An Exegesis of Eternal Sonata [Part 2 – Metaphysics]

[Part 1 here.  Read Part 1 first if you are unfamiliar with the story of Eternal Sonata. ]

For ease of understanding, let us adopt the use of the following terminology for this article only:

World-ES’ refers to the world which Polka and co. lived in.  World-ES originally begins as a dream of Frederic Chopin, but its metaphysical status changes at the end of the game.

World-R’ refers to the “real world” where Chopin is a famous pianist and composer, and where places like Poland and Paris exists.

Metaphysical Status’ refers to how “real” that world is.  A world with high metaphysical status is considered to be more “real” than a world with low metaphysical status.

***

[Spoilers alert]

Origin of World-ES

Though not explicitly explored by the game, we can assume that Frederic has had the same dream of World-ES for perhaps several hundred nights.  It is possible that Frederic had been having the dream since the death of his Emilia sister when he was age 17, but the dream more likely started later in his life, after the Polish rebellion (themes of rebellion and war were quite prominent in World-ES) and maybe even as late as after his relationship with George Sand has ended (i.e. the last 2 years of his life), as Falsetto was likely to be a manifestation of George Sand.

Metaphysical Status of World-ES

As explained in Part 1, at the ending of Eternal Sonata, Frederic decided to consider World-ES to be of equal metaphysical status as World-R.  Both were equally real to him.  It is worth noting that this is in contrast to something like The Matrix, which clearly considered “real life” to be of higher metaphysical status than “life within the matrix”.

What is particularly bewildering is not just the fact that both worlds have the same metaphysical status, but rather, high metaphysical status was only conferred to World-ES only after Frederic decided to consider it as “real”.  (This conferring of metaphysical status is also what allowed for Polka to live beyond 14 years old, apparently the main reason why the world had to repeat itself, and thus breaking the never-ending 10 year loop.)  Prior to this conscious decision by Frederic, World-ES remains a dream with low metaphysical status.  In other words, the metaphysical status of the world is directly determined by Frederic’s perception of that world.  This is “reality is what you make of it” taken absolutely literally.

Yeah Beat, you’re not the only one confused.

This may seem preposterous, but there are at least two schools of thought which say similar things.  Idealist philosophers claim that reality is fundamentally made up of ideas, and not made up of material stuff which exists outside of us.  This may sound nutty, but their key observation is quite true: we cannot perceive of the material world directly, but can only perceive them through our senses, which is hard to separate from our minds.

Also, one also detects elements of postmodernist thinking here, although it may be too difficult for me to attempt to construct a postmodern metaphysical model. (Read this if you are keen to explore these difficult ideas further).  “Life is what you make of it” is a common postmodern mantra after all.

Also a quote attributed to Marilyn Monroe, expert on postmodern metaphysics and all-around good role model.

Metaphysical Status of World-R

This is not directly explored in the game, but could be implied by the game’s philosophy of metaphysics.  There was also a very interesting scene at the ending credits where Frederic’s “spirit” rose up from his body and started to play the piano, with Delfina Potocka (in real life Paris) singing along to his music.  We can assume that this is not really Frederic’s ghost (if so, Potocka should really be screaming instead of singing), but some kind of “extended reality”, probably created in Potocka’s mind, just like World-ES was created in Frederic’s mind.

What does Eternal Sonata comment about the metaphysics of World-R, our real world then?  If it is to be considered “equally real” as World-ES, and since World-ES is a dream, perhaps this implies that all of life is a dream (again, possible postmodern influences here).  Recall the famous lullaby “Row, row, row your boat” which ended in “life is but a dream”.  What did that last line of the lullaby mean? Paul Schumann understands it to have somewhat idealist connotations: i.e. we make up reality as we continue to experience it, no different from how we experience a dream.

Alternatively, the lullaby could be about 4 animals sitting on the moon rowing across the clouds.  [Painting by Sundara Fawn]

Death and Immortality

Frederic’s monologue at the end of the first credits sequence gives us a hint about how Frederic breaks the never-ending 10 year loop:

Death is a reality which is far too real.  But I’ve walked this dream-like journey within a dream, so that once-and-for-all, I could accept it.  And now the time has come.  Everything shall come to its finale!

Frederic’s “far too real” acceptance of his impending death was what prevented him for accepting World-ES as “real”.  In the ‘finale’, he could somehow accept World-ES as real, and perhaps it could be deduced that he thus denies the reality of his death (in Paris).  For Frederic’s case, if indeed reality is what you think it to be, then if you don’t think you are really dying, then you really are not dying.  It is as though the reason why we die is because we think we would die.  If we would stop thinking so, we would live forever.

Themes of immortality are also prevalent throughout the whole game.  Polka jumps off a cliff but never really dies.  Waltz has a preoccupation with leaving an immortal legacy even if he cannot physically live forever.  And even in World-R, we are reminded about the immortal legacy of Frederic Chopin in the form of his piano works, some of the enduring pieces of music in the world.  Finally, the never-ending loop itself, and the hint provided in the title, that this sonata was meant to be eternal.

Pretty hard not to be immortal when you have a whole museum dedicated to you [Muzeum Fryderyka Chopina in Warsaw, Poland]

A Christian Response

As Christians, it is obvious that we have to dismiss Eternal Sonata‘s ridiculous metaphysical claims as hogwash.  The Christian understanding of reality is neither idealist nor postmodern; we believe that there really is a physical material world, and it was created by God (Gen 1-2, Job 38:1-7).  When Jesus comes again, there will be a new Earth as well as a new heaven, indicating that even in future glory, there will be a physical material world, albeit a glorified version (Rev 21).  Similarly, Christians have to dismiss the audacious claims about death and the cause of death.  The bible is clear that the origin of death is sin, not the failure of our imagination (Rom 6:23).

That said, I believe that there are at least 2 small truths hidden in Eternal Sonata’s complex metaphysical philosophy which point us towards the Christian God.  First is the concept of creatio ex nihilo, i.e.   the creator creates a complete universe out of nothing (Rom 4:17).  Frederic is somewhat a God-figure (though a rather confused one), being able to not just create a new universe out of nothing, but also having the ability to bestow metaphysical status of the said universe.  As Christians we believe such immense power does exist and was exercised when God created the world, with nothing but the power of His word.

Second is Eternal Sonata’s preoccupation with immortality.  This is perhaps best explained by this verse:

… he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end

(Ecclesiastes 3:11b ESV)

God has “put eternity into man’s heart”.  Which is why humans have an intuitive sense that something is deeply disturbing and wrong about the concept of death.  This is also why practically all cultures in the world have myths and stories of life after death.  Even today, an expression of this are the many works of fiction (including Eternal Sonata) which explore different ways and means to obtain immortality.  But God’s real intention is to point us towards what ought to be, both before the Fall, and also what will be restored by Christ.  We were meant to live eternal lives.  Eternal Sonata has got this completely right.

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5 thoughts on “An Exegesis of Eternal Sonata [Part 2 – Metaphysics]

  1. I remember playing this game all the way through, though I don’t quite remember the ending being all that confusing. Was it really about metaphysical statuses, or simply about a dying man growing to accept that he is dying? How does one accept their own death?

    The game takes place in the last few years of his life, correct? At least that was my way of looking at it. It’s not that there are necessarily two universes – one is obviously real, while the other exists only in Chopin’s mind – but the dream world allows him to accept the problems in the real world.

    The guide contradicts this interpretation, much like the official guide for Xenogears or the Nier Bible disrupts any notions of literary interpretation in those games. I’d like to think that my interpretation makes more sense without an exterior resource.

  2. Hi Zach,

    I admit I am taking the official guide as Canon, which may have been presumptuous on my part. (I am assuming the game’s creators have signed off on the official guide’s contents.) However, I did find the ending confusing – for example, the dreamworld continues to exist and Frederic within the dreamworld continues to be alive AFTER his Paris body has been pronounced dead. The entire restoration of Polka sequence in fact comes after Frederic has died (in Paris) and certainly Frederic’s agency was somehow involved in the restoration of Polka (the narration sequence implies so). I found that at least some metaphysical interpretations were necessary; if this was merely a journey for the acceptance of truth, why the narrative need for a complicated never-ending loop and an equally complicated resolution of that loop? Thematically, death and immortality had been explored significantly throughout the story, which is another hint.

    That said, I’m hardly a literary guy; so quite possibly I’ve got it all wrong. Thanks for dropping by!

    • Maybe it’s an afterlife? I was thinking that could be an equally likely possibility. Hints of reincarnation and/or karma come to mind. Perhaps the cycle continues (he had the dream hundreds of times) until he grows to accept his impending death? That’s why he lives after it; the game obviously has some notion of a life after death in mind. Or maybe everyone has their own version of this? That would be pretty bizarre.

      No, not presumptuous at all! Usually the guide adds things they couldn’t in the original game (Xenogears I mention because it’s supposedly Episode V of a six episode saga which was never made. That’s not in the game, though). In NieR’s case, the book adds a lot of color and backstory to the proceedings, so I don’t count them out. It just seems Eternal Sonata’s guide makes this hilariously complicated, lol.

      Fascinating articles, by the way!

      • Thanks for the compliments!

        Yeah, I am aware of the Episode V thing. And I do share your sentiments that the disc-2 of Xenogears was greatly disappointing. Neverthless, I do intend to do an “exegesis” set of articles on Xenogears when I feel up to it [a friend came to Christ partly through playing Xenogears], but that’s such a gargantuan project that I’ll probably put it off for a while. =P

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