Venerating deceased loved ones is a tradition that dates practically to humanity’s beginnings. From creating simple family shrines to erecting monumental monuments, the act of marking the passing of those we once held dear is an important part of the grieving process. So once it became clear in What Remains of Edith Finch that its storytelling was going to focus on family members now gone, I expected to see at least one or two shrines in the old Finch family house. Once I got in the house, viewed through young Edith Finch’s eyes, plenty of family memories abounded, but the “shrines” I encountered were something wholly new – they took the shape of untouched bedrooms that had been locked, sealed, and forever shut away from the world, marked only with peepholes and family member’s names and dates. I’ve seen my share of personal family alters and bedrooms left as-is after someone’s passing, but I’d never seen such deliberate attempts entomb, quite literally, the memories and lives of the dearly departed. These inaccessible (or seemingly so, at first) rooms in What Remains of Edith Finch made such an impact that I’ve never quite stopped thinking about them since completing the game a couple months back. After all, why would anyone want to so permanently lock away the people the so loved in the past? Let’s take a look into the uncanny account of the Finch family in What Remains of Edith Finch.
We can’t talk about the Finch family without talking about its “curse.” This is something the Internet has debated plenty, but as Edith herself explains it, if obliquely, the curse is something that her family has been trying to escape for generations. Of it we learn that, for whatever reason, all the children of any given generation end up dying save for a single one who continues the family line. The reasons behind each family members’ death can be interpreted in different ways, but they all stem from imagination, either having too much of it and succumbing to fantasy-driven unfortunate occurrences; or, not enough and succumbing to everything from health crises to purely devastating happenstance. Besides Edith, who happens to be pregnant, one family member managed to outlive the “curse”: her great-grandmother Edie, from whom Edith learned all of her family’s stories. How in the world did Edie live to tell these tales long enough to pass them on? Could it have had something to do with the sealed-off rooms?
In playing What Remains of Edith Finch, two things become quite clear about the shrines: (1) not every family member has one, and (2) they are not sealed off to the world forever and ever. Indeed, the Finch house is replete with secret passages and doorways that allow Edith to access each of the shrines that do exist and reveal their stories. Hands down, visiting these empty yet lived-in spaces is very unsettling. Edith makes known that her mother, Dawn, had made the choice to essentially flee the house without much warning, so the house has been left in the exact same haphazard state as it had been left. Does it help matters that that the house is on a remote island, and that Edith revisits the property on a dark and stormy night? No. No it does not.
But back to the shrines and those secret passages. It’s unclear if the passages came with the house, or if different family members just happen to forge them (as has been famously said, “life finds a way”). The latter would seem to be the case since Edie only sealed and locked each room’s main door. Windows remain mostly unlocked—Edith is able to acrobatically access the ones that must be accessed—and as well, the internal passages are small and tight, which Edith outright notes. This would suggest that they were mostly utilized by the family’s various children. Could it be that once a child found a way into one of the enshrined rooms and then found out about the strange passing of an ancestor, that they became “marked for death?” It’s a grim thought, and it wouldn’t apply to all of the children, but still. Edith states outright that it was Dawn who sealed off the rooms after one of her own children had mysterious disappeared. Edith goes onto to say that Edie had then drilled the peepholes so that people could see into the rooms. It’s enough to surmise that Edie wanted the rooms left open as shrines, but something had literally scared Dawn to the point that she was driven to seal them (and the curse?) away.
It’s further made clear that Edie wanted to pass down the family’s stories (and, it follows, keep the rooms open) even if doing do meant bad things for future family members. Could this very act of passing down the family’s stories have protected her from the curse? According to the Finch family tree, she’s the only listed family member whose life wasn’t somehow cut short, amazingly surviving to the age of 93. The next most long-lived family member was Edie’s husband, who died at 57. Everyone else who passed was younger, and mostly much younger than that. After all, what’s a curse if no one is around to believe it?
Suffice to say, the Finch family shrines in a derelict house on a lone island seemingly in the middle of nowhere set the stage for some amazingly creative tales ranging from heart-breaking to, well…even more heart-breaking. When Dawn is faced with the dreadful loss of a second child, she makes the sudden choice to leave the house. Sealing up the curse hadn’t worked, so fully escaping the property seemed to be only option. Dawn and Edith leave with Edie heading to a nursing home. Only Edie passes away during the journey. With no one left to whom to pass on her stories, her purpose had been fulfilled. But the Finch family stories weren’t lost. Edith had recorded all the stories, her family’s history, in her journal, which she handed down. Whether or not the curse resides in them is a question for the next generation of Finches, which do live on, for now, thanks to Edith.
In-line image from What Remains of Edith Finch (© Giant Sparrow, Annapurna Interactive) was taken by author during PS4 gameplay.