Seeing Through a Girl’s Eyes: A Look Back at What Remains of Edith Finch
What Remains of Edith Finch features a Monster Mash gathering of ghouls and creeps that eat someone alive, leaving behind a single ear and nothing more, and yet Edith Finch’ss voice and the way she looks at life remain the most fascinating parts of developer Giant Sparrow’s “hauntingly, beautiful story.”
Five years after the game’s original release, What Remains of Edith Finch remains an electrifying exploration of life and what any of it even means. And Giant Sparrow’s decision to frame it all through the eyes of a girl is a big part of what makes the game so special. I’m also kind of wrapped up in the game’s story and themes personally in a poetic and gay sort of way that I’ll try to explain. First you need to know a little bit about the game, Edith, and two of her family members, Barbara and Walter.
Walking through the empty family home and learning each family member’s fate is ultimately how Edith and the player meet everyone. It’s hard to deny the connection Edith seems to have with the empty home, as if the past itself is eager to meet her, even if on unreliable terms.
Interacting with memorials left and made by Edith’s great-grandma will pull players behind the curtain of each family member’s death, or at least whatever the story is, through the individual’s perspective. This means we’re seeing what they saw through Edith’s narration and interpretation. The unreliable narration from Edie (and in some cases, the individuals and/or others) will often add an element of magical realism. The deaths are obviously anything but magical but it’s certainly more fun being a sea monster eating sailors on a ship than dying from an accidental self-poisoning while drifting off to sleep as a little girl.
The stories of Barbara and Walter are tragic. In fact, they’re arguably among the most depressing tales in the family. And yet, it’s these two stories that I find myself intertwined with the most. It’s the fate of these two that highlights Edith’s outlook on life so tightly for me. Their stories also kind of bookend my life in a way but more on that later.
The disillusioned actress Barbara was a child star who longed for the spotlight again after falling out of work and growing up. She grinded away at a coffee shop while working toward a return to the silver screen.
At age sixteen, Barbara was either murdered by a group of monsters, who came from all around to honor her one last time (she was a scream queen after all), with her remains eaten, all except for her ear, or she was killed by her boyfriend, frustrated with Barbara’s time away from the screen and eager to move on. It all depends on what you choose to take from the ‘Tales from the Crypt’-inspired comic book left by Edie at Barbara’s memorial in her room.
Edith learns of Barbara’s grisly fate, which is murder no matter how it’s cut, and offers up the following in a sort of eulogy for Barbara, “Growing up, I always thought of Barbara as a child star. I never thought of how hard it must have been for her afterwards. Edie told me all Barbara wanted was to be remembered. As absurd as that comic was, maybe what Edie saw was a happy ending. I guess now I know why Mom didn’t like me playing with the music box.”
Edith thinks of how hard life must have been for Barbara, going from being famous to a quiet life before having it all taken away from her, and focuses on the best parts. And she thinks of how happy it would make Barbara to know she will be remembered. How happy she was to reach her dreams, even if in death.
Walter, who started hiding in the basement as a boy after witnessing Barbara’s death, stayed underneath the home for over thirty years, unable to handle the realities of life after seeing his sister’s end. He was so afraid of dying that he never even lived.
When Edith learns Walter was killed moments after deciding to try life outside again, she comments on how she wishes she knew he was down there for all of those years, saying, “Walter died when I was six. I can’t believe my mom never told me he was down here. I’m sure my mom was trying to protect me. Maybe she was afraid I’d end up like Walter. But if she never told me about an uncle under the house… I can only imagine what else she was hiding. I don’t want to make the same mistakes she made; trying to bury something that’s still alive.”
Edith sees how special life is and recognizes the moments for being as magical as they really are. She may just be a girl but it’s clear she understands how special it is simply getting to exist and feel things. Her family members all seem to share this sort of grip they need to maintain over life whereas Edith seems quite content with just breathing, feeling, and being.
It’s the difference between living the moments instead of counting them and breathing rather than holding your breath. And it’s that tap on the shoulder that just might made a difference in that family’s life. What matters is who we are and what we do with the time we have.
Edith’s words and voice are so strong and filled with life that they come through even though she isn’t physically present for any of the game. Well, at least no more present than Walter, Barbara, or any of the other Finch family members.
It’s only when the story concludes, and the camera pans out that we meet Edith’s son, who was the family’s actual witness all along. Edith’s words from her trip through the family home are how the player actually went through the house. Everything from Edith feels so vivid but it was all technically from her son’s perspective.
It’s just a testimony to Edith’s presence and voice that it feels like any kind of surprise. Her soul and very being came through from her words at a level that made it impossible to see anything but her world and perspective. She shares this view with her son, in her last words to him, which are written on the last page of the journal she carried through the Finch home.
“If we lived forever, maybe we’d have time to understand things. But as it is, I think the best we can do is try to open our eyes. And appreciate how strange and brief all of this is. I want you to be amazed that any of us ever had a chance to be here at all.”
Seeing the world from Edith’s heart is a big part of how I realized I’m a trans woman. Edith Finch’s last words to her son serve as a sort of warning to live your life fully because it’s special and because your eyes will close for the last time one day. Edith begs us all to recognize that life is precious, and that we should all live while we’re alive.
I didn’t want to stay trapped and hidden away, like Walter. Yeah, the thought of not existing is a scary thing to consider but I couldn’t imagine hiding away. Edith’s plea to live and be, instead of foolishly trying to escape death, was one of the pieces I needed to see myself for who I am. Her words and reverence for life echo throughout me, pushing me to cling to who I am instead of masking as someone else, even if it would absolutely make it much easier for me to stay alive.
I’d much rather risk dying while living my life as who I am. Like Walter, I was also hidden away for over thirty years. I can’t ever imagine going back to that. (No matter what foolish, fantasy bigots may think.)
Barbara may not have had a long life but she ultimately lived her life chasing who she was and doing what she loved. I don’t know how long I’m going to live but I’m amazed to even be here, just like Edith Finch, no matter how brief it is. And like Barbara, I’ll chase my dreams and scream all along the way.