What Remains of Edith Finch is best described as a vastly more complicated and interactive version of those pop-up books you may have played with as a child. The ones with the pull tabs that move things on each page. There’s even one of these in Edith Finch itself that you find early on.
Because of that, it’s hard to recommend What Remains of Edith Finch to everyone even though it is one of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever encountered in the interactive medium. It has a few sequences that are well worth experiencing yourself, but it’s important to know that it is firmly a story. Your input is limited to walking around, interacting with things like those pull tabs in those books, and absorbing the narrative.
The exceptions to that are found in specific sequences when you become a different character. At least one of these is incredible, so if you’re interested in stories alone then I recommend you stop watching so you don’t spoil it for yourself. It’s only about two hours long so it’s not a big time commitment if you really want to hear me speak about it.
It may also help pique your interest, because What Remains of Edith Finch isn’t the type of story you’d expect to have a villain. And yet, to me, it has one of the most insidious yet sympathetic characters I’ve seen in recent memory.
There will be spoilers from this point onward.
The story begins on a boat. You have no idea who you are or where you’re going. Eventually you’ll look down and see a book in your lap that you can open. You may also notice the flowers and a cast on your right arm.
The book is entitled Edith Finch. On the first page are two false starts that have been scribbled out, both of which state the same sort of thing: “My family never seemed strange to me when I was growing up.” On the next page, the first paragraph begins to glow and we move to another scene with another character. This is the beginning of two trends that we’ll be seeing again and again: a creative use of subtitles, and that What Remains of Edith Finch is a bunch of stories within stories. Although Edith is the main character and narrator speaking to us through this book, everything we experience is nestled in a layer underneath that boat ride at the beginning. Which is something you may forget after a while.
The story is primarily about this withered family tree of dead children. There’s a curse following the Finches, and it has claimed every member of the family except for Edith herself. Her mother is the most recent victim and, after the funeral, a mysterious key that Edith inherited has led her back to her unusual family home. She’s 17 years old and alone in the world.
The goal is to discover what happened to everyone else in the family. This is marked by those branches on the tree in her book. As you learn about each dead aunt, uncle, sibling, and grandparent, Edith fills in the tree with a short sketch above their birth and death years. There are thirteen entries on this tree but only nine of them involve sinking another layer deep into the story-within-a-story, when Edith discovers a book or a letter that explains what happened to them, which you act out in first-person.
It’s important to realize that each of these sequences is a recreated experience of how they died, but also sits with a wild amount of variance on the Unreliable Narrator Scale. Not everything is meant to be taken at face value.
At the beginning, however, things are a bit jarring. For two reasons. The first is that Edith Finch is like me: she never shuts up. That’s a rude way of putting it because that was my initial reaction: I wanted to be able to figure things out and notice them myself, without having Edith point them out and rob me of that enjoyment. What I failed to realize this early on is that her narration is crucial because everything we experience is translated through her perception of events, just like the stories she finds and reads through her journey. This is important when it comes time to process everything that happens in search of answers. Also, just because Edith does speak a lot doesn’t mean there aren’t things you have to notice yourself. There’s a surprising amount of this if you’re paying attention. The first type are finding trigger points for more of that narration: early on here are details about the deaths of both of your brothers. Milton went missing many years ago and was never found. And that Lewis died shortly before Edith and her mother left the house and never came back until now. But far more rewarding are details Edith doesn’t comment on. Or things you can notice earlier than some others might.
For instance, I looked down in this opening scene and saw that Edith had a bit of a tummy. You can see your body but not your feet unless you’re walking, because your stomach is in the way. About an hour later you’re told directly that Edith is 22 weeks pregnant, but you could have also pieced this together early on and linked it back to the opening scene on the boat. It’s my opinion that much of the story in What Remains of Edith Finch is left for you to discover through these details—the key difference between this and other stories that I’ve criticized for doing this sort of thing, is that it’s clear the writers do have an answer for almost everything and want you to figure it out. Whereas other stories are vague to give the impression of a story when there isn’t one.
This is directly linked to the second thing that’s jarring about the opening: the house. Which is weird and wonderful in the distance but also fucking bananas. Edith may say herself at the beginning that she didn’t know any different as a child so she didn’t realize how strange it all is, but everyone else here WILL notice. The house looks like a monstrous tower growing out of the forest and, even worse, inside most of the rooms have been sealed closed and then drilled with holes so people can peep through like they’re all front doors to other worlds. This is beyond unreasonable.
However, it’s explained in a way that makes perfect sense later. But only if you’re paying attention. The Finches are a family that are equal parts disturbed and brilliant. Everyone is deeply creative and driven to leave their mark on the world or, at least, this house. The true tragedy of this family is that this is intertwined with the curse that’s killing them. Perhaps far more deeply than they realize.
Edith’s mother Dawn is arguably the most normal of any of the Finches. And yet even she was compelled to travel the world to help people, and even wrote and published at least one book on teaching. The others are builders, soldiers, artists, or those that lose themselves deeply in their own imagination. Especially for the younger Finches that died before they could fully realize their creative potential.
So even though this beginning is crazy, with the strange sealed doors with looking holes like the whole house slowly mutated into a mausoleum, it eventually makes a lot of sense. It’s important to know that Edith has never been allowed into most of these rooms until now, which is demonstrated with one of the best lines in the story:
I felt like I stepped behind a painting.
From here you find a padlock in a book that accepts the inherited key, and begin following a path through the house that leads to each of these sealed rooms. We’ll get to why they were sealed to begin with later, but for now let’s go through each of the stories within Edith’s story.
Odin brought the Finch family to America but died during the trip. He attempted to sail the family house across the ocean and then sank with it. His daughter Edith Senior—who goes by the name Edie so you’re not confused between your character and hers—survived along with her husband Sven and their daughter Molly. Edie is Edith’s GREAT grandmother. So three big jumps on the tree here.
They begin construction of the new family house. Two important details are that the old house is visibly sunk in the water outside. And that Edie decided that the cemetery should be built first. BEFORE the house. The family curse was already alive and kicking before this point and Edie was certain it had followed them to America. Hence Odin’s death.
And then every death after that.
Edie and Sven had five children. Two girls. Then twin boys. And then another boy.
Molly was their first child and it’s her story that we experience first as well. She was only 10 years old when she died, and the first-hand account of her death is both one of the longest in the story, and one of the most ambiguous.
You find her journal in her room and read the final entry, wherein Molly claims she knows she’ll be dead soon.
Molly was sent to bed without any dinner, presumably because she was misbehaving. You control Molly as you search her room for anything to eat: she considers eating her goldfish, but ends up gnawing through a stale carrot from her gerbil cage, downing an entire tube of toothpaste, and eating some berries resting on her bathroom windowsill. You can search for Halloween candy but the pumpkin is empty. You can also try to open the door and discover that she’s been locked in, and hear Edie tell her to go to sleep.
The story changes when a bird appears outside. The window is chained but can be opened enough that a little girl could slip through. This is the first of a handful of moments where I think the story intentionally subverts expectations. I thought the girl was going to end up falling through the window as she’s reaching for the bird and that’s how she died. It wouldn’t make sense because then how did she write the journal entry you’re reading, but that’s where my mind immediately went. Instead, Molly suddenly transforms into a cat and leaps through the window. You then chase the bird through the trees as a cat, eat the bird, and then go through another transformation into an owl. You eat two rabbits in a surprisingly unsettling perspective—swallowing them whole like this—and then transform again.
This sequence goes on for quite a while, with Molly continuing to state how hungry she was. She turns into a shark next, eats a seal, and is still hungry. She then turns into a monster and attacks sailors on a nearby boat. You control all of this in a slithering game of leapfrog along the way to each person. Then the final change takes place when Molly-As-Monster smells something far more delicious than anything else far away from the boat. She swims to a pipe on the coast, climbs up through a toilet and into a bathroom in a house, and immediately you might guess where this is going.
You snake your way through Molly’s bedroom and take your hiding spot—the standard monster under the bed. Then Molly wakes up in the same bed and begins writing the journal entry that you’ve been reading—confident that she’s about to be eaten by the monster lurking underneath her. This is all the information that you’re given and Molly is presumably found dead the next morning, or dies shortly afterward, or goes missing and is never found at all just like your brother Milton.
So what’s really going on here? First of all, this is some pretty great storytelling. The transition from the girl’s hunger, to what is clearly a dream, to what then loops back to the same bedroom with an “oh shit” moment is wonderful. The only thing I can criticize is that the shark falling down this hill looks a bit crap. What really happened is left up to you to decipher, just like Edith herself has come to the house to figure out.
If you space out on the diary entry date like I did at the beginning, there are many clues that nudge you into realizing how Molly died. The empty Halloween bucket is the first one. Then there’s the small Christmas tree at the window and, more obviously, the calendar showing it’s December. There’s also the sea monster drawing on the blackboard—and the squid shaped pillow among other things in the room. The berries she ate in the bathroom were mistletoe which is highly poisonous—in reality that’s not exactly true but it’s well known enough that for the sake of this story we should accept it in my opinion. Molly ate those berries on top of a tube of toothpaste and a decaying carrot, and then went back to sleep. She then became sick which fueled her dreams into what you played through. There was no monster. She died from being poisoned or whatever sickness she developed afterward.
Back in her story, Edith draws a sketch of Molly into her book and then goes out the window to follow a similar path that the cat did in her dream. For now let’s move through most of the death scenes a little quicker so everyone is on the same page.
In Edie’s room you find a ton of important details about her character, but no death scene. There are images that tell you how Odin died on the way to America instead. You also find out about her husband Sven, who died building a dragon-themed slide on the side of the house. Edie likes to tell this story as an actual dragon killed him. Neither of these characters get their own death story to go through.
Up next are Calvin and Sam, Edie’s twin boys, who shared a room for many years. Another one of those details you can notice yourself is in here with the marked heights on the door that stop at a young age for only one boy.
Calvin’s death has a similar fantastical layer to it as Molly’s death since it’s told through a note Sam wrote about him. You play this sequence out as a boy on a swing that’s trying to go high enough that they loop right around the branch at the top. Which is something I think most kids who went on a swing a lot thought about when they were young. In this sequence, Calvin succeeds in his attempt and, as Sam puts it, was finally able to fly. In reality he went right off the swing, over the cliff, and fell to his death. At the age of eleven compared to Molly’s ten.
Barbara’s room is next but not before you open an unexpected shortcut back to the main part of house from inside a wine cupboard, which means I can make my obligatory Dark Souls reference even for something like What Remains of Edith Finch.
Barbara was the most famous Finch. She was a child star in what looks like some campy horror show with Big Foot. Her stardom didn’t last long though. Her story is told with more layers to obscure the truth than any of the others, because it’s a Tales from the Crypt Keeper style comic book about her death. Edith even comments that it’s strange that Edie kept it and put it on display in Barbara’s room.
The story in the comic is that Barbara, now sixteen years old, is living a boring life as a forgotten, washed up child star. She suddenly has a new opportunity when she’s given a chance to repeat one of her performances at a local horror convention. She winds up missing her chance when her father, Sven, hurts his hand and has to be taken to hospital by Edie. Barbara is left looking after her younger brother Walter, while her boyfriend continues to coach her with acting lessons.
As the night progresses, it becomes more like a parody of old horror movies. The boyfriend goes missing and you have to take control of one of the comic panels to go looking for him. It turns out he was trying to scare you to help you get into character for your big scream at the horror convention. The radio is also blaring out a warning that a band of criminals are terrorizing the area. A hookman ends up invading the house and Barbara fights him off. Younger brother Walter goes missing, and Barbara is killed by a pack of monsters that left the convention to find her—but not before they get to hear her trademark scream one last time.
Barbara’s boyfriend is missing and never seen again. Walter was apparently hiding under the bed and witnessed enough of it to be scarred for life. All they find of Barbara, in the comic at least, is a severed ear in a music box in the downstairs hallway. Something her father made specially for her.
An important detail in the comic is that it reveals how to get into the basement. If you keep turning the handle on the music box, a key pops out which lets you unlock the door. Which is how you continue to progress to the other parts of the house after this point. Until you read this comic, you don’t know how to do this and the basement is locked off.
Barbara’s death is more likely caused by the boyfriend. Each of these stories has a bit of truth to them, as you can see from the broken part of the railing where the struggle took place, and my guess is that the fight they have in the basement got out of hand and he killed her. Which is why the boyfriend was never seen again since he fled. Walter’s story is after this and his is directly linked to what happened here—what he saw when Barbara was killed.
The dates of each death show that Calvin died shortly after Barbara. So, in rough terms, by the time you get to the beginning of Walter’s story, Edie only had two children left. Molly, Barbara, and Calvin are dead. Only Walter and Sam are still alive.
Walter’s story is on the shorter side. You discover it when you go through the basement and find a hidden door in a refrigerator at the bottom. This leads to a secret underground bunker where Walter lived for 30 years.
Barbara’s death was so traumatizing for Walter that he was unable to cope with the real world. He describes this as a monster waiting to get him—the Finch Family Curse. This is a visible rumbling for him as he settles into a daily routine in his restrained life. You experience this routine by opening the same can every day in the same position. He has one of the best lines in the story here when he describes his life as so comfortable and cushioned that even the monster at the door has become routine, almost friendly.
Then, after 30 years of this, he has finally recovered enough to venture outside. He goes down to the area he was using to store extra supplies and garbage and that creative use of subtitles is back as he hammers his way through a wall to the outside.
I don’t comment on this sort of thing much, but I’d feel like this video would be incomplete if I didn’t point out how much the music adds to this scene. The way it represents Walter’s newfound hope as he steps toward the light of the outside world for the first time in three decades. I went through the story twice and this got me both times. It’s especially profound given that Walter’s words were already written on the note Edith is reading before he got out and walked along this tunnel, which is why the train that immediately appears and kills him is so twistedly ironic.
In the bunker you can find a train set that Walter had been working on painting. I don’t know the full intention behind that detail, or if the rumbling he felt was meant to be the train passing by each day. It doesn’t quite make sense if that’s the case because it was the fact that it stopped happening that led him to leave the bunker. Whereas his death proves that the trains were still running. Maybe a little later than usual if the rumbling was caused by them.
It’s also worth pointing out that the death he was so afraid was waiting for him outside the door, to snatch him if he left, got him within the first minute that he was free.
Following this story is Edith following in Walter’s footsteps. The train tracks are strangely destroyed now, and it’s important to know that Walter was living below the house for so long that Edith was alive and living there when this death occurred. Walter was the last of Edie’s children to die and even made it to past the disappearance of Edith’s brother Milton.
Just like the scene in the tunnel, I found this next sequence to be extraordinarily beautiful. Edith wanders along the shore, staring at the water, and is digesting all of the stories she’s read so far. Some of the most important lines in the whole story are said here, but we’re going to skip ahead to the cemetery and the next round of deaths. We’ll come back to this later.
Every dead Finch is enshrined here overlooking the water—a link back to the sunken house that Odin’s statue is pointing toward, because every room in the house being a dedication wasn’t quite enough for Great Grandma Edie.
This place shows a staggering amount of investment in memorializing the dead. There’s also a sick detail here that I didn’t notice until my second time through: a crown on the tombstone for Lewis’s grave.
The next death scene is with Sam, the only child of Edie’s that we haven’t seen yet. Sam is Edith’s grandfather. He married a woman named Kay and had three children: Dawn, Gus, and Gregory. So our journey can be seen as moving through three phases: you fill in the generation below Edie’s first, then Sam’s children, and then Dawn’s children. Of which one is you, Edith Finch.
Sam’s death is the most pure form of dramatic irony in the entire story. Because you know that there’s going to be a death, as there always has been so far, and yet everything is steady and peaceful. Sam has taken Dawn on a hunting trip. Just the two of them. The date of his death is a year after Gus died, which means that both of his sons are gone and Dawn is his only remaining child. He is surprisingly content despite losing two children, and is calm when he interacts with Dawn. You play the role of the camera that they take turns holding to create pictures of the trip.
Things start to take a darker turn when Sam insists on shooting a deer that Dawn spotted with the camera. You get a photograph of the precise moment that Dawn shoots the animal, and the next scene is her crying over it in the dramatic display that Sam has set up to commemorate the moment. You control him as he starts the camera timer and run up in time for the picture to be taken. Which exactly matches the point that the deer reveals itself to not be dead after all, and knocks Sam to his death.
Edith comments after this that her mother never told her this story, and that she wishes that she had.
Gregory and Gus are next and they’re both fairly short sequences. If you know how these go already, and watched my videos for a while, then you can probably guess how I feel about one of them. I have two boys. One is less than two years old. The other isn’t even five months yet. I think I bring this up a little too often in videos but I’d be a liar if I said it wasn’t relevant here. Because Gregory’s scene is the death of a one year old baby.
For me this was the most horrifying part of the whole story. And not just because it’s depicting the death of a small child. It’s that it was done with such a happy song and dance. Like someone had broken into your home at night, tied you to a chair, and decided to put on a full clown outfit and do a funny dance to Disney music while holding the knife behind his back. And if you don’t look happy enough that this is happening, he’s just going to kill you sooner.
You know what’s going to happen here and yet it’s bright and colorful and the music is glorious—the whole thing is majestic like it’s a celebration that this baby is going to drown. The story justifies this because it’s written from the perspective of Sam—who has combined both a eulogy for his son and a plea to his wife that this wasn’t her fault. It focuses on how this baby was always so happy and must have seen the world as a very different, very joyous place compared to most. Which becomes the twisted scene you see now.
I don’t know what the intention was here. I feel like my reaction is the odd one out. I think this is meant to show that there can be beauty in the world and that, even though this baby drowned in the bath, that he was happy right up until that moment. But for me this takes a nosedive right into pure horror when you start to think about the baby’s drowning consciousness fading, fading, fading—his arms change color, and the bath toys are now enormous in this underwater paradise, like they’re greeting him in death and encouraging him to join them. This is him dying right now. His stream of consciousness as he drowns. And his swimming animation here may actually be him struggling out of instinct to get his head back above the water.
Gus dies five years later at a wedding that takes place on the beach outside the house. Dawn wrote a poem about it, and you control the kite that Gus was flying that day to swoop around to highlight all of the words. This becomes more nonsensical as time goes on, with chairs and other objects being swept up in the wake of the kite, to represent the building storm on the ocean. The deathblow in this sequence comes when the tent itself is tangled up and swept along with that storm, but it’s unclear if that’s what really happened or if the storm killed Gus in another way and his body was found later on. My guess while doing this was the cliche that he was going to be struck by lightning while his kite was still in the air.
After this you climb a wall to the new part of the house—the misshapen tower that seems tacked on to the top because that’s exactly what happened. Dawn married a man named Sanjay and, after he died, she moved back to the house with her three children. Edie, who is clearly fabulously wealthy, expanded the house so they could have their own area on top of it. Each child got their own room, a central living and eating area, and even a school room for Dawn to teach them at home. Which is where you can find the books that she wrote.
There are only two, arguably three, sequences left to go through now. One is Milton’s disappearance, which Edith proclaims as the beginning of when things got bad. Life at the house was happy and normal for a while, but then Edie built Milton a castle for a new bedroom. Shortly after that he went missing.
This one is told through a flipbook you find in Milton’s room because, like Edie, he was a gifted artist. This flipbook shows one of his paintings coming to life and granting him a magical paintbrush to create a doorway to another world. I hate to do this but there’s already a bunch of details that I’ve skipped over because they’ll be more relevant at the end. So we’re just going to acknowledge that this is all you discover about Milton here and move on. Oh and that you can actually stop and flip the pages here one-by-one, which I thought was a neat detail. This isn’t just an animation baked in that does the whole thing for you, you can pause it.
So that leaves us with Lewis.
I’m going to do something now that I haven’t done in a video since I think the Witness or SOMA. I’m going to repeat my spoiler warning. In my opinion Lewis’s scene is worth the asking price for What Remains of Edith Finch all on its own. That’s not to say that there aren’t other worthwhile moments in this story—I think we’ve already seen a few of them. But this sequence with Lewis’s death is simply incredible. I’ll do my best to emulate it here for the sake of discussing it but if anything that I’ve shown you so far has looked like a good time to you, then please stop the video and do this part yourself. It’s real close to the end too, so you can see that and form your own thoughts before hearing mine.
I’m going to risk saying that nearly everyone is going to be able to relate to this scene with Lewis. And if you don’t, then you should count yourself very lucky. Because it means you’ve never been forced, or stuck, doing a monotonous task that leads you to an inevitable bout of daydreaming. A wanderlust to be doing anything other than what you are now. A soulless job, or a daily chore that eats up a ton of time.
As you can see, Lewis takes this one step further than most. This scene is wonderfully narrated by his psychiatrist in a letter to Lewis’s mother Dawn. The performance of this letter, both formal and subtly emotional at the same time, is the perfect match for the otherwise bizarre visuals you’ll be interacting with. It’s as though even she was traumatized by what happened and is struggling to accept that she almost understands why he did what he did.
Your right hand on the mouse controls the hand putting the fish under the guillotine. Your left hand is on the keyboard, moving an imaginary character through a fantasy world. You have to do both at the same time. Your boring job, and your daydream.
If you’re like me then you’ll have another great moment of subverted expectations here. This is, of course, going to end in death. And what could be more obvious than the daydream taking over and Lewis losing concentration, putting his whole arm under the guillotine along with a fish.
This is not what happens.
The fantasy world of Lewis’s imagination slowly grows in complexity as this goes on. First to a far more advanced perspective of the world. Then to other characters. Then music. A city instead of a flat maze in a cave. It gets more difficult to navigate along with these changes, but it also becomes more visually appealing. With all of these changes, more of your attention is getting drawn away from the fish that you continually need to chop—something that doesn’t have a regular rhythm to it so even that can’t be something you demote to muscle memory. Your attention is being pulled like a tug-of-war between the two and, while I was doing this, there was the added tension of avoiding getting my arm stuck under the blade. Which I’ll further confess, I thought I could break the setpiece as long as I paid enough attention to not put the fish too forcefully under the guillotine. Even with that in mind, I lost myself more than once to the daydream.
You have to start making decisions, which coincides with some of the more powerful rises in the music that’s playing. These decisions don’t really matter, and yet they’re enough to make you FEEL how Lewis is being pulled away from reality. Look at the pacing here: you’re a boat sailing ever forward. You’re not going to stop in the middle of this river and debate it. You have to make a decision. Left or right. Think about it quick and decide. Follow the water. Follow the images. Follow your imagination, not the same fish being chopped over and over and over.
And I mean look at the scale of this. Look at how this continues to snowball further and further out of control and into insanity. There’s so much in this consuming daydream that it rivals everything else we’ve seen so far combined. The palace. The people. The spectacle.
Eventually you can’t see the conveyor belt or anything of your workstation anymore. Just the fish plopping down, ruining your hypnotized view. And then, suddenly, you’re brought back to reality. You’re no longer in the fantasy world. You’re no longer chopping the fish. You’re walking through the cannery. Lewis is working alone. So lost and mesmerized that he isn’t even picking up the fish. It’s same motion over and over as he’s in a trance. You walk up the conveyor belt and join with his vision, and immediately see how that compares to the drudgery you just walked through.
And the celebration becomes something similar to Gregory’s drowning in the bath. Lewis is now consumed by the idea that his imagination is just as real as his physical body, and that the world he made for himself is superior to the one he was originally born into. The parade here is encouraging that. These are the cheerleaders of his suicide. All that’s left is for him to be ordained king of his own land, which requires him to bow his head and receive his crown.
All that’s left for us though is to climb to the final room of the house. Edith’s old bedroom. The layer of the story that we’re in is about to loop into itself as she pulls out the book from the beginning on the boat and starts to write the words that we’ve been reading this whole time. As her son.
When I first saw this ending I thought it was too abrupt. My second time through, I realized that the ending doesn’t start when they leave the house. It starts when Edith lays down on the bed and picks up the pen. Viewed that way, this ending is satisfying. It has most of the answers for what’s happened to this family, even though you could have also worked it out before now.
You go through a night after Lewis’s funeral when Dawn decides they all need to leave the house. This is an escalation between the deaths of both of her sons. When Milton went missing, Dawn sealed up all of the rooms in the house. This is speculated by Edith as a way to keep whatever Milton found from escaping. Edie fought against this by drilling the peep holes to the rooms and, I’d think, putting those decorative plates underneath them to mark their lives. These were her shrines after all, and Dawn had just locked them away from her.
With Lewis’s death, Dawn has decided that this isn’t enough anymore. They all need to leave. Edie included, which leads to a fight on this last night. Edie baits Edith away from the dinner table with the promise of a present in the library, which you go to find as you control a younger Edith. You hear the two of them arguing in the dining room as you walk, find a book, and sink the most layers deep that this story gets. By my count, we’re the boy on the boat, then reading the book, then Edith writing the book, then reading Edie’s book within that book that Edith wrote.
Edie is telling the story of when there was a supernaturally strong earthquake that allowed her to walk the seabed to visit the old house that Odin died in. This progresses just like most of the other sequences we’ve gone through, and it seems to be building to this grand reveal of exploring the old house. You can see it shift in reality here, from the old wreck to a pristine version when Edie unlocks the gate.
But the satisfaction of exploring it is quite literally ripped away from us when Dawn interrupts Edith reading the book. They struggle over it and it tears apart. A great detail here is that the words stop abruptly on the page, because this is Edith’s recounting of a memory. She was prevented from reading further, so in her mind she doesn’t know what the rest of the words were so it just stops right here suddenly on the page.
Edie refuses to leave with them. Dawn and Edith still go. Edie dies that night alone in the house. Well, alone as she can be with all of her dead children seemingly haunting it.
Dawn is the next to die. Of an unspecified illness sometime after they leave. And then we go through a birth scene, and maybe a death scene too, as Edith’s child is brought into the world. It’s not explicitly said but it’s heavily implied that Edith dies in childbirth. The date of her death on her tombstone supports that, at the very least.
And that’s the ending. Which means we’re finally done with the commentary walkthrough and can start discussing what just happened.
The villain of this story is Edith Finch. Senior. Great Grandmother Edie. The most important lines of the whole story are spoken near the end, when you’re walking through the library. Dawn and Edie say this:
“Edith has a right to know these stories!”
“My children are dead because of your stories!”
Which is an echo of Edith’s words earlier as she walked along the water:
“But now I’m worried the stories themselves might be the problem.”
Edie is obsessed with the family curse. This presents itself with a chicken or the egg sort of problem. See it’s clear that the Finches already believed they were cursed before coming to America, but it’s not clear if Edie was truly invested in it before that point. While that detail about her wanting the cemetery to be constructed before the house might support that she was already fully committed to the curse-narrative, that might have been out of respect to her father. And the giant statue they built of him to immortalize the moment that the old house sank.
Any and every family will experience tragedy. Cruel, relentless tragedy that can feel targeted when the losses come quick and packed together just out of chance. It’s easy to imagine a group that went through such an unlucky time that they had to create a reason for it. Create a boogeyman to point to and proclaim: there, that’s the reason. These losses have a purpose. It may be evil and malicious but it’s something. The deaths are happening for a REASON. They’re not pointless. And, as Walter says, a family living with this for so long may get used to that curse.
It may even start to feel almost friendly, as it waits outside the door.
This is exactly what has happened to Edie, but where I’m uncertain is whether or not she was like this before the first death of one of her children. Before Molly died.
We’re going to go through the deaths again now armed with a different perspective: that not only is there no curse, but that Edie’s obsession may have contributed in some way and caused at least a few of these deaths. Or at least warped the family’s reaction to them. And we’ll start here. Because Molly’s death is Edie’s fault.
Edie sent her daughter to bed starving. This by itself is questionable but fine, but Molly obviously isn’t the one who decorated the bathroom with poisonous mistletoe. More damning than this is that the bedroom door was locked. From the OUTSIDE. This alone is alarming enough but her plea to come out and finally eat something is dismissed by Edie who tells her to go to bed.
The death is still an accident. It’s caused by neglect. It isn’t murder. But this is how Edie loses her first child. Not from a curse. Not from a monster. But from a shitty decision on how she punished her daughter.
A trend that unfortunately continues.
Imagine being Edie for a moment. Imagine the guilt and shame. Now imagine how much better it would be to have a curse to blame this on. And at first this may seem farfetched, and I’m not saying that Edie wasn’t devastated by this death, but there’s a mountain of evidence in the house that shows her to be a person who reveled in all of the attention and mythology that her family name began to earn.
Her husband died building a slide outside of the house which, as we recall from the beginning, was shaped like a dragon. Instead of this being a simple accident, Edie tells this story that Sven was killed by a dragon. Not only does she say this, but she has a shrine in her room dedicated to this accident, along with the newspaper announcing the story framed like it’s a collector’s item. Worse than all of this is the picture of Sven actually falling to his death that’s sitting right next to it. These things are left out as something she wanted to see and remind herself of every day. Just like every other death in the family.
Let’s skip out of sequence because I want to prove this without any shadow of a doubt before I pass judgement on her for some more of these deaths. The comic in Barbara’s room is even more damning than the photograph of Sven falling. This comic was made in response to Barbara’s murder. It’s a pulpy, sort of trashy tabloid account of the death of a young girl who didn’t even make it to twenty. That’s already a little inappropriate but it’s even worse that Edie not only wanted to read it, but kept it on display in her dead daughter’s room. Imagine the twisted need for this curse to be validated so badly that you accept such a thing and even begin to treasure it.
But this is only the first, initial layer of Edie’s depravity with this comic book. Because there are details within it that only someone in the family would know. That only Edie herself would know. This story is a dramatized, unreliable version of events. And yet the layout of the house is correct. Now before you roll your eyes and say, okay, artistic license, it would be confusing to have a whole other house and to make it just for this death scene—look I agree, but there’s a specific detail here that can’t be explained away like that.
Whoever wrote this book knew about the secret key in the music box. Which is a real, true thing that not even Edith knew. You use this learned knowledge from the comic to progress to the next area. Which means someone in the family had to collaborate with whoever made this comic or at least give an interview with these details, and the only candidate for that is Edie herself.
Once this clicks a lot of the story becomes really, sickeningly clear. You start to see the contents of Edie’s bedroom in a new light. Especially your second time through. Look at her flourishing in the attention of another newspaper article about how she refused to leave her home because of a forest fire. Look at another article framed here about a moleman living underneath the Finch house. Something that Edie took part in and GAVE AN INTERVIEW about.
“Edie gave a big interview about a moleman living under the Finch house. My mom was furious.”
I’m not shocked that Dawn was furious, because the date on this article is 1991. The article is clearly about Walter who, at the time of publication, was the only child that Edie had left. Imagine the kind of person who gives an interview encouraging that kind of speculation about their son who lives in such daily, paralyzing fear, that he had to lock himself away in a protected bunker underneath the house. And almost twenty years into that isolation, his mother is making fun of him in the papers in order to further the image of the cursed family name.
And let’s just keep going here. How was letting Walter live under the house a rational solution to what he was going through? The way that Edie responded to Barbara’s death, and likely embellishing the cursed monster angle of the murder that Walter witnessed as a child, might have led him to want to be away from her as well as the fear of the curse. It’s very telling that when he feels like he’s finally overcome his fear, that he takes a sledgehammer and knocks his own path through a wall instead of just opening the door and going upstairs to his family. That was the better, more attractive choice of the two.
Instead of encouraging Walter to get help and work through his problems, Edie facilitated him becoming a hermit and living as a family moleman mascot below the house.
At this point you might be thinking, okay well this seems sort of obvious now. Edie used the curse as a way of dealing with the family tragedy. That’s what I meant at the start when I called her sympathetic. I really do understand this about her. She and the rest of the family have suffered a tremendous amount over these generations. But there’s another angle here that makes this so… nefarious. Because the curse wasn’t just a way to accept the death of so many children, it was used as a scapegoat to justify some insanely reckless behavior. And this has trickled down from Edie and Sven to corrupt every generation since then.
As Edith herself says:
“I don’t know if I should even be writing this. Maybe it’d be better if all this just died with me.”
The nature of these stories tries to hide this from you. Imagine Edie encouraging Sam to write this beautiful letter about his dead brother. Or imagine Molly, so familiar with how inevitable her death is at the hands of the curse, that she writes a journal entry about it while she thinks a hungry monster is about to eat her from under the bed.
Look at the sublime emotion and adoration that Sam pours into this letter about Calvin being so adventurous and fearless, that he was determined to swing around the top of the branch. That he was so certain that he could fly—that he needed to fly—that he went for it. Now look at this scene again and realize that Edie and Sven built a swing on a tree on the top of a god damn fucking cliff where, even at a normal swing arc, the kids would be close to dangling to death if the slightest thing went wrong. Or the pathetic looking broken fence that might be more inclined to impale them if they fell rather than stop them from going over the edge.
Also notice that he already has a broken leg here. You have to understand that we only get to see the death scenes. We don’t get to see the other careless behavior that only resulted in injuries, not death. Look at Edith herself who, 22 weeks into her pregnancy, is climbing and jumping over this house. Look at what she’s doing when she even admits it to us. Imagine how this branch could have snapped underneath her weight. She could have broken her neck and died right then. Or broken her legs and died slowly on her own with no one to help her in this house in the middle of nowhere. Or she could have lost the baby. Really imagine how fitting this death would have been in context of the others—you can even imagine finding the unfinished book about why she came back to the house just like Molly’s journal entry. And a tree with a broken branch on top of her tombstone.
Sam’s death is the same. Why risk taking such a photograph and not confirm that the deer was dead? His daughter was weeping over it for a long time and he didn’t even check. Why not drag the animal to a safer place instead of tempting fate with this dramatic pose? Because the Finches don’t do safe and reasonable. They’re creative, brilliant, determined people who have that ambition shackled with the curse as a reason to be reckless, beaten into them by their matriarch’s obsession with legendarily bad luck.
Sam dies from falling off a cliff here. Just like his twin brother Calvin.
Then we come to Gregory and Gus. Each of these deaths is the fault of each of their parents.
No matter what Sam’s letter might say, and no matter how much he may try to find some meaning in the death of his one year old son, this is purely the fault of the mother. You don’t leave a baby alone in a bath. In the scene Gregory manages to get the water back on and drowns when the tub floods, but even the small amount of water at the beginning is enough for a baby to die in. This is disgustingly irresponsible but it’s the curse, right? It’s not that the Finch children weren’t being looked after well enough. It’s a supernatural force that’s twisting their fates and killing them while they’re young.
Gus is almost the exact same thing. The mother Kay neglected the baby in the bath. The father Sam neglected the boy at the wedding, and forgot about him flying his kite out of spite in the storm. He wasn’t happy about his new stepmother, so he refused to take part in the ceremony. Sam was so pissed that he just let the kid sulk in the storm. And that killed him.
He drowned after being swept into the ocean. Just like Gregory in the bath.
Which brings us to Dawn and her children, and where things get a lot more complicated.
Dawn didn’t tell any of these stories to Edith, as we know from her comments. This is what I meant earlier when I said Dawn is the most normal out of all of them, likely because she realized the kind of damage that magical thinking about death can cause. But you can see that a little sliver of Edie’s ideology had gotten to her, because when they adopted a stray cat, she named it Molly. Which is something Edith only fully understands the significance of after reading the first journal in the house.
There’s also more evidence of Edie’s obsession when Dawn returns to the house with her kids. Any other great grandmother would have realized that it’s time to let things go, clear out the rooms, and have the next generation move in while the house moves on. Instead, she makes the house bigger. It grows like a tumor, like an abomination in the forest, just so Edie’s meticulously crafted shrines, each with their death portraits that paints herself, can remain preserved.
As Edith says, things take a turn for the worse when Edie gifts Milton with a castle. A very grandiose gesture. Shortly after which, he goes missing.
Milton’s death is the only one I can’t reconcile with my thoughts on the story. It’s important that he’s missing, not dead, for reasons that we’ll go into shortly. But because of this mystery, I ended up googling this and found an answer by the developers. Giant Sparrow also made The Unfinished Swan, and Milton’s disappearance into a painting is meant to be a connection between that and What Remains of Edith Finch. I don’t know how I feel about that, because it implies there is some sort of supernatural element after all, but it could also just be a cute easter egg and a way to link projects, especially given there’s no information suggesting this in the story whatsoever. Otherwise it doesn’t fit with a lot of what else said in this story.
The reason that it’s vital that Milton is missing and never found, is that Dawn is stuck because of it. She seals the rooms in the house in reaction to losing her boy, when it would make far more sense to take her surviving children and just leave. When she seals the rooms, it isn’t to keep something trapped inside. It’s to keep her children from getting in and exposing themselves to the stories. Edie clearly disagrees which is why they start a minor war over it and she drills the peep holes.
Dawn can’t leave because she’s convinced Milton is missing and will eventually come back. As shown by her refusal to put a death date on his tombstone in the cemetery. Also these ornaments that Edie decorated them with must have been a thrilling return to form for her—a refreshing return to thriving under the curse that made her family infamous. It’s probably this drought of attention between deaths that led to her doing the article on Walter and the comic book on Barbara. Just imagine how quick and eager Edie had to have been to get this crown on Lewis’s grave when she herself was dead so soon after his funeral.
Lewis’s death shows the lasting damage that Edie’s stories can have, and it’s for that reason that I consider his sequence to be the most important. Sealing the rooms prevented Edith from getting inside of them, but Lewis was fifteen when Milton went missing and had all those years of Edie taking him from room to room. And just imagine how much those stories were embellished over the years—and how mundane the versions we experienced must be since Edie wasn’t around to build on the simple foundation. For Lewis, seven years after the rooms were sealed, he has to live with the loss of his brother, and that his life has become depressing and dull. He’s in such a bad place that he understandably has to visit a psychiatrist for help, and Dawn tries to steer him toward normalcy with a very mundane job. Nothing like the castle that Milton had. Nothing like the glamorous stories that Edie kept telling and retelling.
Is it so unexpected that he began such involved daydreams then? Is it so surprising that he began to yearn for something more fantastical than what he was being subjected to—something closer to those stories of family members that he was meant to be a part of and equal to? Where’s his version of the great-great-grandfather that packed up a whole house to sail it across an ocean? With a constant reminder of it sitting in the water outside to see everyday as he went to work? He made a story for himself instead. No curse. No monster. No accident. Lewis killed himself because of this contrast between how dull his life was to what he must have felt was owed to him.
“My children are dead because of your stories!”
Which makes Dawn’s desperation at the end make so much more sense. With Lewis’s death, she has to admit that Milton isn’t coming back. She’s accepting the death of both of her sons at the same time while knowing she has to protect Edith better than she did Lewis. It’s that desperation you can see as she physically fights with her daughter to stop her from finishing even one story that Edie left for her—one more outrageous than any other that came before now. A massive earthquake? Visions in the fog? A magical house in the ocean? Returning to your childhood home that’s full of ghosts? Something that Edith herself is doing in this story right now? I felt this when the book was torn away. I wanted to see the end of Edie’s story, I wanted to see who had just turned the light on. I think most people will. They’ll feel cheated that you don’t get to see this ending, and that the real story stops so suddenly after this.
But that’s the point, isn’t it?
It’s telling that Edie outlives almost everyone in this story. She definitely gets the highscore in terms of age, which makes you wonder about her attitude toward the curse that she’s never really afraid of like Walter was, or any of the others despite being the one who encouraged the thoughts about it. Her recklessness shows only at the end here, with a throwaway comment from Dawn about Edie mixing alcohol with her medication. She dies that night. Probably from this.
Poisoned, just like Molly was.
As for Dawn, it’s not surprising at all that a woman who witnessed her father die, lost two brothers, and then two boys, would have her health suffer in response to that. Unlike Edie, Dawn didn’t have a curse to unload all of that emotional work onto. There was no scapegoat for Dawn.
Edith dying in childbirth is a tragedy but those strike every family. Mixed in with all of the deaths caused by carelessness and neglect will be genuine, unavoidable loss. It’s her son that deserves at least a little attention. He has a cast on his arm, just like Calvin did on his leg. It’s a detail that was deliberately included, and I wonder if it’s trying to say something. It could just be a routine injury that many children go through, or it could be a sign that there’s already a connection between him and the Finch name that follows him. That the stories in the book, and his visit to the house, may persist and be passed down with a new generation after him.
The danger here is reading too much into details like this, but I think with the kind of story that What Remains of Edith Finch has, that it’s safe to say that almost everything is intentional. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t happy accidents or mistakes. For instance, both Edie and Lewis’s rooms have sealed doors, which doesn’t make any sense. Edie would have still been using the room after Milton vanished, and Dawn and Edith left the house right after Lewis’s funeral. Right before Edie died. Unless Dawn went back to seal those rooms afterward, but then she also would have had to drill the peepholes… so yeah, that seems like an error to me.
No story is going to be without a few little issues like this, and they definitely don’t ruin it. There’s enough attention to detail that I do think the writers have an answer for nearly everything, which is why I enjoyed piecing it all together. It may surprise some longtime viewers, but I do enjoy stories that are open to interpretation, but only when there are actual answers. It’s when the vagueness clearly leads to nothing at all that I view it as a waste of time, because then it’s like an artist slathering blobs of paint on a canvas without an effort to shape them. They don’t want to make a picture. Just color. They don’t want to make a story. They just want it to look like one.
I thoroughly enjoyed What Remains of Edith Finch, and I hope you enjoyed me talking about it nearly as much. This isn’t the usual thing I do on the channel but I love stories, and I get a lot of requests to dig into narratives.
I think most people are going to be able to see a little of themselves in these characters, or something of their family, or a memory of interacting with them, in the Finches. It made me really think about the power that older generations can have on the newer ones, and the troubling thought that family traditions can influence more about ourselves than we might realize. How we think, how we approach things, and even some of the strongest opinions on things that we might have. That we just continue to perpetuate and assume is right without really thinking about it.
Whether or not that was intentional, I can’t say.
Thank you for watching. I’ll see you next time.