I just watched David Cronenberg’s classic 1981 sci-fi thriller Scanners for the first time the other day, and I noticed a whole slew of undeniable parallels between it and Hideo Kojima’s 1998 sci-fi action game, Metal Gear Solid. I’ve never seen anyone else make these connections, so I believe I’m bringing you something that’s never been discussed or discovered before.
This essay will feature heavy spoilers for both Scanners and Metal Gear Solid, so if you haven’t seen the film or played the game, I highly recommend you do both before reading this. They’re both phenomenal works in their mediums that are best experienced without knowing the plots going in.
First, let’s break down the plot of Scanners.
Quiet, dark-haired, loner protagonist Cameron Vale, who claims to have no family, no past, no interests, and no lovers, is captured and taken into custody by a man named Dr. Paul Ruth, who founded a biochemicals and weapons company called ConSec. Ruth mentors Vale in how to use and control strange abilities he’s always had but never understood, discovers his abilities are very powerful, and sends him on a mission to infiltrate light-haired terrorist antagonist Darryl Revok’s renegade army and take out Revok himself. You see, both Vale and Revok are powerful psychics called scanners, Revok’s renegade army is made up of fellow, less powerful psychics, and Vale is told that he’s the only one who can stop Revok. Vale is cold, calculating, and unempathetic, and after mastering his abilities comes to fit the “quiet badass” role to a tee.
These psychic abilities allow the scanner to light people on fire and control their motor functions, but they come with a serious detriment: the wielder is completely helpless against the rush of mental feedback coming from the people around them, and they can’t stop their brains from reading people’s minds. The onslaught of thought-noise causes extreme anguish and can drive them crazy. Vale is a loner and social outcast because of his abilities, and Revok was institutionalized because of his, eventually drilling a hole into his own forehead in an attempt to relieve the pressure caused in his head by all the forceful thought-noise coming from other people.
Along the way, Vale goes undercover and stealthily infiltrates the ConSec biochemicals and weapons company’s facility, and by hacking into a computer and thus finding a classified cache of information, he discovers Revok’s true plan and that he and Revok, as well as Revok’s army of psychics, all got their abilities from in-utero experimentation while they were fetuses, specifically through the use of a drug that was administered to their mothers which was intended to sedate pregnant women and ease pregnancy pains and sickness. Revok’s plan is to continue to inject unwitting pregnant women with this drug to create a whole society of powerful scanners and lead that society of superior beings to take over the world so that scanners will never be abused and neglected by society the way he and Vale were. Dr. Ruth originally started this plan with the intention of creating a scanner utopia, where people with psychic powers would make the world a better place. This program is called RIPE. Revok has been slowly taking over ConSec from the inside over time, and somewhere along the way he has Dr. Ruth killed, with the goal of completely taking over the company for himself to take RIPE in his own ideological direction.
During Vale and Revok’s climactic confrontation, Revok then reveals that he and Vale are brothers and the most powerful of these artificially-created psychics, because their mother was the first woman this experimental drug was used on while she was pregnant and too much of the drug was administered. Revok also reveals that Dr. Ruth is their father, that he’s the one who administered the drug to their mother, and that Revok hated him for creating the two of them as freaks of nature, abandoning them, and leaving them to suffer in a world that doesn’t understand them with painful abilities they themselves didn’t understand.
However, Vale accuses Revok of becoming just like their father Dr. Ruth in his own selfishness and his lack of empathy for human life. Vale denounces both Revok and their father, and the brothers have a duel to the death using the very psychic abilities that made them into what they are. Vale overcomes Revok by leaving his own body and overtaking Revok’s body with his own voice and personality. Here, the film ends.
Now we’ll break down the relevant plot points of Metal Gear Solid, pointing out the identical ones and the differences between similar ones where Kojima took the basic idea and changed the details of it to fit his own narrative.
Quiet, dark-haired, loner protagonist Solid Snake, who claims to have no family, no past, no interests, and no lovers, is captured and taken into custody by government agents led by a man named Roy Campbell, Solid Snake’s commanding officer from his second mission. A man named Big Boss, founder of both a US elite special forces unit called FOXHOUND and a radical military nation called Outer Heaven (the latter of which he founded covertly and unbeknownst to the US government), Solid Snake’s former commanding officer who sent him on his first field mission against Outer Heaven itself (because Big Boss was the head of FOXHOUND, and the US government assigned FOXHOUND to stop Outer Heaven’s uprising, so Big Boss sent a rookie to do the job hoping he’d fail, but he didn’t), and whom Snake killed during his second mission which Campbell headed, was also his father and mentor who helped him to hone his incredible natural combat instincts and abilities. This time around, Campbell sends Solid Snake on a mission to infiltrate the Alaskan nuclear weapons disposal facility which light-haired terrorist antagonist Liquid Snake has taken control of along with his renegade army and FOXHOUND itself, which Liquid Snake has also taken command of, and take out Liquid Snake at the head of it all. You see, both Solid and Liquid Snake are super-soldiers who share the same code name, Liquid Snake’s renegade army is made up of fellow, less powerful super-soldiers, and Solid Snake is told that he’s the only one who can stop Liquid. Solid Snake is cold, calculating, and unempathetic, and fits the “quiet badass” role to a tee.
Among the ranks of Liquid Snake’s FOXHOUND is a psychic soldier called Psycho Mantis. His psychic abilities allows him to light things on fire and and control people’s motor functions, but they come with a serious detriment: he is completely helpless against the rush of mental feedback coming from the people around him, and he can’t stop his brain from reading people’s minds. The onslaught of thought-noise causes extreme anguish and drives him crazy, and as a boy he lashes out and lights his village on fire with his psychic abilities, killing his father whom he hated because his thoughts were consumed with bitterness and blame for his mother’s death in childbirth. Mantis is a loner and social outcast because of his abilities, and he wears a gas mask because it protects his head against all the forceful thought-noise coming from other people.
Along the way, Solid Snake stealthily infiltrates the Alaskan facility and rescues a scientist and master hacker who, by hacking into a computer and finding a classified cache of information from weapons company Armstech, discovers Liquid Snake’s true plan, which is to use a giant, walking battle tank called Metal Gear REX to launch a stealth nuclear missile at any target on Earth. It’s also revealed that Solid and Liquid Snake, as well as Liquid Snake’s army of super-soldiers, all got their abilities from in-utero experimentation while they were embryos and fetuses, specifically through the use of genetic modification aimed at removing weak genes and replacing them with genes connected with superior combat instincts and abilities. This program was called Les Enfants Terribles. Liquid Snake’s complete plan is to continue creating more of these genetically modified super-soldiers to create a whole society of them and lead that society of superior beings to take over the world, controlling the military-industrial complex and creating a never-ending war society where super-soldiers will always have value and won’t be abandoned and neglected by society the way veterans are after the military is finished making use of them. This was Big Boss’s plan for the Outer Heaven military nation before it was stopped by Solid Snake. Liquid Snake is turning this Alaskan nuclear weapons disposal facility into a new Outer Heaven to be the helm and centerpiece around which this new war society will revolve, and he wants to surpass Big Boss by succeeding with the Outer Heaven idea where Big Boss himself failed.
During Solid Snake and Liquid Snake’s climactic confrontation, Liquid then reveals that he and Solid are twin brothers, as well as the most powerful of these artificially-created super-soldiers because they were the first of these super-soldiers to be made. This was done by taking cells from Big Boss, known as the greatest soldier to ever live, and creating eight clones from his DNA, then killing six of the octuplets in-utero so the remaining two would become even stronger. This effectively makes Big Boss their father. Liquid Snake also reveals that he hates Big Boss for being responsible for creating the two of them as freaks of nature and supposedly giving Liquid Snake all the recessive genes, which he thinks makes him weaker and inferior to Solid Snake, who supposedly got all the dominant genes.
However, Solid Snake accuses Liquid Snake of becoming just like their father Big Boss in his own selfishness and his lack of empathy for human life. Solid Snake denounces both Liquid Snake and their father, and the brothers have a duel to the death using the very super-soldier abilities that made them into what they are. Solid Snake overcomes Liquid Snake, killing him, and after a tense escape, the game ends. In the sequel, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Liquid Snake’s forearm has been removed from his body and reattached to Metal Gear Solid‘s secondary villain Revolver Ocelot, who lost his forearm during the events of that game. Liquid Snake overtakes Revolver Ocelot’s body with his own voice and personality, and he becomes a new “Liquid Ocelot” hybrid villain.
As you can see, the vast majority of Metal Gear Solid‘s main plot points are lifted directly from Scanners. Kojima also lifted ideas from a slew of other Western films, so I’m not insinuating that all of Metal Gear Solid was copied from Scanners or that this film was the only source of inspiration for the game, but I’m familiar with no other single work that has a greater number of direct plot points used in the game than this film. The uber-passionate film buff and fan of Western cinema that Kojima is, he’s known to take elements from many Western films and mix them all up into wholly new creations, and virtually all of his creative work follows this modus operandi. Although Hideo Kojima himself has never cited Scanners as an influence, as Terry Wolfe’s book The Kojima Code points out, there are many clear connections between Kojima’s work and Western films that Kojima himself has never officially stated as influences, but which are too coincidental to likely be mere coincidence. Sometimes, even without official confirmation, so many obvious connections can be made between two works that the inspiration can be safely assumed.