Tackling BioShock Infinite’s Bamboozling Ending
BioShock Infinite has affected me beyond all doubt. I’ve not stopped thinking about it for the past few days – those final 17 minutes playing in repeat over and over in my mind like a ‘tear’ in my brains space-time continuum.
The original BioShock for me is stooped in honour; it’s undoubtedly one of the greatest games of all time (as we’ve been reminded several times throughout the Infinite launch campaign) and has a narrative worthy of the film-adaptation it’s been so desperately toying with. Yet for all its ground-breaking level design, wonderful audio and incredible philosophical implications – the games’ conclusion definitely fell flat in favour of either an extremely unsatisfying 30-second piece of garbage or a generic, romanticized ‘Hollywood cliché’ approach (depending on whether or not you actually opted to save all the little sisters). I blindly looked past this back in 2007 because at the time the whole concept of BioShock completely astounded me (and still does) however I now consider Infinite to be a far superior game in most respects – a feat I never thought would be achieved. This is responsible, in part, for its unbelievable ending; an ending that caught me unaware, drew me in like slow-reeled bait and had me nodding, gawping and balling like a Little Sister at a Big Daddy funeral.
This ending, however, is not without its critics. It’s a polarizing affair that can strangely offer both a conclusive ending to the tale of Booker DeWitt or a devastating cliff-hanger depending on which way you’ve interpreted the story thus far.
So at this point it would be safe to assume there will now be spoiler alerts. Honestly, if you’ve yet to complete the game please don’t ruin it for yourself – it will have absolutely no impact on you whatsoever if you know what’s coming. Equally, you won’t understand half of what’s being said as it’s all specific to moments within the game. Going in with a head brimming full of all the information you’ve acquired over the past 10 hours of gameplay is perfect – now reward yourself with some genius storytelling and see exactly how the intricacies of what you’ve come to believe play out in a Sixth Sense-esque reveal…
So here we go! I’ll split this debate/analysis/clarification into two halves – one which offers a broader, more face-value perspective on how I immediately interpreted the game once the credits had rolled (and beyond…) and the other which critiques some of its flaws and evaluates other important moments in the game and how they contribute to both smaller plot points and Infinite’s overarching themes.
Let’s assess the ‘constants’. Booker DeWitt is a Pinkterton agent, a heavy gambler (a fan of horse-racing by the looks of his desk) and a man who has seen the devastation of war at the Battle of Wounded Knee – an interesting slice of Native American history that is explored in the game during a very Sander Cohen-like segment with Cornelius Slate in the Hall of Heroes. On the flip side, Booker is Zachary Comstock – a man who had repented and cleansed himself of all sins just after the infamous battle; reborn as Zachary with a newfound love for all things ‘the Lord’ and America. Combining those two notions, Zachary founded Columbia – a city that idolizes the founding fathers like religious figures and was lifted into the air by the assistance of a certain Quantum Physicist, Rosalind Lutece.
At no point were Booker or Comstock the same person; once Booker (in one linear timeline) accepts the baptism he is Comstock and once Booker (in another timeline) refuses the baptism he remains Booker. The latter continues to live his life (arguably distraught at the things he’s done – perhaps a motive for turning to gambling?) and has a child named Anna DeWitt. As a way of repaying his ‘debts’, Booker surrenders his daughter to Robert Lutece – a shady man who informs him that he has now repaid all that he owed. Exactly who is Robert Lutece you ask? Well, not to make things any more confusing but he is actually Rosalind Lutece – taken from the timeline where Booker became Comstock and this time (by the random nature of time and space) has been born with an XY chromosome. It is only when Rosalind is able to play with the syphon, opening doors between realities, that the two are able to exist together – and it is this moment where Anna is stolen to Columbia, losing her pinky in the process of trying to be rescued by a distressed DeWitt.
As the conclusion begins to take full flight (with an almost zombified Elizabeth guiding you through the crazy number of ‘tears’ in the universe) you soon realize the complete infinity of the whole thing (clever, huh?) As Elizabeth says, there are a “million, million different worlds” that all will feature variants on this narrative (for example, you see another-timeline DeWitt and Elizabeth pass by you across wooden planks in the middle of the ocean as you yourself are searching for answers) and they will all conclude with an outcome that is less than favourable (whether it be at the baptism ground or in 1980’s dystopian New York – as that haunting scene with elderly Elizabeth predicts). The only way to end the loop is to ‘smother the son of a bitch in his crib’ – the crib in this case being the baptism ground where Comstock was effectively born. Booker arrives, allows himself to be murdered and thus the whole story comes to an end.
Or does it? This is exactly where some of the paradox/plot-holes come into my mind – and this is where I could use some clarification from you guys. Comstock would need to exist in one timeline in order for Booker to have Anna, as it is Comstock’s own infertility at the hands of Rosalind’s experiments that motivate him to steal Anna as his heir. If Booker is murdered before taking the baptism, Elizabeth/Anna would never have been born. This is a notion I’m willing to accept aside from the fact that the closing shot shows everyone vanishing into nothingness except for one Elizabeth (the main one we’ve come to spend the majority of our time with throughout the game). How can she remain?
Trying to draw my own conclusion for that plot-hole, this is where I refer to the ‘scene after the credits’ – it takes place far later in the future than the events of Infinite (as the calendar on the desk informs you) and shows Booker back in his office (the one you return to when you die without Elizabeth nearby). After exploring his office you are able to approach the door to the child’s room, where Booker says “Anna?” and it cuts to black before anything is seen. This could be a number of things:
1) Is this toying with the notion of re-incarnation? Booker’s guilted branding “AD” (for Anna DeWitt) on his right hand also has religious connotations and it could be one of those signifiers (along with many littered throughout the game) that shows this to be a conclusive scene where Booker gets a chance to do it ‘right’. He is drowned at the end of BioShock Infinite but is reincarnated in an undisturbed timeline to live a peaceful life. This explains how Elizabeth can still exist in the last shot of the game, as in one timeline Anna is alive and in another, her. Sounds a bit crazy to me though.
2) Booker is in a state of limbo, or even heaven. The office is a place he always returned to whenever he died during the game. As he dies, he is allowed to live his state-of-limbo dream for eternity. As Elizabeth is omnipotent, perhaps she remains in that final shot because she can exist through his dream. Again, sounds crazy.
3) The only other thing I can think of is based on some of the lines Elizabeth and the Lutece’s say during the game. During the build-up to the elderly Elizabeth moment you encounter various voxophones which chart the slow demise of Elizabeth’s sanity as she’s tortured and forced to accept there’s no hope in Booker. In one of her final voxophones she states ‘things have been set in motion that cannot be undone’ before discussing how she has opened the door and seen the future. Equally, she has access to the sea of doors in that sequence with the multiple lighthouses. The idea of the door lead me to just one conclusion – is she somehow in control of the door in Bookers office? The door he only comes to realize exists thanks to Elizabeth’s help in the final act of the game? Again all of these ideas are farfetched, but it’s the only way I can explain some of the paradox/plotholes in the game.
4) As the Lutece’s say, “Lives, Lived, Will Live”. Booker existed at some point, which means Anna existed at some point, which means Comstock existed at some point, which finally means Elizabeth existed at some point. Despite Booker seeming to ‘smother’ Comstock in his crib, the fact he existed in the first place means that events will live on – things have been set in motion that cannot be undone.
It’s enough to drive you stir crazy (and it has been doing so for me!) Perhaps you guys can shed some light on this or even offer up your own theories. I think we’re all agreed on the ‘constants’, it’s just the variables that don’t seem concrete. Is there an important voxophone message perhaps I may have missed? Do you have that conclusive piece of evidence collected from the various sightseeing devices or eavesdropped moments throughout the game? Let me know, and let’s tackle the masterpiece that is BioShock Infinite together.
For our full review, check it out here.