The Oedipal Relationships of Xenogears and Lacanian Psychodynamics
by An Tran
As the principles of psychoanalysis are assumed to apply across the scope of humanity, it is often difficult to disregard psychoanalytic theory in how people develop, for better or worse. The result is that characters in fiction often reflect the psychodynamics of development in the same manners. In 1998, a heavily complex storyline was released via a video game called Xenogears. In it, the personal developments of the main characters and the relationships between these characters heavily reflect Lacanian psychodynamics, as well as Freudian principles given that Lacan quite closely followed Freud. In this paper, I intend to expose the influence of Lacanian theory on three characters of the story, and show that their development and personal traumas are ultimately the result of Oedipal complexes, either implicitly or by another means. The game is a stage in which Oedipal complexes play out between the characters. As Louis Althusser writes, "The Oedipus complex is the dramatic structure, the 'theatric machine', imposed by the Law of Culture on every involuntary, conscripted candidate to humanity" (215-216).
First, it is necessary to give a brief synopsis of the story, however, given the sheer length and complexity, I will only give the story involving the three main characters of Fei Fong Wong, Elhaym van Houten, and Krelian. In addition, this synopsis will summarize the story chronologically, and not how it is presented through the game. The story begins with a spaceship crashing onto an uninhabited planet. The ship was transporting the physical manifestation of God called Deus, which trapped the higher being ("True God") the Wave Existence within it. A small child named Abel is the sole survivor of the crash. He makes contact with the Wave Existence, which causes it to manifest Elhaym out of Abel's need for a mother. Elhaym splits into two entities: Elly and Miang, the first falling in love with Abel and the second becoming a watcher over the world for a time when Deus can be resurrected. The Deus manifestation spawns human beings to serve as the body of Deus for the time of resurrection, one of which being Cain who becomes emperor of the world. Abel fights against Cain, leading to Elly dying trying to protect Abel. Because of the relationship to the Wave Existence, Abel and Elly are continuously reincarnated as the Contact and Antitype, as the Contact is the one who must kill the physical manifestation of God and free the Wave Existence. Nine thousand and five hundred years later, the Contact is reincarnated as Lacan. The corresponding Antitype is again Elly; however, she ends up becoming a spiritual leader and takes up the mantle of the Mother Sophia. The two befriend Krelian, and both Lacan and Krelian fall in love with Sophia. In the midst of a war, Sophia sacrifices herself to allow Lacan and Krelian to escape to safety, pleading Lacan to continue living for the people as her last wishes. Krelian begins to doubt the existence of God and that people are truly capable of loving each other in the face of losing Sophia, and he resolves to create God with his own hands. Lacan seeks power because he feels that he did not have enough to save Sophia, and makes contact with the Wave Existence. Because the corresponding Antitype had already died, it was an incomplete contact, corrupting Lacan and changing him into the character of Grahf. The Contact aspect of Grahf dies and is reincarnated five hundred years later in the character of Fei, along with a new Antitype.
Miang, constantly awakening in different bodies of women to maintain watch over the world, awakens in Fei's mother Karen, and begins to perform terrible experiments on the child to confirm that he is a Contact. She works with Krelian who is attempting to resurrect Deus. Grahf, needing to regain the power of the Contact so he can destroy the world (and therefore keeping his promise to live until the end of all people), tries to transmigrate into Fei. As a result, Fei unleashes a powerful energy intended for Grahf, which redirects itself back toward Fei. Karen, having regained control over herself, throws her body in the way of the energy to save Fei, though she dies in the process. The trauma causes Fei to split his identity into three: the Coward is the original personality who now hides in the unconscious, Id is the center of all rage and hatred and pain that Fei endured, and Fei is a personality that the Coward assists to maintain control over Id. Eventually, Fei resolves his psychological trauma and becomes one being. The current Miang is later killed, and awakens inside of Elly, which returns her to the whole "mother" that she was before she split into the Elly and Miang forms. The Contact and Antitype kill Deus, freeing the Wave Existence, and watch Krelian journey to be with the Wave Existence at the end of the game.
I will begin my relation of the game to Lacanian theory with the character of Krelian, as he is the simplest. Nancy Chodorow, in "The Psychodynamics of Family", writes, "Oedipal love for the mother... contains both a thread to selfhood and a promise of primal unity which love for the father never does" (194). She explains, "Children first experience the social and cognitive world as continuous with themselves and do not differentiate objects, their mother, as first caretaking figure, is not a separate person and has no separate interests" (Chodorow 193). Krelian explains his motivations for creating God:
Humans will never be able to understand each other... All humans do is place themselves at a comfortable distance from each other and call that 'mutual understanding', 'spiritual unity', or 'true love' ... but it is all lies! Man cannot associate with others without first deceiving themselves... So I came to the conclusion that everything must be reverted back to where it all began. To go back to when all was one (Appendix D).
The relation here is that as Krelian lost the prominent female figure in his life (literally a mother - the Mother Sophia), he began an Oedipal-influenced search for a return to the joy of "primal unity," as Chodorow puts it. That is, Krelian intentionally does not resolve his Oedipal complex, even at the risk of jeopardizing his selfhood. Diana Fuss explains a Lacanian view of the penis/phallus distinction, writing, "The phallus is... a signifier, a privileged signifier of the Symolic order which may point to the penis as the most visible mark of sexual difference but nevertheless cannot be reduced to it" (8). It then becomes important to note that the final scene of the game shows Krelian naked, sprouting angelic wings, and entering the Wave Existence. In this scene, players can visibly see a lack of penis on Krelian's body (Appendix E). This appears to be indicative of Krelian's resolution of the Oedipal complex, if even in an extreme and peculiar manner. Louis Althusser reminds us that castration is last stage of the Oedipal complex (Althusser 214), and the absence of the phallic signifier is a symbolic representation of this. Chodorow points out, "Several studies point out that men love and fall in love romantically, women sensibly and rationally" (197). The reason for this is largely due to the fact that men cannot give to women a sense of the return to "primal unity," whereas men in heterosexual relationships find themselves back in that unity much more easily. Here, we can see that Krelian.s love resulted in a rather extreme coping mechanism after the trauma of the loss or separation from his mother-figure.
The next character to be examined will be Elly, or specifically the Elly/Miang relationship. Fei explains:
She is the mother of all humanity... After she awoke, she used all her power to bear several beings. These would be the ancestors of the whole of humanity... Finally, she gave birth to two replicas of herself to be humanity.s caretakers. Two selves... The -human- Mother and the weapon... The Subject and the Complement. That is Elly... and Miang (Appendix D).
The character of Elly becomes the central female figure to many of the characters in the story, and even the whole world as the Mother Sophia. After the loss of Sophia, Krelian partners with Miang, who ends up as a replacement for Sophia. At one point, Miang speaks through Elly saying, "I am the mother of all humanity" (Appendix B). Chodorow's point concerning how children's first experiences involve viewing the mother as part of the self applies to the Elly/Miang relationship quite easily. First, recall that Elly/Miang are in fact the original Elhaym. Elly then is both the child and the mother. Second, the unity between Elly and Miang is a symbolic representation that the mothering relationship is in fact a relationship of selves. The complete Antitype is needed for the Contact to release the Wave Existence, and this is truly indicative of women being "presumed to being closer to the Unconscious" (Fuss 12). That is that Fei needed to accept that his mother was Miang to become whole (and had to journey through his unconscious to discover this), and needed to love Elly wholly, as well.
The most complex character relationship in the game is easily that of Fei and himself. In this regard, we must discuss not only the character of Fei the protagonist, but also Id and the Coward as well as Grahf and Lacan and Abel who are all the singular character of Fei. However, another important relationship involving Fei is the relationship between Fei and Elly (and consequently Lacan and Sophia). While every one of these relationships stems from an Oedipal complex either resolved or unresolved, I will first focus solely on Fei's internalized relationships. The creation of Id and the playable character of Fei stemmed from the Coward's inability to cope with trauma of the experiments Miang had performed on Fei and the death of his mother. Diana Fuss spends some time discussing the significance of Lacan's slashing through the "The" of "The Woman" in one of his writings. She writes that it is an attempt on Lacan's part to de-essentialize women (Fuss 11). This is significant because the character of Lacan (through Grahf) literally causes a slash of red blood through Fei's mother (Appendix C). The statement resounds because preceding that slash and her subsequent death, Karen is able to reject Miang, the preprogrammed consciousness within all women. In this, we see that Xenogears ultimately rejects the notion of essential womanhood, as well, and the instances of Eternal Return in the characters of Fei, Elly, or Miang are all resolved when the Wave Existence is freed. The implication is that all human beings thereafter are not essential constructions, but existing in their own free will, or are socially constructed. The significance for Fei, however, resides in his inability to cope with the trauma, and the emergence of the violent Id persona. Unable to resolve his Oedipal complex, he finds an incomplete substitute in Elly, which does little more than prolong the existence of the Id persona. Fei is the very product of psychoanalysis as all his turmoil reside in his unconscious. Althusser reminds us that this is the very site where psychoanalysis takes place (204).
I will begin the relationship between the Contact and the Antitype with Abel. The Wave Existence explains the creation of Elly to Fei, "As a contact, being but only a child, you defined my existence with your desire to return to your mother. Thus I came to prepare that mother-s will... That will is Elhaym" (Appendix C). This establishes, despite the romantic relationship between the two, the mother-child relationship. Between Lacan and Sophia, we see the advent of Grahf. Fuss mentions in reference to Lacan's attempt to de-essentialize women, "Eternal Woman, the myth of Woman, Transcendental Woman - all are false universals for Lacan" (11). The corruption of the character of Lacan results from incomplete contact with the Wave Existence, but he does regain his memory of his past incarnations. The will to destroy in Grahf stemmed from the inability to bear the guilt of being so weak that Elly had to die to protect him in every life, and the realization that the "Eternal Woman" did not exist (Appendix C). The final incarnations of the Contact and the Antitype, however, spell out an important factor in Oedipal development. Chodorow explains that "boys retain one primary love object through their boyhood" and that "because her first love object is a woman, a girl, in order to attain her proper heterosexual orientation, must transfer her primary object choice to her father and men" (192). When Fei describes the dreams he has of his previous lives, he recounts, "In those dreams, I loved one woman... No matter the day, no matter the era... That did not change... Nor did her name" (Appendix A). Later, Elly does the same, "In those dreams, I loved one man... No matter the day, no matter the era... That did not change... Only his name" (Appendix A). Elly's name remains fixed throughout the incarnations of history, whereas the Contact's name changes each life, and even has multiple names during a single life (as is the case with Lacan/Grahf and Fei/Id). This is a symbolic representation of Oedipal development in that Fei's love object is always the same whereas Elly's love object changes, even if many characteristics remain constant. Recall that Miang was Fei's biological mother and that Miang and Elly are the same, and the constancy of Fei's love object becomes evermore present. Diana Fuss states that, "Desire for the Other often manifests itself as desire to speak as the Other, from the place of the Other" (12). This plays itself out in Fei's final dialogue with Krelian:
She is also trying to heal your heart... You, who wants to journey, all alone, to be with god... Can't you understand Elly's feelings!? Do you have to become one with god before you can comprehend all of this? I understand... I know her feelings... as if they were my own... Yes... she and I are one! We don't need god's help! (Appendix D)
Fei's speaking for Elly and vouching for their unity not only plays into Fuss's point, but reminds us of Chodorow's point of the oneness of the Oedipal relationship. However, the game makes a point that absolute unity - the kind that sacrifices the self - is not the goal. That was what Krelian was after, but Fei and Elly are able to achieve oneness in their love without the "absolute unity" of God. The final resolution of the Oedipal complex is the ability to find unity in a relationship while still maintaining individual personality, and the result is the resolution of Fei's personality disorder as well as Elly's return to the "original Elhaym" by merging with Miang.
It becomes evident through analysis that the video game Xenogears holds an abundance of psychoanalytic allusions in it, if even it were not evident in the character names of Lacan and Id. Every character relationship in the game centers on a psychodynamic basis and each major story arc relates back to the ability or inability to resolve Oedipal complexes. The collective character of the Contact struggles over 10,000 years to resolve his Oedipal complex, leading to a multitude of psychological disorders in the process, and is finally able to resolve it toward the end. The collective character of the Antitype/Complement acts as a mother figure for a vast majority of the characters in the storyline, including the Contact and Krelian. She is the nexus of the Oedipal relationships in the game. Moreover, the game relies heavily on Lacanian principles of psychoanalysis and theories of the unconscious, with each character relationship finding its way to be a symbolic representation of these theories.
Xenogears, Chapter 49: "Shot Down!"
Xenogears, Chapter 56: "Merkava Calls"
Xenogears, Chapter 58: "Fallen Star"
Xenogears, Chapter 59: "The First and the Last"
Xenogears, Chapter 60: Epilogue
Althusser, Louis. "Freud and Lacan." Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays. New York : Monthly Review Press; 1971. 189-219.
Chodorow, Nancy. "The Psychodynamics of Family." The Reproduction of Mothering. Berkeley : U of California P, 1978. 191-209.
Fuss, Diana. "The Risk of Essence." Essentially Speaking. New York : Routledge, 1989. 1-22.
Takahashi, Tetsuya (Director). Xenogears. Squaresoft Entertainment Arts; 1997.