I know I’ve been late to get to know of this gem, but when Epic games release What Remains of Edith Finch for free last week, I’ve lost any excuse not to try it. And since I’ve dabbled with various walking simulators before, What Remains of Edith Finch has been on my radar for a while now.
So off I went into the Finch House, to all the wondrous, and yet sad tale within. Until I watched the end credits rolling, and off I went to restart again. Just to truly understand what’s all, and I mean ALL, the meaning of what Edith Finch tried to convey in her journal. After second playthrough, examining all the details and trying to make sense of all of it, I think I might have an idea of what actually happened in the Finch House. Especially on that last day.
Before I continue with the rest of this, let me remind all you readers: MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!!! I’m going to spoil not just all the stories in What Remains of Edith Finch. But also every hidden meaning that casual players might not notice at first glance. So if you’ve any interest of the game at all, please go and get it and playthrough all of it (just took 2 hours top) and came back here for the rest.
So here we are, after a playthrough of the game, we were all struck with the same questions. Was the curse real? Why are the stories dangerous to be told? Why do Dawn, Edith’s mother, decided to leave the Finch House? Why did she sealed all the doors in the house as if trying to lock away the family curse? Is there a logic to all this madness?
But beneath all the layers of fantasy in the stories, I come to realize something. It might be curse, but it might also be just a series of bad luck. So to understand it all we should look beyond how the stories is being played out.
Before we begin, let me ask a question. Have any of you ever watched the movie Big Fish starring Ewan McGregor? It might be easier to understand for those who do.
In Big Fish, Ewan McGregor played a character who loved to tell stories. And all of his stories are always whimsical, fantastical and even magical. His son who is distanced from him never really understood his father nor his penchant for fantasy. Not until after his father’s funeral, when he sees that behind every fantasy his father has told, there were hints of truth that weren’t so magical. Why do I talked about Big Fish? Because What Remains of Edith Finch does the exact same thing.
So back to the game. Let’s start with who was telling the stories? It was Edith Finch herself, but we should know that she most probably has heard those stories from her great grandmother, Edie Finch, before they left. Especially the stories about Edie’s daughters and sons. And the way Edie told those stories left some influence as to how Edith and her siblings to view other stories.
So let’s to make sense of Edie’s perspective. From the hints in Edie’s room, we can assume that she most likely suffers from bouts of schizophrenia. Basically she can’t or won’t differ her fantasy from the reality, just like Ewan’s character in the movie Big Fish. She claimed that her husband Sven was killed by a dragon, when it was actually an accident involving a dragon-shaped slide. Or that there’s a moleman living under the house when it was her son Walter being a shut-in under the basement. Note that Dawn was furious for that interview.
Therefore, I’d say that Edie is a very unreliable narrator. Hence all her stories and her influence on Edith’s stories should be taken with a grain of salt. That would mean whatever we’ve been played through in the game, might not be what actually happened.
Now let’s see each of the Finch family members then:
Molly died of food poisoning, a tube of tooth paste and several holly can be fatal for a child. And after she ate those she had a dream filled with bouts of hallucination, woke up for a while and wrote it all down. Her writing is full of childish fantasy but it’s easy to understand once you reexamine her room afterward. She loved to play make believe, there are owl and cat masks hanging on bathroom door, there’s a shark doll on the shelf, and a jellyfish doll with tentacles on her bed. She imagined herself being all these creatures. Even so, there are signs of poison taking effect while she was dreaming. Her heart beating fast as a cat chasing the bird. She had trouble swallowing as an owl swallowing a big rabbit, trouble breathing as a shark on land. Her breath slowed down for a long time when the tentacle monster hides under her bed. In the end this incident might be the trigger that pushed Edie into depression because she felt guilty for punishing Molly by sending her to bed without supper. And to alleviate some of her guilt, Edie would rather believe in fantasy instead of facing the result of her action. That’s why she’d prefer Molly’s story than the fact that she accidentally caused her first child’s death. Anyway, my prediction out of thin air: Molly was probably being punished for climbing that big tree.
100% of Odin story would have came from Edie herself. So whether Odin really believe in family curse or it was Edie’s invention no one knows. But one major thing to note here is of Odin moving the whole original house all the way from Norway to Orca island in Washington.
It seems implausible because they would have to travel across Atlantic Ocean, all the way south to Panama Canal, then north again to Washington. Whether it was the game writers team who overlooked the problem, or it was to show that the house-shaped structure in the sea might not be what it seems, I’m not sure. But I’ll try to take this into account later. (PS: I might be wrong about this though, there were no mention of them moving their house directly from Norway, just that they were of Norway descent, so it might be that their family and original house has been in America for a while, and that they just moved it from the continent to the small island)
There’s not much fantasy to Calvin’s story, it’s easily understandable that Calvin died from a swing accident. But there are several snippets that are interesting from his conversation with Sam.
First one is, after Barbara’s funeral, Calvin said that he would not be afraid anymore, hinting of his brother, Walter’s problem who grew afraid of everything that he locked himself up. Second is that Calvin would rather died before eating another mushroom. Note that at the time, Edie called her children for dinner. Question is, was there perhaps mushrooms in the dinner? Would this incident caused Edie to further blamed herself for her children’s death? I’d like to think so, but it would take a jump in logic to that conclusion.
Barbara’s death is an unsolved murder case. But what happened left a mark on Walter, causing him to develop agoraphobia.
It might also cause Edie to blame herself for leaving her 2 children alone in the house at the time. Even though it was because Sven having an accident. What’s interesting in this section is that somehow, the comic book writer know of the secret key in music box, something that should have been a family secret, which point to the writer might be someone close, or been told of the story from Edie herself. Though it’s also possible that because Barbara’s ear was found in the box, it was examined thoroughly and the secrets became well known to the public at the time.
Walter became a shut-in because of witnessing Barbara’s murder. He imagined a monster under his cave that was actually the train that ran on schedule for years. Until it stopped. The reason he thought it was a monster was because both the train and the murder happen at the same time, right at midnight.
I can’t be sure whether Walter died because of being hit by the train or other reason. Because no one knows for certain whether the train stops running because of broken track (and therefore couldn’t have hit Walter), or because of a change of schedule and the track was broken after the incident.
But we know that he loved train models, so it also might be that if the train was stopped because of broken track, he looked for the train and fall off the cliff. And there are even theory that Walter is still alive. If so then that tomb of his must be empty.
From these stories, we can see that there are always logical explanation to their death. But at the same time, these incidents would have caused Edie as their mother to feel guilty toward what happened to her children. So wasn’t it possible that she invented the story of family curse to lessen her guilt?
Let’s continue with Edie’s surviving son, Sam’s family:
Sam and Dawn is not like Edie. They’re practical and logical, therefore their stories and stories from their perspectives are very straight forward. Additionally, Edith never heard of Sam’s story from anyone else. Perhaps Dawn forbids Edie to tell them. So there’s no Edie’s influence happening here. In short, Sam died of a hunting accident.
This story is important. Essentially, Gregory died of drowning because he was left unattended in the bath. And like Edie, Kay took the incident pretty hard and blamed herself for talking too long in a phone call. But because Sam understand the toll of such an incident might take on a mother, he tried to tell that story in as soft manner as possible. All in order to prevent Kay from taking Edie’s path. Sam tried to portray the playful nature of Gregory even while he drowned. To let Kay know that even after Gregory’s gone, Kay shouldn’t blame herself because Gregory is happy.
Also straight forward, he hated the wedding, played kite by himself, very stubborn that he didn’t want to go in even when the storm is brewing. Instead of the tent, he probably took a shelter near the trees and died from the falling totem. Anyway, did anyone realize that the totem in the beach was a memorial? At the bottom was Odin carrying the house, then Barbara with a crutch, then Calvin on the swing, on top was Molly being an owl. Sven might have made the totem decades before, there were prototypes in the basement before Barbara’s murder.
The last two on the list are Dawn’s children. What happened to them shaped the condition of the Finch house and her decision to leave.
Milton is missing, but the developers said that his story was portrayed in previous game The Unfinished Swan, a PS exclusive game. There are correlation between the two, but since I have only watched let’s play, instead of playing it directly, a lot of it is going to be guess work.
But taking from this game alone I’d say Milton loved wandering. The flipbook he made showed him stepping into a magical door. At the same time, Milton’s drawing is found inside every secret passages in the house. I think those are the magical door he meant, even though the developers said that he stepped into a real magical door into the world of The Unfinished Swan.
But because we’re trying to see everything logically here, even a magical setting such as The Unfinished Swan would take a different meaning if we judge from the perspective of What Remains of Edith Finch. There are similarities between the levels in The Unfinished Swan and the woods surrounding the Finch House. And there are maze level which might mean that Milton got lost. Also a night level where we tried to follow a light source along the river to the statue/tower/house (in the sea) where the King/Milton is? There’s even a story about a Lazy Giant that might be a symbol of Lewis. If I have to guess, The Unfinished Swan might be a story of Milton end up drowning in the sea. In his last consciousness, he conjure up the story of him having a wife and a son that came back to rescue him. But like I said it’s all guess work. And I might put too much meaning toward something that was created before What Remains of Edith Finch.
But note the effect of Milton’s missing on Dawn. She started to seal up every doors in the house. There are a couple of reasons for her to do so. First, to prevent Edith from following Milton’s behavior and playing in the secret passages. She might have seen the flip book and already knows his son penchant for playing in them. Second, to prevent her children from seeing the shrine Grandma Edie made for all who passed away.
Also note that Walter’s room wasn’t sealed. That’s because Walter was still living under the basement after Milton missing. His room wasn’t sealed in case he gets better from being a shut-in and can be moved upstairs. Even after Walter’s escape/death, the room still didn’t get sealed for years afterward, either because he’s still alive or because Dawn sees that Edith has taken a liking to play in the room. But still the secret passage in the room was directly locked by Dawn herself.
Lewis had the same symptoms with Edie. He can’t differ fantasy from reality. And in the end choose the fantasy and took his own life.
Dawn clearly see the correlation, between Edie’s story telling and its effect on both her children. As you see, Milton love of wandering was also because he love imagining stuff.
After what happened with Lewis, Dawn decided that it’s enough, Edie’s fantasy addled stories are dragging her children away from reality. And we can see that in how Edith told the story as well, that it too had an influence on her.
And here we are, the last story:
After everything that’s said, can we take Edie’s writing as it is? That the sea receded so far, that she walked to the house in the middle of the sea, or even that there’s a house sunk in the middle of the sea?
As I said, it might be implausible that they moved the original house all the way there. I personally can’t be sure whether the house shape Edith saw with the telescope was really a house or just Edith’s imagination. But here’s what I think might have happened.
The whether it exist in the sea or not, the sunken house Edie told them was a symbol of her father Odin. And in one of the night where Edie lost her lucidity, she walked directly into the sea in a reverie. It wasn’t the fog that cause her to get turned around. But it was a wave pushing her back to the shore. She fainted and dreamed of reaching the old house. Of someone (Odin) turning on the light waiting for her. This is a perfect metaphor of her reaching so close to the death’s door.
See the correlation here? It happened while Dawn is having her third child on the same night. Clearly she’s old enough to understand what her grandmother might try to do. It was an attempted suicide caused by her inability to differ fantasy from reality. And later on, she saw exactly the same thing happened to her son. Is it any wonder as to why she thought Edie’s story as dangerous?
So here we are seeing the conclusion of the stories. Dawn got into an argument with Edie at dinner. She’s furious that Edie left another one of her fantasy addled story for Edith. And took her immediately away.
Edie died of alcohol & medicine mixture in the morning. In a way it was her choosing. Later on Dawn might have return without Edith’s knowing. There were sign that the front fence was climbed before Edith’s entry. And Dawn might felt the need to seal Lewis and Edie’s door. While she’s not really superstitious, it might became Dawn’s own ritual of memorializing them. Edie was buried with the rest of the family tomb. I’m pretty sure Edie already prepared her own tombstone years before. There just need to be someone to chisel the date afterward. It might be Dawn, but since Edie is sorta celebrity in the area, it might be anyone.
So, in conclusion, was it a curse? Or was it something else entirely? Perhaps Edith herself sums it best. That they believed in those stories so much, they made them real.