Madeline Vs. Herself
Most conflict in stories can be broken down into a character versus blank scenario. There is character versus nature (Into the Wild), character versus character (Les Misérables), and character versus society (First Reformed, Catcher in the Rye, the Hunger Games). Celeste is an example of the character versus self conflict. This is when a character is not only the protagonist of the story but also the antagonist. To grow and solve this conflict, the character must change and overcome this aspect of themselves that is providing the antagonism.
This type of conflict is especially interesting because of how psychological it can get, giving the story a special crunch. The writer or writers must have a delicate hand to create a character that does the work of two opposing forces. Examples of this can be seen in works of classic literature such as Hamlet and Pride and Prejudice, to modern blockbusters like Toy Story. In all of these stories, the main characters are their own worst enemy. It is only when they confront their own issues that they can grow and change.
Celeste’s protagonist and antagonist is Madeline, who decides to climb Celeste Mountain rather than confront the real problems in her life. Her antagonism is represented by her other self, the other part of her that many fans refer to as “Badeline.” For the purposes of this essay, I too will be calling her Badeline to make things less confusing. Badeline is manifested by Celeste Mountain’s power. She is introduced in the second chapter of the game during Madeline’s dream. Most of the chapter is spent running from her as she replicates Madeline’s movement (after all, she is a part of her) and clones herself. This sets Badeline up as the antagonist of the story. It is easy to expect that at some point in the narrative, Madeline will defeat Badeline, but this isn’t what happens. Instead, Celeste offers a far more nuanced approach to the conflict.
In the interim between Chapter 5 and Chapter 6, Madeline and Theo converse with one another about their shared experiences and have an intimate exchange about their own fears and insecurities. Madeline tells Theo about Badeline and he later tells her, “This Part of You that’s haunting you, maybe she comes with the territory…Maybe she thinks she is [protecting you]. She could be some kind of…twisted defense mechanism…Maybe you can learn to control her instead [of her controlling you].” Later that night, Madeline attempts to make peace with the other part of her by severing ties, but is plummeted to the bottom of the mountain when Badeline denies her request.
Only after Madeline reaches her lowest point, not just internally but externally at the bottom of the mountain, and she stands up to Badeline, can the walls come down and they are able to reconcile. Madeline doesn’t defeat Badeline but instead comes to understand her. Once they understand each other and realize they must work together, Madeline can finally move forward and climb the mountain once again.
The character versus self conflict is working in deeper ways than meets the eye. On the surface it is Madeline overcoming her fears that are materialized through Badeline. But looking deeper shows us a commentary on the struggles with anxiety and depression. What the character versus self conflict boils down to is Madeline struggling with this part of herself that she wishes she could control, but she can’t. Throughout the story, she constantly tries to tell Badeline off. She is afraid of her, angry with her, and upset. But running from her is not the solution. On the opposite side of the spectrum, when Madeline attempts to reconcile with Badeline the first time without allowing Badeline space, her acceptance backfires. It is only when the two of them can accept each other and understand one another that they find common ground and harmony.
Madeline never loses this part of herself because she will always be there. This is a powerful message to send people who struggle with their mental health. Madeline learns that she can’t defeat Badeline, just understand her. Mental health is not something that can be defeated because it doesn’t go away. It isn’t something to be ignored or something to run from, and telling people so is a dangerous message to enforce.
This is why the character versus self narrative works so well in Celeste. Madeline’s anxiety and depression that she is running from is not something to defeat or call the bad guy. It is when Madeline embraces Badeline, this part of herself, that she is able to succeed and climb the mountain.
- Matt Makes Games, Extremely OK Games, Ltd. Celeste. Matt Makes Games. Switch/PS4/Xbox One/Windows/Mac/Linux/Google Stadia. 2018.