The lights are on
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The ending to BioShock Infinite is not an easy one to digest. Irrational Games has spun an intricate web that culminates in a mind-blowing twist guaranteed to leave you thinking. What exactly is the connection between Booker and Elizabeth? How does Comstock figure into the overarching plot? What the heck is up with the Lutece siblings? There are a number of theories surrounding what exactly went down, but here is my interpretation of the epic conclusion to BioShock Infinite.
*In case you don’t understand why you are here, this post contains MAJOR spoilers. Like, all the spoilers*
Things are rarely what they seem in Columbia.
The key moment that ties BioShock Infinite together is Booker DeWitt’s baptism after the battle of Wounded Knee. As you no doubt noticed after finishing the game (you did finish the game, right?), baptisms are a common theme throughout the game. The first thing you see when you enter the lighthouse to Columbia (more on those lighthouses later) is a basin of water with a sign proclaiming “Of Thy Sins Shall I Wash Thee”. You have the option to use the basin, but when you try, Booker stops right before using the water, muttering “Good luck with that, pal.” Booker doesn’t believe his sins can be washed away. Booker’s refusal to believe he could possibly atone for his sins is an important plot point. Next, you must accept a baptism to enter Columbia. It is literally impossible for you to get into the town without accepting the baptism, so, in a sense, Columbia doesn’t exist until Booker is baptized.
Look back at Booker’s past before Columbia. His military service took him to Wounded Knee, where by all accounts he did some pretty bad things. Things that could break a man. Cornelius Slate, a fellow soldier at Wounded Knee, says this in a voxophone recording “Booker DeWitt is coming here, to the Hall! DeWitt…we called him the White *** of Wounded Knee, for all the grisly trophies he claimed. A man such as he…might just grant us the peace we seek.”
Like all of us, Booker has the capabilities to be both a hero and a monster.
Now let’s take a look at Zachary Comstock for a second. We hear him claim early on that he was the hero of Wounded Knee, but Slate shoots that notion down, telling us that Comstock wasn’t even there. However, Comstock claims that after the battle, a heavenly vision led him to create Columbia. Booker too has a vision soon after entering Columbia, except what he sees is the destruction of Columbia. And who is responsible for Columbia’s final destruction? We learn early on that, while Elizabeth is supposed to be the savior of Columbia, she will actually eventually lead to it downfall. “The seed of the Prophet shall sit the throne and drown in flame the mountains of man,” is a phrase heard numerous times through Infinite. What is Columbia if not a mountain of man?
Of course, one of the big reveals lets us know that Booker and Comstock are actually the same person. How is this possible? As Elizabeth shows us at the end of the game, there are infinite universes out there, each with infinite possibilities that could happen/is happening/will happen. It all comes back to the exorcism after Wounded Knee. Everything in the game turns on that moment, so it is fitting that should be the setting of the final scene of the game. Imagine two separate realities: In one, a man named Booker DeWitt performs unspeakable acts at Wounded Knee, and believes that absolution is beyond him. When confronted with a possibility to wash these sins away, he laughs it off and continues on with his life. This Booker is a drunk whose gambling problem spirals out of control, until he finds someone to make him a deal. “Bring us the girl and wipe away the debt.”
Being reborn doesn’t always lead to absolution, though.
But what would have happened if Booker had accepted that baptism, and attempted to simply wash away his sins then and there. That Booker would get a false sense of redemption and would never have to face the possibility of actually atoning for his sins. That Booker would have received a “vision from God” that would eventually lead him to create a floating city…and change his name to Zachary Comstock. That version of Booker would have set into motion a disastrous chain of events: the secession of Columbia and its eventual destruction are the most prominent elements of this reality, but the untold millions of deaths directly related to Columbia have to be taken into account as well. Simply put, it’s pretty much good for nobody in the end if this Booker gets his way.
Now look at these two Booker’s like a fork in the road, with the split occurring at the baptism. Let’s follow Comstock Booker for a second. After receiving his absolution (from the same priest who later offers baptisms at the gates of Columbia), Booker receives a vision from God telling him to create Columbia. However, he is no scientist. He needs help to create his utopia, and finds it in the form of a quirky quantum physicist named Rosalind Lutece.
So it's a love story? I am so freaking confused right now.
You first meet the Luteces as they row you towards Columbia’s lighthouse, although you don’t know it at the time. A man and a woman with remarkable repartee, the Lutece siblings appear at various times throughout the story and appear to offer you a number of “choices”. But just like Booker and Comstock, the Lutece siblings are simply two sides of the same coin. In our alternate timeline theory, a woman named Rosalind Lutece is born in the universe that would eventually give rise to Comstock and Columbia.
“When I was a girl, I dreamt of standing in a room looking at a girl who was and was not myself, who stood looking at another girl, who was and was not myself. My mother took this for a nightmare. I saw it as the beginning of a career in physics,” Rosalind says. This is the genesis of her work. This work would eventually lead to the technology that allows Columbia to float, but it also foreshadowed her more important work: tears.
In another universe, the one with the Booker that turned down the baptism and slipped into a haze of alcohol and gambling, a man named Robert Lutece was born. He too was a quantum physicist, however he had no Clumbia project to work on. But he too was interested in inter-dimensional tears, and while he was working on these, his “sister” in Columbia’s timeline was also working towards the same goal. Inevitably, these two ended up discovering the tears in reality, and soon thereafter, each other.
It’s not always the best idea to mess with alternate realities. Elizabeth will never be able to properly drink tea now.
Now, when Comstock learns of Rosalind’s work with tears, he naturally becomes interested in using them for his own gain. This is how he becomes a “prophet”, by utilizing the tears to know things he couldn’t have otherwise known. However, this comes at a price. The tear technology apparently makes you sterile. Rosalind says as much in a voxophone recording “Comstock seems to have been made sterile by simple exposure to our contraption. A theory: just as sexual reproduction can de-emphasize the traits of each parent, so goes the effect of multiple realities on our own.”
But Comstock believes he must have a child from his own line to continue his legacy. Unable to create one himself, he turns to Lutece. Rosalind and Robert have by this point discovered each other, through a rather ingenious method of utilizling slight reality changes as a form of morse code. Another voxophone recording sheds light directly on this topic. ”The Lutece Field entangled my quantum atom with waves of light, allowing for safe measurement. Sound familiar, brother? That’s because you were measuring precisely the same atom from a neighboring world. We used the universe as a telegraph. Switching the field on or off became dots and dashes. Dreadfully slow– but now, you and I could whisper through the wall…”
Presumably, Robert and Rosalind came up with a way to give Comstock his heir: Take a baby from an alternate version of himself that hasn’t been rendered sterile. Robert just happens to exist in a universe with a despondent and broke Booker trying to raise a baby by himself. ”Bring us the girl and wipe away the debt”. That is why Robert Lutece is the one shown making the deal with Booker. While first deciding to give her up, Booker then changes his mind. However, its too late, and Comstock and Lutece manage to get the girl into Columbia. However, they aren’t quite quick enough, and baby Anna (who would be renamed Elizabeth by Comstock) loses part of her finger in the transition. It is this anomaly that allows her to open tears. By existing in two separate realities simultaneously she is able to open tears between worlds.
This leads to some…unexpected complications.
However, the Luteces quickly realize that this is a mistake. Sensing their displeasure, Comstock enlists the help of engineering whiz Jeremiah Fink to end their meddling, who sabotages their reality machine, effectively trapping them in “the space between”. Rosalind explains, ”Comstock has sabotaged our contraption. Yet, we are not dead. A theory: we are scattered amongst the possibility space. But my brother and I are together, and so, I am content. He is not. The business with the girl lies unresolved. But perhaps there is one who can finish it in our stead.”
When looked through this filter, everything makes sense. The Luteces know that only Booker can save himself from himself, so they pull him into Columbia to try to fix everything, and, perhaps, give him one final chance at redemption. It’s an imperfect process, though, and it takes multiple attempts to find the right Booker out of the infinite versions available. That’s why, whenever Booker dies, a new one is “pulled” from his office, a new Booker that, through subtly different decisions, gets ever closer to victory. Remember the coin flip at the beginning of the game? My theory is that the number of flips shown is the number of Bookers they have tried up to that point. Clearly, this is a trial and error type of exercise.
Choice vs. the illusion of choice is a major theme throughout the game.
By narrowing down the creation of Comstock to the decisive baptism, Elizabeth realizes, with the Luteces help, that the only way to put an end to this loop is for Booker to give in during this landmark moment, hence the shocking finale. By drowning himself, Booker negates both the creation of Columbia and the selling of his daughter. It is this final baptism, the one he chooses, that helps him atone for his sins. The after credit movie leaves this thread open, with the screen cutting off as a new Booker hears his daughter crying in the next room. Before you can see if she is safe in her crib, they cut to black. I think this is a hopeful ending, one that suggests Booker may finally find the peace he so desperately wants.
Of course, this is one interpretation of the complex ending presented in BioShock Infinite, but one that the facts seem to support. That doesn’t mean this is any more right or wrong that what you may have come up with, but it is what makes sense to me. Do you agree, or do you have an alternate take on what really happened in Columbia?