Life is but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
— Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, lines 24–28)
The title of William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury comes from the above passage in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Whereas the soliloquy that the title character gives is in response to his wife’s suicide, in Faulkner’s work, it’s given a deeper meaning: the book starts from the point of view of an “idiot”, or, colloquially for the time the work was made, a man who is severely mentally disabled. The Sound and the Fury is such a difficult book to read that even the most intelligent of readers needs outside help to decipher it – Faulkner’s stream of consciousness style is at its most merciless, jumping from memory to memory in midsentence.
Fortunately, Street Fighter was not and is not written by William Faulkner; it is also not written by William Shakespeare. However, the idea of an idiot who uses what could be considered empty communication seems to fit Balrog pretty well. Whether intentional or not, this is alluded to in SFV.
Granted, this refers more to the sound and the fury in the environment of a boxing match, but considering the artist who created the ending uses the exact same phrase that is used in the aforementioned literature, there may be something more to it. If we look at some of the other ideas that have been put in official sources, we can conclude this is the case. On page 16 of Udon’s Street Fighter World Warrior Encyclopedia, Balrog’s profile opens with, “One of the Four Kings of Shadaloo, Balrog has some serious fight in him, but his mental capacity is rather limited.” This is likely because of his upbringing. It continues, “Born as the youngest child in a poor family, Balrog spent his childhood fighting in the slums. Unable to hire a professional coach, Balrog’s fighting style is best described as ‘brawling’.”
This is further expanded on in “How to Make Capcom Fighting Characters”. On page 133, Director Takayuki Nakayama elaborates on the design of Balrog’s moves, stating, “we tapped into his already established concept: ‘dumb as a rock, but punches just as hard.'” This is more evidence that Balrog is supposed to be an idiot in the modern definition of the word. Because of his supposed lack of mental capacity, Balrog runs his life entirely on impulse. This is why he was banned from boxing in the first place; as the World Warrior Encyclopedia points out, Balrog was “denied matches when it became clear that he was unable to restrain himself.”
Moreso, Balrog’s lack of impulse control did him no favors when he took the reins of Shadaloo for a brief period; he ran it into the ground until Bison returned and regained his status as leader. Added to his propensity for money, gambling, and women, Balrog’s particular vices were not good signs that he would be a qualified leader. Specifically, his love of money was the one thing his protégé Ed couldn’t understand, and Ed’s anger over it led to the destruction of a prized golden boxing glove in Balrog’s Street Fighter V Arcade Mode Ending.
Despite their opposing views on capitalism, there is still a love and respect as is often seen in student-mentor relationships, one that is shown at its deepest during Balrog’s SFV Story Mode. When F.A.N.G inquires Balrog as to Ed’s progress, Balrog refuses to answer and fights him off. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PuCB6jxdxHM
It’s revealed that Ed was hiding and watching the whole time.
This shows that, while Balrog may seem dumb, he more than makes up for it with protectiveness towards those he actually cares about. In other words, beneath his rough exterior, Balrog has the capacity for empathy. While it could be argued that he sees Ed as another possession, since he was the one who invested time into Ed by teaching him how to fight, as it turns out, this doesn’t appear to be the case.
In Ed’s Story Mode, Ed makes the decision to leave Balrog behind, realizing that if Psycho Power, and Bison in particular, were to take him over, Balrog would be in danger. Balrog doesn’t budge, stating that Ed should just shut up and listen to him. The two continue to argue until they finally throw gloves.
Ed wins, and Balrog, saddened, tells Ed to leave.
We can see a few things in this exchange. Balrog very clearly sees Ed as a person he can control, but this is less out of his normal greed and more out of an understanding of both what Ed can do and how he feels about him as a friend. There’s more to this, though. With Ed leaving him behind, Balrog has nothing and no one left to turn to.
He is completely alone.
Whereas Ed had the intelligence and werewithal to establish his own faction, Balrog just doesn’t. In fact, Ed is the third major thing he’s lost; he already lost Shadaloo and his boxing career.
“Wait, doesn’t he get his boxing career back?”, you ask. “He seems to be winning a lot of money in the endings you just showed.” Kind of. Take a look at that money again.
Balrog has won Bison dollars, which as a certain dictator will tell you, is worth five British pounds.
However, another person will tell you it isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.
Wes Studi is right. While Shadaloo has infiltrated the American military, it appears to have zero influence on the American treasury. Since Balrog is coming out of Golden Bullion and Shadaloo Hall, which is in Las Vegas, with Bison dollars and considering Shadaloo is an internationally known crime organization who is not recognized by the Allied/United Nations, the money Balrog is holding is almost completely worthless. Balrog seems to hold value to it, however, and that tells me that the money is used as one thing: scrip. Balrog can only buy Shadaloo-provided products with the money he’s won, including food, clothes, and other necessities. This also explains why he holds so much value in the gold boxing glove Ed burned up – he could have sold it for real American money rather than Bison dollars.
For the sake of argument, though, let’s say Bison dollars are a valid currency in the United States in the Street Fighter universe. This would be mean that Balrog could sell his precious gold items for anything since they could be sold anywhere for any type of currency. Nothing too shocking there – gold is valuable in real life, too. However, having Bison dollars as a recognized currency implies something far more sinister: that Shadaloo runs the United States, and they do it OPENLY. If Shadaloo is an underground syndicate, it wouldn’t make sense that they would come out and put their name on any sort of brand, like Shadaloo Hall at Golden Bullion. It’s like Disneyworld having the subtitle, “Sponsored by The Mafia”. They may as well build Mr. Bison’s Wild Ride.
But I digress, because the sad truth is that no matter how much money Balrog gets in any currency, no matter how much wealth he acquires, he will inevitably lose it. Balrog is destined to lose everything he deems valuable – his career as a boxer, his status as a Shadaloo King, and the most important of all, his relationship with Ed. How do we know that Balrog won’t spring back up again? Because his fate is in the cards.
In the Street Fighter tarot cards, Balrog was depicted on The Tower, said to be the worst card a person could be dealt in tarot. It can be “interpreted as meaning danger, crisis, sudden change, destruction, higher learning, and liberation.” What makes The Tower hit close to home for the boxer, though, is that his card (and every other card in the deck) was based off of the Rider-Waite tarot deck. At the top of the tower is a crown that is struck by lightning. As Wikipedia states, it “symbolizes materialistic thought being bought cheap.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tower_(Tarot_card)
Basically, it’s Balrog’s greed that will be his downfall. His reliance on material things leaves him with nothing for the future. The worst part of it all is that for once in his life, he did something for another person by mentoring Ed, and he ended up losing him too. Ed was Balrog’s way to atone for his past. Ed was Balrog’s last chance for glory, and the boxer knew it. Now, there are only dark days ahead.
There’s nothing left but sound and fury.