Explaining Bioshock Infinite, maybe: an attempt.

Finished Bioshock Infinite again today, and was left with some rather serious questions. When a narrative leaves me thinking, and I think the clues ARE there to make the story complete and coherent, I have difficulty leaving it alone until I understand it to my satisfaction. Often my satisfaction is not the same as the creator’s intent. I even managed to make Looper make sense in my head, and that took some doing. Anyway, the following is my understanding of the game, mainly understood through all the voxaphone recordings or other environmental exposition. At the end, I raise about a million questions and attempt to tie up the paradoxes to my satisfaction.

Robert was a physicist (philosopher?) from Booker’s reality. He thought about the alternate world theory, published books on it, and just thought about the idea incessantly. Rosalind was the ‘him’ from Comstock’s reality. They’re the same person, from different worlds, different realities. She was a quantum physicist, and clearly quite brilliant. She was able to levitate atoms – the ‘Lutece Field’. This, eventually, became the force levitating Columbia. This quantum levitation led to much more messing around with quantum ideas, eventually leading to her accidentally interacting with Robert, in another timeline. The two developed a way to talk through this, and, in tandem, eventually opened a tear, allowing the two to meet. They then experimented together in Comstock’s reality, creating a machine allowing them to manipulate the tears.
This, really, is the crux of the entire narrative.

For ease of use, I will refer to Rosalind and Comstock’s reality as ‘prime’ – most of the story takes place there and it makes everything SO MUCH EASIER.
Whilst Rosalind was doing her early experimenting, Booker DeWitt was soldiering, and being baptised, and becoming Comstock. Comstock became a politician, and a motherfucking Prophet. He had visions – REAL visions. He saw floating cities, he saw his daughter raining fire blah blah blah etc etc. At some point, Rosalind Lutece’s work caught his interest. He learnt that she could create the city he had seen in his dreams. He funded her, and it was done. I may be oversimplifying this. Shush.

Once the Lutece’s were together and the machine was built, Comstock goes full on nutcase. Cedes from the United States, denounces them and everything they stand for, develops his rather impressive bigotry, etc etc. In doing this, he uses the machine extensively, allowing the Fink brothers to further culture and technology massively. He creates his floating dystopia. At some point, using the machine gives him a disease, ages him rapidly, and renders him sterile. Comstock still believes that Columbia can only survive/succeed with his heir at the helm, but he can no longer beget one. Hence the rather convoluted main plot. Robert goes back to his prime reality, finds that reality’s DeWitt, who rejected the baptism, became a Pinkerton, married, had a child, blah blah gambling debts gambling debts bad things alcoholism depression. Robert manages to convince this DeWitt to sell his daughter to pay off his debts. The playable Booker is a TERRIBLE PERSON. Seriously. He TOTALLY gets away with this in the game. Anyway, Booker attempts to rectify it, the little cutscene happens where baby Anna loses the tip of her pinky, and Booker goes and spends 20 years as a drunken mess.

Far from being the malleable little heir Comstock wanted, however, Anna, growing up as Elizabeth, is terrifying. She can open tears, and control them – possibly, as brought forward by the Luteces, because her body is split between two worlds. Either way, a siphon is built to control the power, and Elizabeth is trapped above it – partly so she can do no harm, but partly because Lady Comstock is convinced the child is a bastard. The Luteces, meanwhile, discover that Elizabeth’s power can and WILL lead to the eventual destruction of New York. Robert is not okay with this. Rosalind doesn’t overly care one way or the other, but she DOES want to stay with her ‘twin’. So Robert gives her an ultimatum: help me sort this mess out, or I WILL leave you.

Comstock, at this point, is faced with all his plans falling apart. His wife is not content to let it be bandied about that Elizabeth is her daughter, and the Luteces have determined to return Elizabeth to her true reality. He reacts… badly. He has his wife killed, blaming it instead on his wife’s servant, Daisy Fitzroy, forcing her to create the Vox Populi and giving himself an enemy to use as political leverage. He also has the Luteces killed, and the machine destroyed. However, the actual execution of this didn’t go perfectly. The Luteces ended up scattered inside time and space, able to go anywhere, do anything. And they still want to make everything right.

Why, then, do they let Booker stew for two decades before approaching him? I haven’t a clue. Much the same, I don’t understand why they went about ‘making things right’ in the way they did. Throughout the narrative, there are clues that the twins have done this hundreds of times before, each with (obviously) sub-par results, so it could be they’d discovered this was the only way to make things stick. I don’t know, and it’s honestly hard to think about. What I know, though, is that at the start of the game, the twins pull Booker through into Comstock’s reality, allow his psyche to create its own reasoning for the change, and then basically wind him up and set him off.
This knowledge of the twins explains their immortality, their omniscience, and their ability to re-appear and disappear at will, as well as creating a ‘prime’ timeline upon which to base everything that happens.

Elizabeth is somewhat harder to explain. At the end of the game, when the siphon has been destroyed and Elizabeth is back up to full strength, she outshines the abilities of the Lutece’s. This DOESN’T MAKE SENSE to me. She, after all, still has a physical body – as does Booker. Yes, if there truly is an infinite amount of realities I suppose there might be one or two or three that serve as handy lighthouse metaphors for the concept. I understand that, due to the nature of this ‘hub world’, they might see duplicates of themselves. I can even believe that in this world paths make themselves as you walk. My problem, however, comes from my understanding of what Elizabeth herself is doing here. She is simultaneously behind you when you walk through the next door, and in front of you. Is each a different Elizabeth, in the new world? Is she so omnipotent at this point that she knows what each version of her is doing? Has she become ALL of them, all at once – a kind of Elizabeth hive mind? Is each body the puppet of some centralised intelligence? The scenes throughout the game, Booker in his flat – are they happening inside his head? Are they a separate reality existed SOLELY FOR THE EXPOSITION? If they are, are they created BY Elizabeth? Is she right earlier in thinking she is creating these alternate realities? What happens, in the game, to the realities they leave behind, to never return to? Do they cease to exist? If not, what happens to Booker and Elizabeth in those worlds? Do they simply disappear?
But there WAS another Booker in the ‘Martyr’ reality – was there another Elizabeth? Or is there only one Elizabeth across all realities? But then who are the others at the end?
OBVIOUSLY there IS an Elizabeth in the ‘martyr’ reality, because there’s a voxaphone explaining Martyr-Booker’s attempts to find her. So what happens to her? Did she cease to exist when Prime Elizabeth entered the world?
THIS IS NOT EXPLAINED AND IT BUGS ME.

The game ends with all the Elizabeth’s drowning Booker BEFORE he was allowed to choose baptism or not – with the theory being that of the Quantum Junction (every decision splits the universe into different roads). By killing him BEFORE he made the decision, NO Booker ever becomes Comstock. But there’s a couple of problems here, as well: first, the paradox (the only real paradox throughout, somewhat amazingly – it’s mostly many worlds, not time travel): Booker’s daughter killing him before she was even born. Was that seriously the best way she could think of to improve her life? Stopping it from ever existing? Because that IS the meaning of all the Elizabeth’s winking out. I think the fact that the screen cuts to black before we see OUR Elizabeth wink out is because we’re seeing things from her point of view, almost – the cut to black IS her fading out, and taking our perspective with her. I seriously have a problem that the best way both Elizabeth AND the Luteces could think of to give her back her life is to wipe it away entirely.
Secondly, and more interestingly, it ISN’T the original Booker they drown here. They drown a Booker who has rebelled against the Baptism, and then gone through the ENTIRE story up to this point. Surely this doesn’t help anything? I choose to believe this is only symbolic – this is OUR Booker, accepting the necessity of the drowning on behalf of every other Booker in every other reality.

I cannot think of any way to marry the post-credit scene with the rest of the game. ALL possible Booker’s moving forward from the baptism choice are dead. There simply cannot be any Booker left here to open that door, and therefore there wouldn’t even BE an Anna there to find. In fact, the only way I can make this work at all is DEPRESSING. AS. FUCK. We had Booker’s death earlier from Elizabeth’s point of view. Now we have it from inside his own head. He knows he is dying to help his daughter, as best he understands it, to give her back her life. He therefore sees himself walking over to her, on the day he actually remembers giving her up, to find her still there. It’s Booker’s personalised way of walking into the light.

Also, IS this the Lutece’s last, successful attempt? Was this what they wanted to happen all along, or will the player simply become another tally mark on Robert’s board? I kind of like the idea that this was just another experiment, and the Luteces will try again with different circumstances until the story has an ending that’s actually happy.

Does this make sense? I quite like it and have decided to make it my head canon. So there’s that.
If anyone has anything to add to this, PLEASE comment and argue with me or throw another idea at me or something, because I really find this all rather fascinating.
Oh, all my exposition is in-universe, by the way. Mainly the voxophones, which are invaluable in explaining this bloody story.

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