I have a confession to make: I cried at the death of Psycho Mantis. In fact, it still brings a tear to my eye each time I replay Metal Gear Solid. Psycho Mantis is remembered for his neat memory card tricks and the incredible fight he puts up. However, these accolades gloss over his more profound accomplishment of being perhaps the most well crafted and sympathetic villain in our culture. He is one of the most tragic figures in memory, one which has a lot more to say than the words he speaks.
Twin Snakes really pissed me off, for a number of reasons. The most significant was the butchering of Psycho Mantis’s death. Through the game and your encounters with him, his character is a playful, almost childish one as he runs around possessing people, playing pranks and showing off before finally deciding to kick your ass. He has an insistence and need for the recognition of his power and importance, going to great lengths to receive it. Mantis needs that attention, that affirmation of his significance and relevance.
But once he’s on his deathbed, lying on the floor after a few kicks upside the head, he cuts the shit. We finally get to see the man behind the mask and talk to him on a personal level. In Twin Snakes, he keeps his nefarious routine going, ruining that element of sincerity which makes the scene so compelling. In the original game, we get to actually hear what he sounds like – he stops acting and he lets us in. He drops his guard, revealing himself to the world due to his own vulnerability – it is only near his death that he reaches out for others after shunning humanity for so long.
What makes Mantis so tragic is that his entire life and fate could have gone the other way. Mantis shuns humanity because humanity had shunned him: his birth took the life of his own mother and inspired hate and resentment for him in his father. From the very moment he is born, Mantis is abandoned and left on his own as he must carry the weight and blame for the death of possibly the only person who could have ever loved him.
It is not until he discovers his telekinetic powers that he realizes the degree of his seclusion, peering into the mind of his father only to become terrified by his contempt. He then unleashes his psychic powers to kill not only his father but to torch the entire village, though this could perhaps have been on accident: Mantis is permanently scarred and disfigured from his uncontrolled rage, perpetually the victim of chance and misfortune, which in turn further exiles him from society due to his grotesque appearance.
His past explains his behavior early on. Children thrive on stability, not on chaos. It is why Mantis must be noticed and respected, and why he goes out of his way to ensure so. But it is that further exclusion in adulthood, as a result of his physical distortion, that sheds light on his behavior at the end of his life, which is far more reflective and gripping.
There is a particular quote from Mantis which always stuck with me:
“In my lifetime, I have read the pasts, presents and futures of thousands upon thousands of men and women. And each mind that I peered into was stuffed with the same single object of obsession. That selfish and atavistic desire to pass on one’s seed…it was enough to make me sick. Every living thing on this planet exists to mindlessly pass on their DNA. We’re designed that way. And that’s why there is war…humans weren’t designed to bring each other happiness. From the moment we’re thrown into this world, we’re fated to bring each other nothing but pain and misery.”
You get a sense from the man that he is both one who despises and envies everyone around him. He is an extrovert forced to be an introvert, wanting so badly to embrace the world but constantly pushed away from it for the simple faults of his birth and who he was born as. Of course procreation appalls him: his birth was a curse, the beginning of a reviled existence which he is forced to endure. Yet deep down he yearns for the tender, womanly care and touch he was and is denied through no fault of his own, making his mutilation that more heartbreaking.
Life dealt him an incredibly shitty hand, invoking anger and disgust towards anyone able to enjoy it. It’s why he joins the Boss’s revolution – not for world conquest, as he explains, but for the simple excuse to kill people. If Mantis cannot be happy, no one can be happy. It’s what makes his interaction with Snake so captivating because they are literally the same character. The player gets a sense of respect between the two of them, with Snake showing extreme mercy and reverence for this man’s dying breaths as he confronts him not in a battle of blows, but of ideas and spirit.
It is because of their similar natures, their pasts, that Mantis allows Snake to see him for who he is, and it is why he reaches out to him. It is why he pulls off that mask, figuratively and literally, which he uses in an attempt to filter out the filth and corruption that surrounds him. But what is most telling is that despite their shared experience of horror and solitude, Snake is the negative to Mantis: he does not allow his suffering to define and disfigure him mentally, whereas Mantis has. Everyone has problems – what differentiates people is how they deal with them. Mantis seeks to shield himself from the wickedness amongst him, but he cannot expunge the poison already in his soul. And it is what makes the Mantis character even more tragic.
What if Mantis was able to come to terms with what had happened to him? If it hadn’t seeped into his heart and infected it from within? What if he had the strength Snake had, and could have used it to better his self and others?
It is what gives Mantis’s last words a deep, emotional sting:
“This is the first time I’ve ever used my power to help someone. It’s strange. It feels kind of…nice.”
Was Psycho Mantis the most effective, destructive villain ever? No. Is he the most interesting one?
You bet your ass.
can cause it. You can fix it by adding *.disqus.com to your whitelists.