Daily Entry | Alan Wake - Theories (UPDATED 6.6.10)

I finished playing Alan Wake a few nights ago. Outisde of it being fun. Outside of it having an imaginative combat system. Outside of it having great pacing. Outside... well, outside of it being a great game overall, the story in Alan Wake provides one of the best mindfrag mysteries I've encountered in a great long while. After beating the game 3 times in rapid succession, I've formulated a theory of the events. This theory is quite complex, and I'm sure it won't fit in the forums I'd love to contribute to, so I'm making this my HQ. I'll keep it updated.
Let me warn you all, this entry contains MASSIVE SPOILERS of a MASSIVE nature regarding the video game Alan Wake. If you haven't played or beaten it, and don't want to ruin the entire story, don't read this! Also, if you haven't played and beaten the game, you probably won't know what I'm talking about, so there!

I Call my theory The "Indirect Theory". I've tried my best to organize this wall 'o text into digestible chunks. Please bear with me. I'm massively into this mystery, and I'm in love with detail.

As it Begins - Everything up until the car wreck wake-up was outside of Alan's manuscript. The nightmare was a feeble warning/preparation by Zane trapped in The Darkness to help Alan. The nightmare happened on the ferry to Bright Falls, quite close, probably at the extreme boundaries of the Lake's/Darkness' (and by extension, Zane's) influence. Zane sensed Alan, knew he was the imaginative sort; the type of person that could bring an end to the Darkness and took action.

Mr. Scratch - You wake up and play as Scratch starting at the car wreck. That is Alan's "in" to the story. Scratch knows only what Alan reveals to him/you during the course of the story. If Alan was Alan, after the drunk vision, he would remember everything, yet plot elements are still being revealed after this point that the player/Scratch had no knowledge of, but Alan, who is actively writing the story, would already know. I'd Also like to mention the "Scratch" part of the name I think is an Onomatopoeia. The subtitles reveal "Mr. Scratch" because there is a scratching sound where Zane says the name. This adds more to my theory. Scratch isn't a physical entity, just a space-filler.  This also supports...

Zane Was Real AND is a Plot Element Created by Alan - As I said, Zane was real, the events happened just as they are revealed in the story. Zane looses Barbara, writes her back, she's darkness, he realizes, writes them trapped, and leaves the "thing in the shoebox" (more on that later). Alan, while trapped below by the darkness after the beginning events, finds Zane's work, and with past events (the nightmare beginning, the connected dream(s)), decides adding "Zane" as a guide to Scratch/you would fit the story. Fit it much better than, "I'm Alan, Alan. Here are some pages to help you, me." The Zane creation becomes the way Alan can directly help Scratch/you without it being a stupid "I'm helping me." Since he was really helped by Zane in the nightmare beginning, it makes sense that "Alan" would continue being helped by Zane. The story and it's characters are true to themselves.

Alan is Trapped in the Lake/Darkness - It doesn't make sense that Alan would be able to:

  1. Write the story partially controlled by the Darkness
  2. Realize this and decide to do something
  3. Write himself into the story at a point. (point = starting at the emergence from the lake, then crash)
  4. CONTINUE WRITING the events after (through chapter 6, to the point where he jumped off the cliff)
  5. Somehow go back to #3, loose his memory, and start stumbling through his pre-written story.
  6. Have the drunk epiphany of events on the island, yet still not remember what he wrote.
  7. Figure out what he wrote eventually.
  8. Go back and finish what, for some reason, he didn't finish during #4.
It's far more believable and logical that the real Alan Wake is trapped beneath the Lake all the time, writing the story actively, with Scratch/you acting as his real-world avatar or placeholder. This also supports...

The TV Scenes are the Real Alan Wake - The TV scenes, outside of being a tongue-in-cheek metaphor, being live-action and all (a.k.a.: "Real"), are direct views to what happened to Alan. These events are being shown to the player/Scratch as a more "loose" event. They aren't direct interactions depicted by Alan's writing, just offshoot occurrences. This is similar to how the Darkness can't take direct action, but CAN take INDIRECT action through the progression of the story (Taken, knocking over trees to block paths). Just as the Darkness can't go against the written word, but can "fill in the blanks" as it were, so can Alan. So he allows Scratch/You to see the truth albeit in a sort of covert way. This also explains why Barbara get's all excited during the drunk revelation and says "YOU!", like "Ah ha! You've been cheating (like me)! I caught you!" Also, in one of the pages it says (about that time in the story) that the Darkness started doing everything it could (indirectly) to STOP "Alan's" progress instead of capture him again (like I'm sure Alan was writing for the Darkness to do).

Sarah and Barry and the Well-Lit Room - I believe that the Well-Lit Room is free from the control/magic/influence of the Lake, and thus is a sort of bastion outside of the story. This is how the shoebox was able to survive the un-writing done by Zane. It was in the shadowless room, outside of the paranormal reach of the Darkness and the Lake, and therefore allowed to remain unchanged regardless of what the author does. He created the shoebox, had it sealed in the room, THEN proceeded to undo and trap everything. Following that logic, Sarah and Barry should also be able to emerge from the Well-Lit Room unaffected by Alan's story too. This is why we don't see them at Deerfest, and is also a great way to allow them to help Alan with his future struggles, without having to show them the light, as it were, all over again. On a related note...

The Shoebox - In support of my theory, and in support of my not supporting the Who's Yo Daddy? theory (see below), I feel the shoebox, like many wonderful like-minded (in this regard) individuals have discussed is merely another "in" in the tale. Like when, in a novel people go looking after a powerful weapon to stop evil, many times the reader isn't told exactly what it is. This is only revealed when the hero (or heroine) actually acquires it.
Zane wrote there was a powerful weapon to stop the Darkness. Instead of making something specific, Zane made a sort of construct. The shoebox creates what is needed to complete the story. Simple as pie. To elaborate, in the movie The Matrix, how the freed people projected what they thought they should look like onto themselves while in the system, the shoebox takes the mental projection of the "ultimate weapon against Darkness" (which to Alan was the Clicker) and creates it along with a plausible story to go along with it so it fits into the story.

Alan is Trapped (continued) - The end. Alan comes into contact with Scratch. Alan has no bandage, Scratch does. Why? Because it was Scratch that was in the car crash. (Confirmed Alan AND Scratch both have the bandage. No biggie for my theory.) This is the last time (in the game) "Alan" is two "people", and the end of your controlling Scratch. Scratch is essentially moved aside for later. The plot-element Zane, to facilitate the story, brushed Scratch off as "some guy" (not actual quotation, just paraphrase), and Alan whose writing is now caught up and in the same place he is takes his rightful place in the story Scratch was "keeping warm" for him and, begins the end. This is the sequence where you shine the light on words to create things. The now Alan/you walks up to Barbara, clicker in hand, and banishes her. This leads to...

Clock Moving Back and Day/Night Cycle - This shows time going back to when the story began. Alan said he had to do that. Sort of like Alan re-reading his story to make sure everything will mesh before adding the final period. Time then passes as shown by the day/night cycle (I saw 12-13 cycles and we rejoin the "present". The clicker was pressed (hence daylight outside), the story was "finished" and Alice emerges from the darkness (anyone notice the dark tendril-like cloudy junk behind her while she swims up? Cool.) all at the same time thanks to Alan's story. It adds up. The day/night cycle (12-13), the week lost "trapped" (7), the days we play the game (5-6), and Deerfest (2 weeks from the arrival on the Ferry). Nice. Now onto the most obscure (to me) element in the game.

Not a Lake, But an Ocean Part 1: The Metaphor - This is complicated. Please bear with me. Firstly, and most obviously, it's a metaphor Wake is using to describe the reach of the Darkness (he DOES like him some metaphor). The game focused on the Lake and the Darkness together. I think the Lake, as the natives in the region believed contained magical powers. The Darkness possessed the Lake to use it's abilities for it's own ends. The Darkness doesn't have the ability to directly influence the world on its own (another subtle indirect reference here), so it used the power of the Lake to use the mind of a poet/writer/artist to create a "way" for it to directly enter and affect our world.
Barbara/Darkness said she was much older than Wake. This did and still does mean to me the Darkness has been in existence for ages. That makes the Alan Wake Files mesh too. The Darkness isn't the Lake, it's USING the Lake's power. Zane trapped the Darkness there, using the Lake's power against it.

Not a Lake, But an Ocean Part 2: The Realization - Now, Alan is finishing up a balanced story using the Lake's power against the Darkness again. Everything is peachy-keen then, right? Wrong! I strongly believe Alan's original intention was to free Alice and survive. He used the clicker, that was his ultimate weapon to destroy Barbara. It all fit. People died, people suffered, and Alan was always in danger, but he found a way out of the Darkness with the help of the light (Zane).
The story was complete. It wasn't a super-happy ending with all the death/destruction suffered, but in the end he managed to destroy Barbara (which was the personification of the Darkness to Alan/the story). But just before this is written (or typed, rather) Alan realized something.
Destroying Barbara didn't destroy the Darkness completely. It was still there. He was touched by it, so he could feel it, still. Her final words suddenly made a whole lot of sense. The Darkness wasn't just in the Lake. If he ended the story the way he wanted, there would be no way to go back or continue to fight the Darkness. He would have to make a sequel to a tied-up nicely story, which never really works, and wouldn't work since it wouldn't mesh with what has already been written.

Not a Lake, But an Ocean Part 3: The Resolution of Wake - He makes up his mind to destroy the Darkness wholly, but he has to leave himself a way to do it in the story, since it's mostly ended there's only one real option. What does he do? He makes the ending play toward a sequel. OK, here's what he does, supported by the end movie sequence:
  • First, instead of the planned ending above, he only frees Alice ('cause he loves her, duh!) and has himself "stuck" or "traded" or whatever you want to say in the Lake, with the Darkness (not necessarily Barbara, but the Darkness. As Alice emerges, you don't see Barbara, like you have the whole game, but the dark, misty, tentacle-y stuff).
  • To make sure The Darkness isn't/doesn't get too strong, he makes a sort-of "cycle begins again" open ending. This is why you see Rose as the new Lady of the Light. Remember, not only does Alan:Zane::Rose:Cynthia, but Cynthia stayed with Sarah and Barry in the well-lit room, outside of the influence of the Lake/Darkness' influence. Also, she said numerous times she wanted to quit. Alan needed a parallel, someone who would sacrifice their lives essentially for him, and it needed to fit the story. Rose was perfect.
  • Nightingale was made a new Barbara. He couldn't bring back Barbara, that's stupid. The only real other antagonist to Alan in the story outside of Barbara/Darkness was Nightingale. Everyone that attacked him was Taken/Touched. Rose was the new Cynthia. Sarah and Barry were in the well-lit room (and don't fit as an antagonist). Dr. Hartman wasn't against Alan, he just wanted to use him for his own means. And it wasn't even really Alan. Hartman had many artists he was trying to use. That leaves Nightingale. Nightingale was the only character that was directly and specifically after Alan because he was Alan. Nightingale (according to the Wake Files) also was severely hurt emotionally by Alan, just as Barbara was by Zane. This fits with how Barbara was after Zane back then, because he was Zane, the person that did something so bad it made her kill herself.
  • The story obviously had to continue from the "present" point, hence why it's Deerfest.
  • He ends with the metaphor, for the reason stated above. It's not a Lake, But An Ocean. The demon-y voice I'm guessing is because Alan wanted, like all good "cliffhanger" thriller/horror endings ends with the main antagonist making one cryptic, final appearance.
  • "Wake Up, Alan!" is another "in" to the story. This is how his whole adventure started; with Alice waking him up from a nightmare. Mr. Scratch will be the player character again, with Alan narrating and making it up as he goes.
This is also supported by the "ocean" references in the game. Zane messed up, trying to write out the Darkness, since he was only trying to stop the Barbara darkness the rest survived, only trapped or stunned. That is why he makes reference to the vast ocean. He saw the Darkness was much larger in scope; only he saw it too late.

The Future - So, the next season will start with you as Alan's avatar again, Mr. Scratch. You'll meet up with Barry and Sarah at some point(s), as well as your lovely wife. I'm guessing we will be venturing farther from Bright Falls. This will be a more tense game since Alan doesn't have all the answers. He not only has to find out how to permanently stop the Darkness, but find out and follow through in a way that doesn't break the story. He also has to keep the Darkness in check in his story, and I'm sure it will be much harder now since the Darkness should know Alan's out to get it once and for all. Mr. Scratch not being the "real" Alan will come into play, since it kinda has to. Finally, I'm sure Clay will play a much larger role from here on in. Outside of that, I don't know.

--Side Thoughts--Here's some stuff that didn't fit directly above, but is interesting or details a specific "small" part of the story or speculation I've found online. --

The Manuscript Pages/"Alan's Construct" Theory - This one is interesting to me. Quite a few people have focused on these pages and formed the Alan's Construct theory; that we, the audience, can't possibly know what is "real" since the world we're playing in is "completely made-up by Alan". I feel this is fundamentally flawed (although, like the Who's Yo Daddy theory, is quite intriguing conceptually and a completely valid theory in its own right). When you read a book, does the book contain EVERYTHING? No. This adds weight to my own theory, too. Alan is trapped in the Darkness, trying his best to write an ending that makes sense. Funny thing is, since the Darkness can indirectly affect the world, Alan has to compensate. If Alan wrote "we walk into a tunnel" and the Darkness made a tree fall in it's way, he would have to write a way around it. He is actively writing. Especially once the Darkness decides to try and stop him instead of capture him again.(capture=control here) This rings true for everyone else. People not directly mentioned in the story can affect it because:
  1. This isn't Alan's complete imagination, there's just too much information for him to describe.
  2. It is said indirect action can change things as long as they are outside of the manuscript's direct influence.
  3. I personally think it foolish to have a wonderful cast of characters that turn out to be "props", in the same way the "It's A Dream" theory is cheap.
It's like the story is a set path through the woods. You can't walk the path and suddenly make IT change before you, but you can veer off the path, and other people can join you on it or leave at will. The new path you take becomes the only "path" to you because you're no longer following the old one. Also, there comes a point when you're so far along this path that those that joined you really have no choice but to continue with you, lest they get lost in the woods. That's why Barry and Sarah follow along with you after they discover the truth (the path before you). Sure, they could leave abruptly, but Alan would have to write them out. And how to important characters get "written out" in a thriller-->horror story? Yeah. Saying, "and Barry left to New York, despite having seen so much and the Darkness didn't pursue for some reason." doesn't ring true to the story. This view also supports my earlier Well-Lit Room ideas. Not everything can/is controlled by the Lake.

"Mirror" Theory - People take the "Wake Reads a Page" page to mean it's a mirror world. Just like in real life when you hold a camera up to it's television output and view to infinity, that page achieved the same purpose (since he's a writer and not a cinematographer). The next page could've easily been, "Alan put the page down, mind thorougly fried" and the mirror was over. It was just a fun thing to include, methinks.

The Writing on the Wall - A lot of discussion about the basement area that is filled with the special yellow writing. Cynthia was obsessively in love with Zane. The "I Curse you, Thomas Zane" might be related to "Did you write this?". Maybe it was Zane writing she wrote it as a sort-of self inflicted insult. Maybe it was the Darkness. The letters don't glow until you shine light on them, so Barbara could conceivably used the same "ink" to write it, to which Cynthia responded "Did you write this?" OR, what I think is more likely, especially considering her obsessive behavior, she wrote both. The curse after a bout of depression after years of guarding Zane's "weapon" even though she didn't/won't get any closer to him for it. After said bout of sadness, she wrote the question to herself, kind of like how someone would write in a diary after a breakup, then days/weeks later write how they re-read it and were shocked that they were so emotional.

Night Springs - Fact. Night Springs isn't real. Now, I think the "Night Springs" sign in the Nightmare was a bit of foreshadowing on Zane's part (according to my theory), since Night Springs was allegedly based off of Bright Falls. From the Files, the lighthouse in the dream exists in Bright Falls, giving both the Night Springs=Bright Falls and the theory of the lighthouse being a real and important place in the story more weight.

The Lighthouse - Check the map of Bright Falls. To the left is the dotted line of a ferryboat path, leading off the map. Who says the ocean can't be just on the other side of the edge of the map? I think future episodes will venture beyond the humble bounds of Bright Falls, and the lighthouse will be one of most importance, making the Zane assistance and shared dream/nightmare beginning more important than we can see now. CONFIRMED: Remedy confirmed (by proxy of MikkiRMD on the official Alan Wake Forums ) that the bay is salt water from the ocean it opens up to. So it's looking pretty positive there's going to be a lighthouse there.

--Unexplained Items--

Do You Have a License for that Plothole? - There are many "I guess this maybe could've happened... possibly" but I have yet to think up/find an adequate explanation for how Mott got Alice's license.

The "Tom" Dilemma - If Alan is called Tom out of some physical similarity with Zane, it would mean he would have to be related. While this doesn't break my theory, it does require many things to be reshuffled or revised. I personally don't like the thought of the frankly over-used "son destined to complete daddy's mission" for this particular tale, so I choose not to go that route, even though it's a valid theory explained wonderfully by others (I call it the "Who's Yo Daddy?" theory).
So, for the sake of my theory, I can't set a finite explanation to the Tom Dilema. Maybe because Alan and Zane were so similar regarding their actions/situation, and not physically? Cynthia is reminded of Zane because Alan, like Zane sets out to do something about the release of the Darkness, and wants to save his wife, and has Rose, etc. The Gods of Asgard are reminded of the events of the past, and call him Tom in a teasing way. They seem playful like that. Barbara calls him Tom because she is still partly herself and is doing all this because of Tom, so Alan is her replacement for him./more info needed

Can You Hear Me Now? - The cryptic call Alan gets from Alice is a mystery to me. Why would Alan write that into the story? What purpose does it serve? If it's not part of Alan's story, and some indirect interaction, how did Alice manage to pull it off. I highly doubt she gets reception on her cellphone telephone at the bottom of a lake, even if it is Verizon Wireless. SOLVED: Just bits of her from her taped interview with the good Dr. Hartman spliced together. You can hear the recording during Episode 4.

Rose Marigold - In Mexican culture the Marigold is equivalent to the Lily. A flower signifying the dead. Important? Probably not...

Baba Yaga - In Eastern European folklore, she's an old hag, primarily an antagonist who lives in a log cabin on a pair of chicken legs. It's also considered dangerous to seek her help. Parallel to Barbara Jagger? Obviously, but most likely inspiration only, nothing to do with the story.


Anonymous said...

Great theory!
Just to tie up a few of your "loose ends":

How Mott got Alice's License:
a) Alan wrote that he acquired it, for plot purposes, and thus he did. There are many explanations for how he physically got it (the car has suitcases in the back, or he pick-pocketed Alice on the ferry, or it washed up on a beach from the lake and he found it) the simplest explanation, given the supernatural power of the lake, is that he literally just 'had' it, couldn't remember how he got it, but just went with it.

Cryptic call from Alice:
This is explained if you check the tape recordings in the Cauldron Lake Lodge episode (the room just opposite from where Barry is locked up).
Alice apparently had a conversation with Hartman a while before the start of the game, and hartman recorded it. The phone call Alan hears was just this recording spliced about, and Alan says as such after hearing the original tapes.

Sylvina Solaris said...

Maybe you can clarify this. Once you get to the end of episode 6, you re-meet "Mr. Scratch", I'm confused as to this whole part of the timeline, or did they flashback to when Alan jumped into the water? The timelines get a little mixed up in my head.

I always viewed it as two timelines, one that led up to an ending/meeting with Mr. Scratch, but then Alan uses Mr. Scratch to rewrite history, since I sort of assumed he could edit the past as well as the future with his writing. Which is why the story ends with "Alan, wake up." to signify that Alan has utilized Mr. Scratch waking up at the car wreck site. I think this might make more sense than "Alan, wake up." being an "in" for a sequel. It's one of those "endless loop" sort of concepts that a lot of horror/sci-fi movies like to pull on you, IE. Twelve Monkeys.

As for nightingale being the new Barbara, I always viewed it more so that he was one of the few people taken by the darkness that we DIDN'T kill. Additionally, even Rose still seems to be touched by the darkness in that ending, not that she's evil or anything but she's still touched.

Sylvina Solaris said...

I should also mention that I feel that Mr. Scratch ceases to exist after his wife is saved. I think the whole "Mr. Scratch lives happily ever after with Barry, Sarah, and Alice." to be a little hokey. Alan Wake's story was definitely still of the horror-esque "Stephen King" genre, and it needed to end on a bittersweet note in order to save Alice. Especially with the mention of "balancing the story", first off he couldn't just destroy the darkness and save Alice and save himself, so, Alan sacrificed himself to the Darkness to not only control it but to also utilize Mr. Scratch in order to save Alice. I think Mr. Scratch was shelved after that.

I'll be honest, I'll have to play through the game a second time to fully understand if my theory on that is correct, but my gut instinct is that Alan Wake NEEDS to end on a bittersweet note like that for the story (both in the game and in our real world) to be successful and well-written, otherwise it comes off as a "feel good" ending to a mystery/horror game/story.