Shoutout to showbizsouls for the fabulous tags to help frame this discussion.
It’s a tension I’m really interested in, whether Aeris set out to
save the Planet or the people on it, and one that I think helps to
express her dual nature as both a human and an Ancient. It’s the
Ancient’s responsibility to protect the planet, purportedly at all
costs, and given the existence of Holy and Meteor as weapons in their toolkit, they were prepared to go pretty far.
Though we usually see the Ancients in the context of an inscrutable healer race, Yuffie’s insight and Ifalna’s history lesson tell us that their lives and struggles weren’t nearly so idyllic. Aeris bears the weight of two-thousand year struggle, “a crisis beyond human power and endless time.” Even if her heritage hadn’t caused her so much strife growing up, it’s a small wonder she seems to turn in on herself the more she learns about what it means to be an Ancient.
Ultimately, I don’t think that Aeris ever chose the planet over its people, whatever the stakes she was playing with when it came to Holy. Sephiroth’s plan would have wounded the planet, but that isn’t what Aeris objects to when she tells him the future doesn’t belong solely to him. The planet may seem somewhat indifferent to the people’s plight, but Aeris never is.
I think her “people over principles” approach helps solidify not only her reconciliation of an apparently disparate identity but also her role in the story as a messianic figure. It’s not just a matter of death and transcendence that makes her seem that way. She doesn’t have to be a martyr; she took on so much even in life. She believed in and fought for the good of people well before anyone could understand the scope of that decision, and well after that burden became too much for everyone to bear without feeling utterly powerless.
That we’ve been fighting for a planet that may not even want us is a real game changer for me. “The future of the planet” is the kind of vague and selfless goal that doesn’t demand any scrutiny or defense as a course of action. Knowing that the good of the planet may very well diverge drastically from the good of mankind, from the security of your own future, is the biggest challenge you can present to moving forward.
It’s also the final blow to the sense of player control the game has been slowly eroding since Aeris’ death. We couldn’t save her; we couldn’t control Cloud; we couldn’t stop Meteor; now, we revisit the moment when we were probably the most vulnerable to learn how powerless we are, that what we’ve ostensibly been fighting for all along may lead to the emptiest of victories.
At the same time, it doesn’t feel hopeless. Here more than ever is the point where faith takes over. The group finally learns what Aeris has done and there isn’t anything left to do but follow it through, but they do it without hesitation. Even balanced as they are on knife’s edge, they trust she knew what she was doing, that she did the right thing, however much a risk it was.
I never really see it brought up, but Aeris must have known that calling Holy was gambling with the fate of humanity. Using the White Materia was not as a last-ditch effort, either. She prayed for Holy before Meteor had even been summoned. She was always playing the long game, but I think she must too have had tremendous faith, either in her own power or in humankind’s collective worth and ability to withstand a planetary Judgement Day.