Friday, November 6, 2015

The Favorites - The End of Evangelion (#82)


The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. The End of Evangelion (1997/Japan/dir. Hideaki Anno & Kazuya Tsurumaki) appeared at #82 on my original list.

What it is • Welcome to the end of the world. This animated masterpiece begins in a flooded wasteland, introducing us to an array of characters who are completely isolated from one another, buried in their own grief, guilt, depression, and loneliness. We are fifteen years after a cataclysmic event that wiped out most of the earth's population, and mere days after the last of many battles with monstrous creatures (called Angels, ironically) who laid waste to this particular city and destroyed the psyches of the teenage warriors forced to fight them. (The battles with the Angels are depicted in the television show Neon Genesis Evangelion, to which this film is a follow-up.) So the scenario is already post-apocalyptic...but we ain't seen nothing yet. At least half the film is consumed by "The Human Instrumentality Project," in which the physical bodies of humanity are dissolved and their souls are fused together in a vast sea of consciousness, dissolving pain and suffering alongside individuality and agency. Shinji, the 14-year-old mecha pilot who is placed at the center of Instrumentality, must decide if he wants relief from his loneliness by dissolving his identity, or if he should seek love and acceptance the hard way, as a separate but active person. The film depicts this process through a gorgeous swirl of rich animation (mixing sci-fi action, spiritual symbolism, and psychological allegory), live-action footage, children's drawings, and other raw material.

Why I like it •
The End of Evangelion is one of two films on this list to be spun off from a TV show (the other is - surprise! - Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me). In both cases the movie is attached to an edgy series I love, but in both cases the movie represents an even darker, richer, cinematic experience than the show - one which, despite the narrative confusion, can stand on its own as an unforgettable visual experience. Also like Fire Walk With Me, End of Evangelion is delivered in two sharply delineated halves (in this case, the halves are actually separated by an extended credits sequence!). The first part of the film is more straightforward, covering the failed battle to preserve NERV headquarters. We watch the characters we've come to know and love over the series get destroyed, one by one, and the message seems to be that on our own, we can't survive. No wonder Shinji welcomes Instrumentality - a process that takes up the second half of the film, a dazzling mix of avant-garde imagery and, well, even more avant-garde imagery. Taking a sci-fi premise, the film launches into something that transcends genre and medium, an exploration of what it means to be human captured through a vivid whirlpool of color and music. A giant, luminous goddess sprays blood from her neck...a sea of orange goo spreads across the globe...a flock of vulture-like organic robots, with lances piercing their torsos, circle a black moon rising into outer space. Good God, what's not to love?!? There are many varying explanations and theories to explain what we see, but End of Evangelion may be best experienced as a pure hallucinatory trip.

How you can see it • Unfortunately, the current DVD of The End of Evangelion is not the best quality but it's still worth tracking down on Netflix. This whole week has also been devoted to End of Evangelion coverage, including a short video review and an in-depth essay and two-part discussion with Bob Clark on the style & story as well as on the characters, as part of my ongoing Neon Genesis Evangelion weekly series (I just finished discussing every episode of the show). A clip from the film appears at 2:35 in "Living in the Nineties" (chapter 29 of my "32 Days of Movies" video series). My video comparison between Twin Peaks and Neon Genesis Evangelion also contains many clips from The End of Evangelion, demonstrating how it relates to both the Twin Peaks final episode and the film Fire Walk With Me.

What do you think? • Have you seen the film outside of the series context? How did it hold up for you? If you have seen the series, do you think this movie is a fitting conclusion? What is its relationship to the final two episodes of the series, whose "events" it overlaps with? Do you think Shinji made the right decision in the end, regarding Instrumentality? Whose version of Instrumentality are we seeing - SEELE's, Yui's, Rei's, or someone else's? Why does Shinji do what he does in the hospital room? In the kitchen vision halfway through? On the beach at the end? Are Shinji and Asuka soulmates, beyond their conflict? What is the significance of Shinji seeing Kaworu in the sky? What do you think will happen to the characters who die onscreen, yet who get to see Rei before they die? Why do we see those particular characters in the final scene - what is the significance of their survival? What do you think the future holds for Yui/Unit-01? What's your favorite action moment in the film? Your favorite contemplative moment? Do you have a favorite character from the series, and if so what do you think of their fate in the film? Can you think of other films that extend/transform an existing story in similar fashion to The End of Evangelion?

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