The Real Story of Immortality, Explained
Read if you dare
Immortality is one of those games that reeled me in based on premise alone - a mystery game told in non-linear fragments with the player’s natural curiosity to find answers to the ever-increasing number of questions as the driving force of the game, and where the unique mechanics end up being used to illustrate the game’s many themes and ideas. If you like Outer Wilds, you will probably like Immortality. The two are very different in terms of how you play them and what they’re about, but discovery of new information is a core component of both these games.
Immortality is also a very dense and layered game. On one level, it’s about Marissa Marcel, an actress who made two movies in the late '60s and early '70s (Ambrosio and Minsky, respectively). Neither of them were ever released, and she disappeared from public life, becoming a recluse. She resurfaced in the late '90s (having not aged at all) to make one final film (Two of Everything), that was also never released, before vanishing for good. There are plenty of compelling mysteries in this basic read of the game alone. But as anyone who has spent more than a few hours with the game will tell you, it goes far beyond that.
The fragmented, non-linear, layered nature of this game can make it difficult to follow the plot of the game, especially at its deepest layers. For this piece, I went through all the clips multiple times and put together a timeline of events, and I now feel equipped to do a complete breakdown of Immortality as I understand it. I'm going to be discussing the deepest layer of this game and how it affects the wider range of events. Discovery is the essence of Immortality, and you should really only be reading this if you’ve already played the game, because I intend to discuss the most hidden parts of the game.
The Real Story - Explained
The true main characters of Immortality, the ones who have driven the events of the game, are a pair of supernatural, immortal, parasitic entities called The One (Charlotte Mohlin) and The Other One (played by Timothy Lee DePriest). They have been around since the dawn of time, and exist by killing people and then taking their form.
The One and the Other One both initially had a deep fascination with storytelling, art and humanity. In the universe of the game, they are responsible for the story of Adam and Eve and the Fall of Man. But their greatest endeavour, their attempt to ‘elevate humanity’ was the story of Christ and the Crucifixion. The details are hazy, both because of the passage of time and multiple retellings, but The One apparently played the role of Christ, and Mary Magdalene and Mother Mary were the same person. However, it seems that this effort was ultimately a failure, and the Other One grew jaded because of this, developing a contempt for humanity. The One however, still maintained her faith in humanity and her fascination for their art through the centuries.
The One and Other One manoeuvre time by hibernating. The One hibernated through the First World War and awoke at the end of World War II. As she wandered the war-torn villages in France, she came across a young woman, Marissa Marcel, dying in a field, having been left for dead after being sexually assaulted by German soldiers. The One was instantly struck by Marissa’s beauty, and took her to a farmhouse and consumed her. The Marissa we see in Immortality isn’t the ‘real’ Marissa, but The One. This is why she doesn’t appear to age through the course of her career. However, the One still has certain memories of the people she has consumed, and traces of the real Marissa remain. The real Marissa's last wish was to live forever.
The One eventually made her way to London, attracted by the culture. She took up modelling and attracted the attention of director Arthur Fischer. This prompted her to watch Fischer’s movies, which was her first exposure to film. She instantly fell in love with the medium, because it is apparently similar to how beings like herself perceive the world. As we know, she auditioned for Ambrosio and was cast as Matilda. The One was excited about working with Fischer, hoping to learn about film-making from him. But it eventually became clear that Fischer was more interested in exercising control over Marissa, and that the act of making movies was something he derived a sexual thrill from. Perhaps worst of all to her, though, Fischer was clearly past his prime, and seemed unlikely to create great art. This caused the One to grow disillusioned with Fischer.
Through the course of the shooting of Ambrosio, there are multiple instances of John Durick, the director of photography, clashing with Arthur Fischer about creative choices in the film. Durick seems to represent a more modern, bold, fresh way of making movies, and the One gradually became more attracted to this new style, as well as to Durick himself, beginning a relationship with him. After Ambrosio wraps up shooting, they moved to New York for their new film, Minsky, which was to be Durick’s directorial debut. The One, as Marissa would be co-writing the film, her first attempt at being a part of the creative process of film-making. Ambrosio never actually saw a theatrical release because Arthur Fischer stole the negatives, presumably because the final product had strayed too far from his original vision. The One and Durick don't seem the slightest bit upset about this in the footage we see of them, as they were now fully involved in their new project.
The early period of making Minsky saw all involved in high spirits, John and the One specifically excited about their new roles and working in sync when it came to creative decisions. However, it appears that at some point, the Other One followed the One to New York. The Other One was still very bitter about the failure of The Greatest Story, and the One’s increasing passion for film-making and her esteem for John Durick deeply angered him. Since, in all likelihood the pair of them are the last of their kind, the Other One was upset at what he saw as the One giving herself away to an unworthy humanity making poor imitations of real art. The Other One killed and consumed Carl Greenwood sometime during the making of Minsky. I have a strong feeling that this happens around the time Carl shaves his beard, but I’ve not found any concrete evidence for this.
The One and the Other One argued constantly during the filming of Minsky. This is where we get a real sense of their respective ideologies. The Other One believes that humanity is below them, that the art they make is worthless, that all artists are disgusting and that the film that the One is pouring her heart into won’t be remembered in the future. The One believes almost the exact opposite, that the Greatest Story only failed because humanity wasn’t ready, that humans are special, interesting and their art has meaning and value. They especially argue about Durick, with the Other One saying that Durick is a narcissistic hack who is only using Marissa.
Things began to seriously escalate when the One discovers that Durick and the Other One, in the form of Carl, have begun a relationship. On Durick’s part, this is because he, like Minsky in the film, believed that having a sexual relationship with his subjects would make him a better artist. But based on everything we’ve heard from the One and Other One from this time, it’s clear that this is the Other One’s attempt to sabotage the project by turning the One against John. Emotions began running high, with the Other One apparently forcing the One to choose between ‘us or them’. Scenes with Marissa and Carl are noticeably tense, with no trace of their earlier easy onscreen chemistry.
This eventually leads to Marissa accidentally shooting Carl, and killing him, which caused the making of Minsky to end. However, the subverted footage of that scene shows that the Other One had brought things to a head, wanting the One to shoot John. The One shot the Other One instead. Beings like the One and the Other One can’t be killed by any means other than fire, and the One tells us that they have ‘killed’ each other like this several times before, something that causes them to hibernate for a while before coming back. However, this time, the One was so angry that she had the Other One (in Carl’s body) cremated, which killed him permanently.
At some point after the Other One’s death, the One revealed herself to John Durick, telling him everything. Durick’s reaction wasn’t what she expected it to be, and she realised that the Other One was right about him after all - he was a self-absorbed narcissist who never truly saw Marissa as an equal collaborator. This angers her to such an extent that she swiftly killed and consumed him. This meant that the One had now discarded the form of Marissa, and would now exist in the world as John Durick.
The timing of the scene that shows us Durick’s death is a little confusing - we see it as a subverted scene during the filming of Minsky - the flashback scene of Franny killing Minksy. But the black-and-white scene where the One talks about this time specifically says it was after Carl’s death. Dialogue in the subverted scene also refers to the Other One as being dead. My best theory is that the subverted scene we see in Minsky is a ‘cinematic adaptation’ of Durick’s death, put there because it mirrors what’s happening in the movie in that scene. I like to think that the setting was different in reality, but the dialogue was verbatim.
After this, through the '70s, '80s and '90s, the One as John Durick, made several movies as a director. We are told that they apparently weren’t remarkable critical or commercial successes, but most found them worthwhile, although some noted that they were cold. The One began to miss the Other One and made movies that she thought he would have liked. The One also perpetuated a stereotypical pattern by beginning a relationship with her muse, the actress Amy Archer. The One claims that this was unintentional, but we hear from her what she got out of being on the other side of the artist-muse relationship. ‘Amy asked very little of me except my brilliance’ she says with a beam. However things eventually went sour when the One’s own creative decline coincided with Amy aging, causing the One to conflate the two.
In the late '90s, two significant things happened, and I’m unsure of the exact order, although I don’t think the order matters. First, Arthur Fischer, the director of Ambrosio, was dying and wanted to make amends with Durick. He did this by giving the One the Ambrosio negatives he had stolen. The One watched the footage and was gripped by grief for who she had been back then, and realised that she missed being Marissa so much that she somehow spontaneously brought her back. The One was now a single entity in two people - Durick and Marissa. This explains why Marissa disappeared and didn’t age between the '70s and the '90s - she was ‘brought out of storage’, so to speak.
The second thing that happened around this time was that Amy Archer watched the clip from Minsky in which Carl was shot. It’s unclear if this also included the multiple layers of subverted footage, or just the scene itself. In any case, by watching the Other One die onscreen, he is somehow reborn in Amy, even though he had been dead at this point. We are told that this possession of Amy is different from their usual method of killing and consuming their victims. This kind of possession is ‘something more’, and also doesn’t erase or kill Amy.
The revival of Marissa, and being two people at once inspires the One to make Two of Everything, which is to be her most personal film to date. It’s easy to make several parallels between the One’s situation and the movie based on the title alone, and several plot points and lines of dialogue are pretty on the nose about it. The One would direct as John Durick and play the lead roles of Heather and Maria as Marissa.
The making of Two of Everything feels noticeably different from Marissa’s previous films, especially Minsky. Where Marissa and John’s enthusiasm about their project shined through almost every behind-the-scenes clip from Minsky, Two Of Everything feels much more low-energy. Table read sessions cover multiple scenes with no input or direction from John, scenes require several takes to film, Marissa seems to have no confidence in her line deliveries, and Durick’s answers to actors’ questions about how to approach a scene often seems to boil down to ‘Do whatever.’
This is because being John Durick and Marissa simultaneously put a significant amount of physical strain on the One. The One was apparently pushing the limits of what was physically possible, and seemed to be losing the fight. The Other One made contact with the One around this time, and the two reconciled. The Other One explained the method of his revival and appeared to be much stronger than the One. This caused the One to begin considering taking the Other One’s approach to immortality.
The cracks really begin to show in the last scenes in chronological order. John and Marissa collapse at the same time, the One unable to take the strain. The One doesn’t conjure up John for one scene, and the crew films with Marissa acting as director. Marissa freezes up completely in one scene. In the final scene shot for Two Of Everything, the One appears to suffer some sort of brain haemorrhage. The Other One, in the form of Amy, carries her away.
This gives us all the information we need to understand the ending. If a being like the One dies on-camera and the recording is viewed by a human, then that being can exist in the human. We know that the One expressed interest in the idea of transcending her physical limitations. We know that the Other One wants to help the One fulfil her goals. We know that fire is the only way to kill the One. And in the penultimate scene in chronological order, it looks like the physical strain of being two people simultaneously has done irreparable damage to the One.
In the very final clip, the Other One burns the One (in Marissa’s vegetative body) in a studio with a camera filming. We watch the fire completely consume Marissa. And then the One tells us that she’s a part of us now. This also strongly implies that the entire game was put together by The One, as many of the achievements on Steam have her talking to you, and also in much of the subverted footage, she wears the same dress that she was burned in. Since we watched her die, she has been reborn into everyone who has played the game, and achieved true immortality.
And that’s the real story of Immortality. In the next part, I want to look at what all of this actually means, and discuss the themes and motifs that keep showing up in this game.
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