Disclaimer: this post contains massive spoilers for To The Moon. Stop reading now if you don’t want to ruin the experience for yourself.
There has been a lot of discussion about the ending of To The Moon
. The Good Old Games forum has a thread
explaining the game’s motifs of creating lies, and the dilemma of using deceit and (unethical) medical intervention in order to give a patient a false memory. All for the sake of one final shot at happiness. Antonio Conejos, in what is most likely the best analysis
on the Internet, calls the game a dramatic and metaphorical love story about “a couple’s desire to communicate and love against all obstacles. For John these obstacles are his repressed memories. For River it is her behavioral condition. Yet both try to reach out to the other.”
My interpretation of the story’s message is similar to Conejos’s, but slightly different: it is a lesson about acceptance and understanding. We learn during the high school cafeteria flashback that John’s reason for wanting to pursue River (after his beta-blockers incident) is a very selfish one: he simply wants to be “different” from all the other high school kids, and thus, wants a partner like River who is remarkably different from other girls. John of course, does not realise that River’s social awkwardness is a result of her Asperger’s Syndrome. His best friend Nicolas, and even the two doctors, remark that John’s line of reasoning is wrong.
John: “I just don’t want to be another typical kid in a sea of typical people.”
Nicolas: “Do you even know if she wants to be different? Maybe she just wants to fit in like everybody else. And if she does, pushing her the other way wouldn’t help, would it?”
John: “Look Nick, the point is that I know what I need… and she’s the one who has it.”
Nicolas: “So you want her for what she has, but not for her?”
This was the most important quote in TTM
for me, because it explains all of the relationship problems in this world. John wants to be with River in order to make himself feel better
, not because he accepts and understands River for who she is. I believe that the real tragedy of the game isn’t because John is unable to remember their first, true meeting, but that he never makes an attempt to truly understand River’s condition and to fully accept her circumstances. When River is finally diagnosed with Asperger’s years later, he does not bother to read the book by Tony Attwood (who is a real person
by the way, Google is your best friend when playing TTM
). He is trying to protect his “ideal” image of River: that weirdly different girl from his high school. There are millions of people in the world with autism and pervasive developmental disorder, and by acknowledging and understanding this fact, his vision of River would no longer be unique. She would just be another person with autism, another typical (autistic) kid in a sea of typical people.
River’s refusal to seek medical treatment for her separate fatal condition decades later (which I believe, is related to her grief over John’s lost memory), is symbolic of wanting John to accept her. To simply accept, and respect her decision for what it is. John of course, is terrified at the prospect of “becoming alone”, which again, stems from his original selfish desire back in high school.
There is no doubt in my mind that John truly, and absolutely loved his wife deeply: he spends his life savings and the majority of his adult life to build and maintain the house on the cliff-side, in order for River to see the lighthouse every day. The problem is that he fell in love with River for the wrong reasons initially, and it takes a lifetime for him before he can finally accept and understand her. Fortunately, his subconscious mind remembers his (originally forgotten) promise to meet with River on the moon should they ever become separated (in this case, by her death).
To put the debate of whether TTM’s ending was good or bad to rest, allow me to use the movie Inception as an example (incidentally, Inception has almost identical motifs as TTM). In the final scene, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character is finally reunited with his children, and uses his spinning top to test whether he is still dreaming. However, DiCaprio walks away and does not bother to check whether the top continues spinning forever (therefore confirming that he is still in a dream state). He is simply happy to be able to see his children again, and even if his current world isn’t a reality, so be it. He has managed to fulfill his wish, and accepts the circumstances.
John finally manages to fulfill the childhood promise that he has long forgotten, and is reunited with River in his altered memories. In reality, the real River has died and John is unable to reconcile with her. But so be it, who cares? John still manages to fulfill his one true subconscious wish; he has successfully gone to the moon in his head. We, the players, have to accept John’s decision and its circumstances.
To The Moon is a powerful love story that breaks the fourth wall to teach us about acceptance. Not just about accepting and understanding our loved ones, but to learn to accept the things around us that are profoundly different. Something that all of us, myself included, have sometimes failed to do in our lives.