Braking is for chumps. I barrel over hill and rock alike as if I don’t even have the option. My steering grossly overcompensates for repeated botched landings while my tires writhe in the dirt. I decide its safe enough to get back on the highway. The 5-0 is on my ass because I stole six cars in immediate succession, crashed them into each other in the middle of an intersection, lit them all on fire with a can of gasoline and a handgun and stole the first fire truck to come to the rescue. It’s a tough job but somebodies got to do it. As soon as I’m certain I’ve lost the po-po I throw on the sirens. Weaving in and out of traffic I pass a billboard.
“Hell awaits – if you’re having fun.”
It’s a joke.
All of it.
Grand Theft Auto V follows the intertwined story of three men in the fictional Los Angeles stand-in Los Santos; Michael De Santa, Franklin Clinton and Trevor Phillips, each an avatar of masculinity in their own way.
Michael is an emotional caveman. He doesn’t understand his wife, he doesn’t understand his kids and he doesn’t understand himself.
Franklin is the personification of determination, that road to hell paving good intention. He doesn’t just want out from under his low economic bracket, he wants to be staring down on it from high above, even if he won’t admit it to himself. And he wants to get there by any means necessary.
And Trevor Phillips is a flimsy, lethal container of violence and psychosis, perpetually and unknowingly dinged and cracked by the world around him.
They’re all vessels for facets of a classic construct of masculinity. But GTA V blasts those facets with gamma radiation and unleashes them onto an oblivious world.
Michael isn’t just out of touch with his emotions, he is entirely oblivious to them, unable to recognize the man who can only make sense of the world with a loaded gun staring at him in the mirror.
Franklin is defined by his drive for success (probably why he is such a good driver, AMIRIGHT?) but he doesn’t pursue it by saturating the marketplace with his résumé, applying for every scholarship available or even snorting Adderall and hitting the books. Franklin does bad things for the right people and as the paychecks get bigger and bigger those bad things get worse and worse.
And Trevor is every stray inclination of “I wish you were dead” or “I’m going to run you off of the road” made digital flesh.
But that’s just the setup.
Michael is in the midst of a full-on midlife crisis. He has a massive, beautiful house in Los Santos complete with wife, daughter, son and more money than he knows what to do with. He has enough scotch and cigars to keep him occupied on the side of his outdoor pool until the end of his days. And none of it brings him happiness because Michael has no idea who he is and where he fits into the world. He wants to know. Rather than stagnate in a lawn chair with a whiskey-pickled tongue and smoke-drenched khakis, Michael wants to make some sort of progress.
Franklin wants to be somebody. He wants to move up the ladder and earn his piece of the American Dream. He wants to be above middle aged white men in collared shirts who insist on calling him “homie.” He knows he has potential and he isn’t going to waste it.
Trevor? What does Trevor want? Friendship? Loyalty? Honor among thieves? I don’t know and I don’t think he does either. But what Trevor needs is help.
The notion that Michael will ever discover who he is while constantly reverting back to the criminal he was to mentor Franklin or pull heists with Trevor.
That Franklin will ever find true success, that the world will ever see him as anything more than a gangbanger when his two closest associates are violent criminals; one reliving his glory days and the other unable to leave them behind.
That Trevor will ever be anything other than an instable, violent force of nature when Michael and Franklin rely on him to be just that.
That any of these men will ever break out of the parasitic threesome they’ve created in a city that is as quick to terror as it is to forgetting.
Stop signs are blown through, pedestrians are run over in stolen cars, cops shot and blown up in the streets and in five minutes all is forgotten and all is forgiven as the denizens of Los Santos return to their vapid existence.
And why shouldn’t they? In a world where the only division between life and death is a twitch of an unknowable entity’s finger on a joystick why would the citizens of Los Santos do anything but continue on with their lives, putting as many celebrities, smartphones and social media notifications between themselves and the constant knowledge that death is just around the corner, blasting Eddie Murphy’s “Party All the Time” in a stolen bulldoze?
And so every time Michael, Franklin and Trevor run someone down in the streets the resilient people of Los Santos press on with their lives, ensuring Michael, Franklin and Trevor have the opportunity to continue their parasitic friendship, ensuring the reward of violence is always higher than the risk, ensuring the cycle of violence is nothing shy of unbreakable.
It’s a joke.
Grand Theft Auto V is a joke. And a good one at that.
Three uncertain people, unable to pinpoint exactly what they want but searching for it nonetheless like a dog chasing a ball their owner never actually threw, never held accountable for the filth they leave in the yard along the way. And in the end these characters, so focused on their vague goals and destinations, aren’t defined by the ball at all, they’re defined by the chase.
If Grand Theft Auto IV was an assertion that the American Dream is bullshit, GTA V is a redefining of the term. In GTA V the American Dream isn’t fast cars, loose women and millions of dollars in disposable income. The American Dream isn’t that in America you can be anything you want to be.
It’s that you can try.