Warning: The following contains spoilers for this year’s Tomb Raider reboot.
The latest Tomb Raider was a reboot that showed the origins of Lara Croft, survivor and adventurer. We watched as she went being from a frightened woman to a warrior who could hold her own.
However, she wasn’t the only one on the island who wanted to escape and break free, not the only one trying to decipher the island’s secrets. There were dozens of shipwrecks over the years leaving people to fend for themselves. One of those people was Mathias.
Mathias ended up on the island in 1982, 31 years before Lara and her crew crashed in the same place. Can you imagine being stuck in a place for 31 years with no idea how to get home? As time wore on, the island would have become home for Mathias as the outside world changed. During his time on the island the USSR collapsed, major wars began and ended and technology advanced rapidly.
The Mathias we meet in Tomb Raider isn’t simply a mad man. He is someone who has spent the majority of his life trying to escape, though he tried a different approach. He learnt that he couldn’t just get on a boat and sail away, the island wouldn’t allow it, so he adapted. He knew he couldn’t survive alone, so he built a group to help him.[drop]Let’s not just cast this other group of survivors aside. These were people who when meeting Mathias had the choice to live within his group, the Solari, or die. Not everyone chose to join Mathias, so they lost their lives.
Those who did join him did it because they just wanted to stay alive. There was no malice behind their decision, and in their shoes you really have to wonder if you wouldn’t have done the same.
After all, you’ve just made if out of a shipwreck alive and could be suffering from shock. You’ve survived an incredibly dangerous ordeal, and now have to choose whether you want to live or die. After having to struggle against nature itself, wouldn’t you choose to live? You don’t know what Mathias’ plan is, but at that moment in time you’d probably be happy with simply not being killed.
No, joining the Solari doesn’t make you a ruthless monster. Sure, members of the group become loyal, but that’s just because they want to go home, something Mathias apparently knows how to do. If you spend your time listening to the guard’s conversations then you quickly realise that most of them just want to get away. They were three times in the game when I overheard guards speaking and realised that they really weren’t all that bad.
For example, there was one guard who had a pet rat he cared for, but lost. All he wanted to do was find his pet, instead he found Lara with an arrow in her bow. Another guard discovered the final book from a series he’d been reading and was pleading with one of the other guards to give it to him, desperate to find out what happened. Then there was the guard who hesitated to shoot at Lara because it would harm his comrades. He was killed by Mathias for not following orders.
These three scenarios show that members of the Solari hadn’t lost their humanity and just did what they did because they had to. It wasn’t just these either, I overhead other conversations where the guards felt pity for the previous sacrifices but knew they couldn’t stop it. Quite simply the island had become kill or be killed.[drop2]I’d be interested to know how Mathias became the leader of these men. You see I think Mathias is an excellent parallel to Lara and represents what she could have become. I imagine that when he first crashed on the island he wasn’t already a man who knew how to survive its power. I’m willing to bet that he felt the same fear that Lara feels when she found herself alone on Yamatai.
However from this similar beginning their paths split. Mathias probably spent years working out who had once inhabited the island, while Lara already had an inkling. Mathias was likely alone when he first arrived on Yamatai, while Lara had a group to help her through the ordeal and to keep her focused. Mathias became a slave to the island and the Sun Queen, while Lara used her knowledge to fight back.
And it’s the Sun Queen that this all really boils down to. Her desire for immortality causes the suffering both Mathias and Lara go through. We already know how Lara suffered, but Mathias probably went through a lot more of those trials, including run ins with the Sun Queen’s undead Dawnguard.
After three decades on the island I can see how Mathias descended into madness, as time and time again anything he tried to escape from Yamatai was met with failure. Eventually he had to resort to drastic measures if he wanted any hope of escaping.
Lara, however, found another way to escape, and there were even a few moments where she could have told Mathias how to get away. Maybe if she had tried there would have been a small part of Mathias who would have listened, a place deep inside of him which would have seeded the doubts into his devotion to the Sun Queen. It would have been a long shot but it would have been it.
Was the Mathias we met in the game a ruthless madman who would kill anyone who threatened him? Without a doubt. But was Mathias always such a person or did he become the Sun Queen’s most tragic victim? A man who spent 31 years in her domain, eventually trying to please her spirit and building a society of his own to devote to her. A man who was constantly ignored by her spirit and attacked by her Oni. A man who had lost most of his life to her. It sure sounds like it.
If we boil it down to the very basics Mathias just had one objective. He just wanted to go home. Can you really blame him?