The title should give it away…
You have been warned…
…so I’m just going to dive into this thing…
In Bioshock Infinite, you play as Booker DeWitt, an ex-cavalry man, recently involved in the massacre of Wounded Knee, emerging from that experience emotional scarred and wracked with guilt (still a far better fate than most of the others at Wounded Knee). He was so consumed with his own sinful deeds that he se sought absolution in the hands of God, receiving a good old Southern baptism and cleansing of his sins. As part of being reborn, Booker was asked to take on a new name to epitomize his new life…
…or did he?
This is the basis of Bioshock Infinite, the concept of parallel realities being created based on our actions or inactions. The character we eventually play as, Booker DeWitt, realized he can’t simply have his sins washed away with water and a preacher’s words. He ran into a life where he met and married a woman, had a child, but then lost both in separate events, coinciding with a depression brought on with mounting gambling debts. Simultaneously, another Booker was created at that same moment of schism; one which accepted baptism, subsequently morphing into a religious fanatic of such charisma, a cult emerged soon afterward. Following this new path, the cleansed Booker chose to give himself the name Comstock. This Comstock would eventually encounter a follower in the form of Rosalind Lutece, an exemplary scientist centuries ahead of her time in the field of quantum mechanics. She created a technique allowing objects to be suspended in mdi-air, beginning with books, then later with a city. She also discovered the existence of alternate realities, gifting Comstock with foresight, knowledge gleaned from science rather than from God. Lutece also discovered a male counterpart in another universe, a Lutece struggling with the hurdles of this revolutionary science though blessed (or cursed) with ethics the female version apparently lacked. The female Lutece managed to contact her twin and both went about corresponding, greatly advancing both of their fields, eventually resulting into the creation of a rift where one could cross into the other’s reality. Coincidentally, or as a result of this, Columbia was born, a floating city based on the aforementioned anti-gravity technology.
However, there was a bit of a problem. Even though Comstock was married, exposure to the rifts and the devices which created them had rendered him sterile, incapable of producing an heir for his floating kingdom, a kingdom growing disillusioned with the progressive nature of the United States (abolishing slavery being a “progressive” idea). Comstock also had cancer, and with days numbered, he compelled the Lutece twins to open a rift into a reality as they did before, but only this time to one where an alternate version of Comstock had offspring. Alas, because of the combination of Columbia and Comstock, the only version/s of Comstock with progeny were those where he never was baptised, i.e. Booker DeWitt. So a rift was opened and this mirror DeWitt was offered a deal by the Luteces: hand over his child and his debts would be paid. Obviously, this came with an additional promise that his daughter would be raised in a pampered home to loving parents. It wasn’t the correct choice, and Booker’s guilt got the best of him, forcing a confrontation at the rift precipice between Comstock and Booker. DeWitt failed to recover his daughter, losing her to the other universe, but not before the closing gate severed the tip of Anna DeWitt’s finger.
This was the beginning of Comstock’s descent into madness and the reaches he would go to ensure his empire, his legacy, and his delusions of beatification. He believed his own rhetoric of being a saint. This had a relatively negative effect on the city he founded and the people who lived on it. No society can function without a worker class and ethnic minorities were forced to fill that role. It didn’t take long for them to feel a little bitter about this, and in time a group of freedom fighters publically labeled a terrorist group emerged, the Vox Populi—the voice of the people—tasked with freeing the chains of oppression, even if that meant pulling down the pillars of Columbia along with it.
And no, I’m still in the preamble; I haven’t gotten to the actual game yet.
As Comstock’s child grew up, she began exhibiting unusual powers, though not that unusual given the environment. Elizabeth Comstock, previously Anna DeWitt, had the ability to view potential rifts as well as create them whole-cloth, a side effect from losing a part of herself in another universe.
To cover the origin of his offspring (whom his wife refuses to accept), Comstock killed his wife, blaming her death on the founder of the Vox Populi, Daisy Fitzroy. Around that same time, Elizabeth, her abilities growing nearly to the point of Akira-like cataclysmic potential, was locked inside a massive statue–a jail with a warden in the form of a colossal biomechanical songbird, another out-of-place technological marvel gleamed from knowledge learned from a rift (perhaps even from the city of Rapture, the setting from the previous Bioshock). The statue was also a device meant to curb Elizabeth’s blossoming power.
I haven’t even gotten to Jeremiah Fink, the racist unscrupulous business who monopolized the whole of Columbia, or Cornelius Slate, the military leader and once loyal Comstock follower and now open rebel who’s taken over a part of the city with his loyal soldiers since being disenfranchised with Columbia since losing an eye and 30 men when Columbia suppressed the Boxer rebellion.
Everyone with me so far?
It was Fink who conspired with Comstock to finally remove the Luteces from Columbia. Apparently,
Robert Lutece, the outsider twin, was able to bestow some ethics in his counterpart and both conspired to bring down the man they helped create. Fink Sabotaged the Lutece’s equipment, but instead of killing them, their device made them more powerful than anyone could possibly imagine. Not, they didn’t become Jedi. The Luteces became unstuck, like the main character from Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, only not only could they move instantly between points in time, but also through alternate realities, even to the extent of existing in multiple locations simultaneously. This offered them the opportunity to enact their revenge in a truly elegant way, to stop Comstock as well as save Elizabeth from a dire future where she follows in her father’s footsteps in cleansing America as well as the rest of the world in a wrath of fire. The Luteces hop back over to DeWitt’s reality and offer him the opportunity to rescue Elizabeth. Slight problem with this plan: when someone crosses over to a new universe, or if a tear opens up between two universes, people have a tendency of mixing memories from either side. This may explain why the Luteces appear to be quite literally of one mind. Elizabeth, for reasons unclear, appeared immune. So when Booker DeWitt was pulled into this reality, memories became fogged and he lost the memory of his daughter. All Booker knew was a variation of what sent his daughter away in the first place: retrieve the girl and wipe away the debt, oblivious that the girl he was rescuing was his own daughter. The Lutece’s are puppetmasters of this, tweaking events in the timeline in order to create a win scenario where Booker finds redemption, Comstock is defeated, and Elizabeth doesn’t rise to follow in her false father’s false prophecy.
And I shit you not; this is when the game starts…
The unfortunate truth though is that the initial Booker failed in his task, resulting in the Lutece’s finding another Booker in another timeline and sending him to another reality where Comstock reigns. To the Lutece’s, there’s no difference, and they never encounter any more Luteces as they’ve all merged as a result of the accident. The next Booker fails and then the next, dying at different points along this crusade. Given slight variations in each universe, each attempt changes where he fails. In some cases Elizabeth isn’t even at Columbia when Booker arrives, resulting in him joining with Slate and Fitzroy in the retaking of Columbia. When the player finally assumes control, it is the hundredth attempt the Lucetes have made. This one…this one, however, will work…assuming that you don’t die when separated from Elizabeth, because then you are assuming an all new Booker who has coincidentally made all the same choices until that moment but not died.
During the course of the game, you encounter Slate and Fitzroy. You rescue Elizabeth. Everything makes sense until you cross into another reality. The game forces you to acknowledge that it’s only about this Elizabeth and this Booker. So even though they can kill Fitzroy, it’s not same Fitzroy previous encountered. This schism occurs a couple times; each occasion, it’s slightly jarring. To compound the confusion, Booker inherents conflicting memories with each crossing. Even when Booker kills Comstock, it’s not the Comstock that took his specific daughter. Hell, Elizabeth might not even be his direct daughter but another Booker’s…but that’s probably less likely.
Eventually, by learning to control Songbird, Booker and Elizabeth manage to destroy the siphon inside the Columbia statue suppressing Beth’s power, and the entire game take trip to crazy town. It’s what occurs after which has so many people up in arms or otherwise befuddled. Breaking from the game’s own internal logic, Elizabeth shows Booker the complete multiverse of infinite Bookers in his attempt to defeat Comstock and rescue Elizabeth, manifested as a sea of endless lighthouses with endless pairings of Booker and Elizabeth. Booker’s judgment on how to kill Comstock is to go back to the moment of initial schism and be drowned in the baptism waters, a repeat of an event encountered at the beginning of the game. Of course, there’s been no indication that someone can replace someone else entering a new reality. Booker should see himself, and even then, it wouldn’t be himself but just another variation of himself, one that ordered watermelon instead of cantaloupe for dessert that morning. So I believe this ending is not a complete new reality but one constructed by Elizabeth for Booker to know the truth. It only serves as a mechanism for Booker to find closure.
Does he die? According to the post-credit sequence, no. He finds himself back in his old room, probably dropped into a new reality after drowning. Does Elizabeth die? Why should see? None of the others that made it to that point did; this was why Booker saw so many variations of her standing over him. Some gamers take a literal explanation, that Booker dies and Elizabeth ceases to exist, but I can’t entertain that as a possibility as that creates a paradox which parallel realities can actually work around. Like in Fight Club, it is not the literal bullet through the head which kills the alternate Tyler Durden; it’s the intent and belief that one is killing oneself in order to kill another. The fact that the original Tyler survives doesn’t negate the initial act. And Booker awakening back in this room with his daughter shows that it was his intent to kill that radical belief which mattered, not the physical act of drowning in itself.
But was it good?
Like I said, there’s a tonal shift about half-way through which is jarring and which renders most of the previous act irrelevant—the moment of the first rift passing. Although the suddenly shift in plot complexity is welcome, many of the social issues introduced with the opening act are summarily ignored and never addressed again. Allies suddenly become villains and the abandonment of the social issues can almost be accused a being a cop-out, a racially insensitive one (other reviewers have reached that conclusion). Further, despite what I believe to be a correct analysis of its ending, there is still only circumstantial evidence that it’s correct, with lacking evidence for many of the other interpretations people have made as well. This I judge to be a weakness in the writing to offer up multiple interpretations given present evidence. I don’t mind multiple interpretations, like with The Fountain and later with Cloud Atlas, but I think Bioshock Infinite, keeps too much behind the curtain.