Bioshock Infinite: I’ve Got a Songbird in My Heart
Now that Bioshock Infinite has had the time to steep in my brain like a bitter sweet coffee brew, I’ve realized that the Songbird is my favorite character in the entire game.
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The why behind my seemingly absurd appreciation eluded me for a good long while. What was it about this gigantic mechanical bird that made him so endearing to me? By all rights, I should hate this beast that repeatedly dogged every one of Booker and Elizabeth’s steps on their way out of Columbia. His screeching terrified every fiber of my being because I knew at any moment he would bust in through a wall and threaten our heroes with a spiked fist. For much of the game he was the lurking menace behind every cloud. But, a small part of me was always a bit excited to catch a glimpse of the masked avian behemoth.
I realized that there was a hint of melancholy behind the songbird’s shriek. It sounded like something with a tragic past that never quite faded away. It moved on to keep up with its daily duties, but whatever had happened left a scar that it was reminded of every day. That big mechanical bird sounded like someone was ripped away from it a long time ago.
The Songbird might even be more tragic a figure than Elizabeth or even Booker himself. I’m indulging a bit of imagination here, but there is room for speculation as to the origins of the great bird of Columbia. There is no denying that, like the Big Daddies, the Songbird is without a doubt, someone who has been stripped of their humanity, lobotomized, and placed into a brand new body with only the faintest hint of what they used to be. It is something that has been stripped down to the basest of functions but somehow, the faintest glimmer of its previous humanity shines through.
There is no denying the parental display of affection that the Songbird conveys in any interaction with Elizabeth. It is like an overprotective parent. It’s eyes shift from an intimidating red to a docile green and it becomes a gentle giant made of leather and iron. This is more than evident when Elizabeth stops the bird from punching Booker to a pulp. She stays its hand and a hint of its devotion to her peeks through its avian facade and the cracks in its eye glass.
The final display of parental devotion draws a direct parallel between father and daugher. When Elizabeth rips open a tear to Rapture, the Songbird is trapped out in the deep sea. After a moment of malevolent struggle to get at Booker, it hears the calming voice of Elizabeth. Its eyes shift again from red to green and gingerly places a hand on the glass that divides them. It knows what has to happen next, and welcomes it. The Songbird’s eyes finally crack and implode under the pressure as he sinks to the bottom of Rapture. That cements the parental connection between Elizabeth and Songbird is what you see behind the great bird. Off in the distance is another clear hallway with a Little Sister and Big Daddy, calmly watching the whole thing.
Now, who is behind the beak and eyes of this great mechanical bird? There are a few theories around, but the one that holds the most water seems to be that it is another Booker within the depths of the great beast. And that would make him the most tragic Booker yet. Ripped from whatever reality he was in, the Booker in the bird would be stripped of his humanity, his mind, and his autonomy. Without the means to even think for himself he wouldn’t even have the chance to try and save Elizabeth. He could only sit by and rely on his basest instinct to protect her and make up for his failing to do so in alternate realities.
But, there is so much room for speculation and all thoughts and opinions are completely valid. To me, the Songbird is a sad lobotomized robot that seeks redemption through devotion. It desperately wants to make up for parental transgressions. But, it is shackled by its modifications and removal of basic human characteristics. This makes it the most endearing and tragic figure in Bioshock Infinite. Believing it to be Booker only pours salt into the wound.
Whoever the bird of Columbia may be, the internal struggle between its heinous modifications and orders from Comstock and what little humanity is left makes the Songbird my favorite character in all of Bioshock Infinite.
When my time with the game was finished, I walked away remembering Elizabeth and Booker’s journey. But, as time goes on their faces fade, and the character I will always remember is the sad, sad Songbird.