'What Remains of Edith Finch' Is What Remains of Anyone

(Giant Sparrow)

Video games are one of the few mediums that regularly asks their audience to experience death alongside its protagonists.

What Remains of Edith Finch

Developer: Giant Sparrow
US Release Date: 2017-04-24

I keep wanting to call What Remains of Edith Finch What's Eating Edith Finch?. In a certain way, What Remains of Edith Finch has a few things in common with the film Lasse Hallström's What's Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993). They both feature oddly named characters, they're both concerned about the way peculiar families function, and they both meditate on death at certain points in their runtime.

It's this latter element that probably defines the major thematic interest of What Remains of Edith Finch, though, as the majority of the game is spent pondering the inevitable ends of Edith's peculiar family members.

Video games might seem a strange place to consider the seriousness and sometimes (in the case of What Remains of Edith Finch's universe) the absurdity of death. However, re-reading that last sentence makes me realize quite the opposite. Video games are a medium that constantly represents death. Indeed, it's one of the few mediums that regularly asks its audience to experience death alongside its protagonists. So in some ways, it might be the perfect medium for the stories that this game wants to tell.

Death, however, is What Remains of Edith Finch quite cheap in video game worlds, and this is where What Remains of Edith Finch dramatically differs from a standard video game. The protagonist can't die, but she and the player constantly relive the deaths of others, and in doing so, death isn't cheapened. Instead, even when presented in its bizarre and magically realistic universe, death takes on a significant pathos as it's experienced, confronted, and ultimately accepted as part and parcel of the human experience.

What Remains of Edith Finch doesn't deal with death in the same way each time, though, nor does it deal with death in quite as straightforward a way as I may have suggested. Each death is quite personal, defined by the individual whose story is being recounted and also by the medium or the perspective that may, perhaps, best suit that individual and the story that comes also to define them.

A violent death, for example, is told in comic book form, and in the most salacious way possible. Its details remain unclear, even incoherent as, perhaps, that incoherence represents the difficulty of dealing with such an unusual circumstance surrounding the death of someone well loved.

Equally bizarre is the death of a little boy on a swing. The momentum of the manner that we control the swing matches the building momentum of the story being told. When the final moment appears, we look upon it with both wonder and a sense of expectations being met -- a strange and curious tale of death, indeed.

Equally disturbing is the death of an infant while at play in the bath. The game plays up the idealization of the little one's final “playground” through its strange dance of toys and balletic music and imagination. Someone was lost whose identity had hardly had time to take shape, and yet, in experiencing the imaginary reality of this infant we are left with something that does remain of the identity of that someone still unable to speak to us about who and what he is or might eventually be.

All of which might make What Remains of Edith Finch incredibly depressing -- but it isn't. Between the strangeness of the family and their seemingly supernatural encounters and powers and the fact that the protagonist is pregnant throughout the game, we are both enchanted by these tales of life's end and realize that in a family life always continues onward, despite the eventual disappearance of those around us. There will always be someone new with another story told in another way.

Unlike What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, however, the title of Edith Finch's game is presented as a statement rather than a question. The game doesn't conclude in any open ended way but instead lives up to its title. What remains of Edith Finch, it would seem, is Finches. One is a new Finch who will suffer the same “curse” of death that all Finches do (but really everyone shares with them). But none of the Finches ever disappear utterly as they and their rooms remain the foundation of their home.

At one point, Edith explains that rumor has it that all of the Finches are buried in the library. This makes sense, since all of the Finches remain in their home through the vehicle of storytelling, be that through a life told through a comic book or (in my favorite sequence) through a simple flipbook in which we witness the dissolve of one of the Finch children.

What remains of Edith Finch is what remains of anyone who has lived a life -- the stories told by loved ones about them, however strange and difficult to believe that those stories might be.






The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.


Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.


King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.


Jim O'Rourke's Experimental 'Shutting Down Here' Is Big on Technique

Jim O'Rourke's Shutting Down Here is a fine piece of experimental music with a sure hand leading the way. But it's not pushing this music forward with the same propensity as Luc Ferrari or Derek Bailey.


Laraaji Returns to His First Instrument for 'Sun Piano'

The ability to help the listener achieve a certain elevation is something Laraaji can do, at least to some degree, no matter the instrument.


Kristin Hersh Discusses Her Gutsy New Throwing Muses Album

Kristin Hersh thinks influences are a crutch, and chops are a barrier between artists and their truest expressions. We talk about life, music, the pandemic, dissociation, and the energy that courses not from her but through her when she's at her best.


The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.


Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.


The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.


'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.


Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.


Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.


South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.


Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.


'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.


A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.


The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.


Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.