the way he is now. There's no excuse for being a sh*tty person, though. No matter what you've been through in life, you can still find it in you to be kind and good. Frank chose to be an asshole who sells dope to kids. What the hell was stopping him from getting an actual job? He could have been a truck driver, a mechanic, a stock clerk, anything but what he chose. And no one held a gun to his head and forced him to threaten and f*ck teenage girls.
Still marveling that so many people love this scumbag character but then . . . the entire world is brainwashed to love dogs.
Nathan is a Whale
Much like Frank, Nathan is a victim of circumstance. His crappy upbringing made it more difficult for him to be come a better person. Also, he's a teenager, so he's actually not finished developing. At this stage in his life, he is a like a beached whale: forced to a slow and agonizing death due to circumstances outside of his control.
I think the beached whales are a rather poignant way of acknowledging that very few people have the strength and courage it takes to maintain their good hearts in spite of whatever life throws at them. It's possible but it's also very difficult . . .as difficult as a whale rolling itself back into the water.
Max can find whale sounds in Nathan's room, almost like he's aware of the hopelessness of his situation. He knows he's a beached whale and he needs guidance back to the water. Unfortunately (like Rachel), he looks for that guidance in the wrong person (Jefferson).
Principal Wells is a Hawk
In the episode where Max and Chloe break into Principal Wells' office, Chloe points out the tacky hawk statue on his desk. It's one throwaway line that has little consequence, but the entire point of it is to help us understand Principal Wells as a person.
Hawks are symbols of power and keen sight. That said, Principal Wells is probably the only person at Blackwell (aside from Madsen) who actually notices anything Max is up to.
After Max pulls the fire alarm, he notices she is a visibly shaken and questions her for the truth. Like a typical deer, Max quickly learns to avoid him.
Kate is a Rabbit
Kate owns a pet rabbit named Alice which Max will find herself caring for whether or not Kate commits suicide.
I believe Kate's spirit animal is a bunny rabbit because she and said animals have so much in common. Rabbits are pretty innocent. They eat vegetables and unlike rats, they are usually too cowardly to bother with human crops. They are cute and sweet and mostly don't bother anyone.
This is basically Kate to her core. She's cute and innocent and keeps to herself, doesn't bother anyone, and her kindness makes her prey for the bullies at Blackwell.
Veronica and Nathan are jealous of Kate's loving family, jealous of how pure and good she is, so they both set out to destroy her relationship with her family and her innocence in the most vicious way.
I don't really care that Nathan had a crappy father or that Veronica feels guilty later. You bully someone to suicide and you're a sh*tty person who should be held accountable. In a situation where Kate had died, Veronica and Nathan should have both gone to jail.
Given all this, it makes perfect sense that Max and Kate were friends. They are both gentle, quiet, kind, woodland creatures . . . And prey to the bullies at Blackwell.
But even deer can be violent. Kate is probably the only innocent person in the entire story.
Warren is a Cat
Let me preface this by saying that I really don't like Warren either. He has some very . . . questionable things he can say to Max. He's a predator. He's always bothering her, following her (aka stalking her), watching her, annoying her. He can't take (or won't take) a hint that she is uninterested and doesn't seem to respect that until Chloe (potentially given your choices) tells him to back off.
Basically, Warren sees Max as a prey and doesn't stop pursuing her until someone else marks their territory . . . Just like some kind of cat.
He has a dark side that a lot of fans fail to recognize simply because he seems cute and innocent (again, like a cat) but that dark, aggressive, predatory side to him comes out again and again throughout the story. It's mostly subtle, appearing in his pushy texts (i.e. When he continuously tells Max that she "owes" him) or in his gross lines about being a "sensitive" male who doesn't get laid.
But it becomes obvious in his the way he beats up Nathan if you don't stop him and also in the way he appears in Max's nightmare as a full-on predatory creep. On some subconscious level, Max knows Warren is an ass but continues to have him in her life out of loneliness (she barely has any friends at Blackwell).
Those are all the spirit animals I've noticed in the game the couple times I played. The theme is so prevalent, it's a wonder that fans never noticed. To this day (five years later!), I still see people insisting that Rachel is the deer spirit.