Truly bizarre (Evangelion spoilers) : LUSENET : Aeon Flux : One Thread

“What am I, if I can’t be yours…”

Much has been made of the religious implications of Evangelion. I won’t attempt to add much to that line of thinking (frankly, I wouldn’t know where to begin!), but will try to summarize it from a more psychosocial perspective, posing a few new questions along the way.

From the opening minute-and-a-half of live action (a video camera following girls around), it becomes apparent that this is Not Your Typical Anime Film. Anno wanted to make a fitting conclusion to his ultra-popular, ultra-overbudget TV series, as well as explore some of his own personal obsessions (mainly sex, women, and Judeo-Christian metaphysics). He succeeds on both counts, making a film that, if not always pleasant to watch, is always fascinating.

The first half concerns the battle between NERV, an organization holding the keys to Armageddon, and SEELE, the twelve-member (/apostle?) secret society trying to bring it about. SEELE wants to bring about the “third impact” and initiate Instrumentality: a Rapture-like process that will destroy our individual identities and merge all souls together in eternal perfection. Pretty lofty beliefs, and they have the firepower to enforce them; NERV personnel are stabbed, shot, and burned alive in some fairly grisly war scenes. Meanwhile, NERV’s Gendo Ikari wants to use Instrumentality for his own ends, to reunite with his dead wife Yui.

Enter Shinji, Eva pilot and low-self-esteem poster boy; when we first see him, he’s begging comatose co-pilot and secret flame Asuka to wake up and “insult me like you always do”. When she doesn’t respond, he masturbates over her hospital bed.

Rei, the first pilot, who is both a clone of Yui and (apparently) of Lilith, the angel who created humans (I’d appreciate some clarification on this point), is taken out of liquid suspension by Gendo, who needs her to combine the soul of Adam with Lilith to start Instrumentality (this doesn’t quite make sense -- does Gendo want it only for himself, as opposed to SEELE’s designs on the world?).

To protect her and the Eva she pilots, Asuka is placed in her cockpit and rocketed to the bottom of a nearby lake. NERV commander Misato is taken out of the brig (why was she there in the first place?) and put back in action.

We are treated to some of the best mecha action ever to grace a screen, as Asuka revives and utterly routs SEELE’s forces. The sense of scale, motion, and sheer variety of angles and effects used is stunning -- and I’m someone who normally dislikes mecha.

Misato, our most sympathetic character, sacrifices her life to defend Shinji and get him into the Eva-01. Shinji exclaims that he doesn’t want to live, if all he does is hurt others; Misato argues that whatever he does, whether for good or ill, ultimately matters (a VERY subversive point -- but more on that later). Abruptly changing from mother to whore, she kisses Shinji seductively and promises to “do the rest when you get back”.

SEELE deploys nine angels against Asuka; mothlike creatures who swarm her, devouring her machine and eventually, herself. Shinji witnesses this from his Eva-01, and -- well, snaps.

Part Two. This is where the mindfuck begins. Shinji’s mecha is struck by the Lance Of Longinus, and he is crucified by the angels, who proceed to form the nine branches of the Tree Of Life around him. Rei is taken to revive Lilith -- white, faceless, enormous, also crucified -- by Gendo, who proceeds to stick his arm through Rei’s skin and “inseminate” her with Adam. However, she takes his arm clean off, and declares “I am not a puppet”. Then she merges with Lilith, and all hell breaks loose.

In a truly spectacular sequence, an enormous Rei rises up out of Nerv, driving those she touches hysterical (religious hysteria?). The other angels take on Rei’s face as a half-mad Shinji looks on. His ego-barrier is reduced to zero, and he drifts off into dreamland while the Apocalypse happens around him. What happens next is… unsettling. Shinji has a childhood memory, only it’s patently fake; the girls playing with him are dolls, and the lighting is supplied by film equipment. Alone and sobbing in the park, Shinji builds a sand castle -- a pyramid, like NERV headquarters -- and like any kid (or self-defeating teen) proceeds to kick it in. A swing seat (phallic symbol?) blocks the view of the background “birth canal” (a reddish sun between two evenly-spaced hills). He starts over.

Next, he watches his “mother figure”, Misato, having sex with Kaji. “This is a part of me Shinji can never know”, she declares in voice-over. We proceed to what I like to call the “tell off the boyfriend” sequence, as the girls of Evangelion (as Shinji pictures them) beat up on him verbally and physically, while he whines and pours his sad little heart out. Finally, Shinji decides to act out his frustrations, and begins strangling Asuka to upbeat soft rock (did “Vanilla Sky” director Cameron Crowe see this film?). This becomes the pop soundtrack to a mind-rending Armageddon, as Lilith reels up over the Earth and gathers souls -- think the “Metropolis” effect here, only 100 times worse. Rei becomes an angel of death, appearing as the characters’ true loves; this results in the cutest, sweetest exploding-body scenes ever. Shinji enters Lilith’s third eye. Hundreds of images flash by his internal viewscreen, as a chorus of your typical “rejection lines” plays (my favorite: “Let’s just be friends”).

A (real) eye opens, and we’re looking into -- a theatre. A movie theatre. For real. And why not? After stretching the narrative so far, where else to go but over the fourth wall? Anno takes us out for a tour of Tokyo; Shinji muses in voice-over on the nature of dreams; a trio of ordinary young women take on qualities of Rei, Asuka and Misato. Then it’s back to the theatre, where a crowd has gathered to watch the latest Gainax animated film and one guy appears to be giving the “thumbs down” sign. Fan letters and the words “Die, Anno!” flash on the screen.

A jet of blood shoots out from Lilith’s neck, and Rei and Shinji are merged in the sea of LCL. “This is a world where all beings are one”, she explains, “the world you wished for… your world”.

But nothing here feels right… pain does not exist, but neither does pleasure. Loneliness doesn’t exist, but neither does it’s opposite. Shinji acknowledges that yes, he felt betrayed when he reached out to other people. But still… at the time, his feelings were REAL.

The Eva bursts out of Lilith’s eye. The “black moon” drips blood, and bursts into a swirl of red souls. Lilith’s head comes off and falls to Earth. Shinji’s decision to be free has freed everyone.

“Goodbye… Mother.”

Shinji and Asuka are lying on a beach, overlooking a blood-red ocean. Rei appears briefly on the water; reincarnating souls sparkle in the distance. Shinji gets up, looks over at Asuka. He crouches over her -- and tightens his grip around her neck.

She wakes up, caresses his cheek. He releases his grip, and begins sobbing uncontrollably. Observing the scene, Asuka comments:

“How disgusting.”

Ending of the year, ladies and gentlemen.

Had Shinji suddenly become a well-adjusted young lad, and Asuka suddenly warmed to him, it would only have strained credibility (and my disbelief). But the way it is, it is BRILLIANT.

EoE places the moral emphasis on being, not doing… it isn’t what one does while one exists, but that one has the will *to* exist, that counts. And existing as an individual is a good thing, even for a schlub like Shinji; in fact, the only real “moral” here, is one of unconditional acceptance (also prevalent in “Lilo And Stitch“).

This is odd. Very odd, and a most wonderful glitch in the system. It recalls the best subversive films of the sixties and seventies; Harold And Maude, If, O Lucky Man, The Graduate, Local Hero… furthermore, it comes from a culture that, traditionally, prizes fitting in above all else.

To me, the message is clear: Anno believes that modern Japan, with it’s emphasis on winning the approval of others, is breeding a nation of sociopaths. One must acknowledge that one exists, before acknowledging others; if not, then others become merely tools for your own advancement. One must *listen*, and not just wait to speak. He’s saying: you don’t NEED perfect grades, you don’t NEED that dream girl. You exist, you are real, and that’s enough. A very healthy outlook, particularly for kids Shinji’s age.

Of course, this rugged individualist has committed similar crimes; the review I’m writing is mostly to clarify my own thoughts, but I’m also hoping that Peter Chung -- the human who recommended this film -- and other people will walk away having enjoyed this piece. Whatever anyone else adds to this discussion thread serves as further validation of my own interest in the film. However, it’s also validation of their own interest, as well as an impersonal expression existing beyond both subjects. Shinji doesn’t see this, yet, but he’s catching on, and so I consider the ending to be hopeful.

P.S.: I can’t help but compare EoE to Utena, another lavishly surreal film treatment of an animated series. However, while they’re both great, I’d rank Utena a bit higher, for two reasons:

One, the Utena film was completely self-contained. It can be appreciated with little or no knowledge of the series; EoE, as an extension of it’s series, requires viewing of 24 episodes in order to understand/appreciate what’s going on. Is it worth it? Oh yes! Especially since the film adds a much-needed sense of closure (one reason why I was lukewarm about the TV series). However, it still works against EoE.

The second reason is gender issues; while Utena was about breaking the membrane between two worlds and entering a greater reality, EoE is very, very male, about breaking up with your girl, destroying the planet and unleashing millions of souls in one big orgasmic blast. Utena just… appeals more to my sensibilities, somehow. Maybe I need a chick. ;)

-- Inu (, November 04, 2002


Wow Paul, I guess End of Evangelion was "up your alley" after all. You've actually done a more thorough analysis of it than I've attempted. But then, I've only seen the film so far in Japanese (in the theater and on my region 2 DVD). (I often prefer Japanese animated films in their untranslated state. I can watch them repeatedly while making up my own version in my mind -- which is often more interesting than what I later learn was intended by the author).

I'll admit to warming to the film considerably over time and on repeated viewings. My initial response to it was mixed. I found the cynicism (perhaps misanthropy is more accurate) overbearing. The setting, I think, had a lot to do with this. Imagine seeing this film in a packed theater in Tokyo full of mostly young, male, die-hard Evangelion otakus-- an audience of real-life Shinjis, in other words--. They came walking out in a daze, wondering if they'd just been assaulted by 90 minutes of highly articulated abuse from their idol, the uber-otaku himself, Mr. Anno. Honestly, I doubt I'd have wanted to go as far as he did... but then EoE was made largely as a retort to complaints about the original ending as was played out in the T.V. series.

It also struck me how both this film and Adolescence of Utena used the opportunity of a theatrical feature to radicalize their subjects, rather than to pander (Cowboy Bebop *cough* Escaflowne *cough*cough*) to fan expectations. My hat goes off to Anno and Ikuhara -- I can only hope that if and when I do the Aeon Flux animated feature, I'll be able to match their high standards of subversion. I'm delighted and astonished that these films even exist. And I also agree, that while EoE is conceptually admirable, the Utena movie, a film appealing to the heart, gets the edge.

-- Peter Chung (, November 05, 2002.

Just saw Death and Rebirth. Loved it. Also checked out the audio commentary, its fun & interesting, worth the listen. Waiting on EoE...

How about that flurry of compony logos. Apparently everyone wanted in on this. Multi faceted correspondence?

-- Sam (, November 15, 2002.

"EoE is very, very male, about breaking up with your girl, destroying the planet and unleashing millions of souls in one big orgasmic blast." I'm sold!!

-- Sam (, November 15, 2002.

Just saw EoE; so so very cool. I've read 2 reviews now that apologise for letting emotions affect professional opinions; it must be love.

I sort of feel that a story, so very about living and encouraging individuality, if ultimately told by a singular individual, should be told with as much open honesty as manageable. A sense of that individual's gender would probably prevail. Maybe Eva should seem male, because Anno is male?

Perhaps the complaints sent to Anno were mostly from guys. I wonder if any girls sent death threats?

I also just caught the tail end of a documentary about Japanese teens estranged from society. A kid was interviewed: He feels unable to communicate so he doesnt go to school, sleeps during the day and stays up at night to be alone playing video games. "How disgusting"?

-- Sam (, December 15, 2002.

I recently watched the film 'Altered States'. It reminded me of 'EoE'. Actually it reminded me of several movies like that where a persons mind is ventured, Like: 'Akira', 'Jacob's Ladder' and 'Fight Club'. All of these films seem to involve a primary character whose inner world physically influences the stories outer world - mind trips I guess, we interpret their manifested interpretations. Furthermore, all of these characters strive to escape the constraints their identities impose upon them - also all male characters.

Spoilers ahead

These movies reminded me of an essay I read on 'regressive therapy', particularly because they all, through their own ways, induce regression upon that "primary character": Shinji regresses into "distrado" and becomes the tree of life. Jussup becomes an ape. Tetsuo goes prenatal, mutating into a big foetus. Jacob drops to the bottom of the primordial 'ladder' (hell). And Jack descends into a more animalistic life of violence so as to lose every thing and hit bottom (as instructed by his split personality). All of these characters come across as prisoners of their histories. Regression can be considered a means to liberation and new paths, eg. "Rebirth", "it is only after we have lost everything that we are free to do anything". Yet it is a solo process, as a form of self- healing and renewal it relies upon self reliance. All of these characters want transcendence; different ideas come across to suggest what that ultimately requires, most common that I can interpret being, the acceptance of a fundamentally co-dependent nature, be it in regards to your God or girlfriend. Although in Akira, you could say Tetsuo rejects all significant others to achieve self-cognition as his own universe therefor becoming utterly alone. (But what is the significance of his absorption of girl friend Kaori? "Kaori's pain is coming into me"). To be or not to be alone may be the message common to all of these films.

Of these movies I particularly like contrasting and comparing "Altered States" with "Jacobs Ladder". Both Jessup and Jacob's regressions are drug induced. In "Altered States" Jessup consumes "the first flower", a drug to help him achieve his goal of unlocking the brains deepest memories. He achieves pure primal satisfaction but ends up confronting the horror of void. Only after embracing the love of his partner is he able to free himself and ascend. In "Jacobs Ladder" Jacob is slipped a drug called "Ladder" by the military with the intention of unlocking his most primal combat capabilities. Amidst dying from a fatal wound, he slips into a world consisting of his memories(his world) and their coinciding pain. Jacob is able to ascend into heaven after managing to "let go" of those memories, eg. Climb the ladder. "Jacob's Ladder" is about dying. "Altered States" is about living. "Jacob's Ladder" appears to adopt a Christian stance in suggesting a better life after death. It also suggests that primal regression is a short sharp trip to hell: Jacob's drug induced primal urges keep him from easily releasing the life he knows. For example, his lusting girlfriend who attends his needs for love and sex turns out to be a demon who holds him with temptation (there is an alternate ending in which she is the final demon to overcome). In "Altered States" Jessup seems to be an atheist: “Ever since we dispensed with god we’ve got nothing but ourselves to explain this meaningless horror of life. That first self is real. And I’m going to find the fucker". Most unlike Jacob he is very eager to move on from his life and its memories. Jessup may have been questing for his own personal heaven - he admits his time spent as an ape was "the most satisfying time of his life". However his continued back-pedalling leads him to confront utter nothingness, it grows within him and he cannot bear it. His partner manages to become tainted by the void also through physically touching him. Jessup embraces her, for the first time truly accepting her love and admitting his own, thus they rescue each other from darkness - He embraces life and is saved. Jessup's quest for an alternate life leads him to nothingness. Eventually his life becomes heaven as to him the nothing is hell. Jacob resists death so as to hold onto life, only to find that his life is hell and his death is means to an alternate life, in what I assume is Heaven.

The only one of these films in which the protagonist does not end on positive grounds is EoE's Shinji. Is this because unlike all the others, he does not come to terms with his significant other? The complex journey through his inner space may have enlightened him too much about himself, but did it alienate him even further. He doesn't know Asuka like he knows himself, in retrospect he doesn’t know her much at all. To him, she is full of hatred towards everyone accept herself, she should die. Her final line, "How disgusting", is it an inditement on patriarchal society? In the final scene Shinji and Asuka could be seen as the Adam and Eve of a New World. Its as though he couldn't think of anything else to do with her.

"No man searches more passionately for a dream woman than the child who grows up motherless." -- Nandor Fodor in The Search For the Beloved

-- Sam (, February 02, 2003.

I think... whats yours is yours and whats mine is mine... he he he... stupid answer. :D

-- Jdel xXx (, October 26, 2003.

Thanks Inu. While Eva was 90% saving-the-Earth action for most of the series, the last half-dozen episodes or so and the subsequent Death and Rebirth and EoE left me totally braindead the first time I watched them. I revisited the series in hopes of getting more insight into what the heck happened, and I got tons more out of it this time around. It's just crazy how deep Evangelion delves into phsycological issues, and your essay really helped me solidify my understanding of it all. You seem to have no problems comparing Eva to other movies though, like Utena for instance. Parallel themes or not, Eva is in a class of it's own as far as being open-ended and impossible to truly grasp. Utena still resolves itself in a nice neat package, and you know exactly what message the story was intended to deliver. Eva on the other hand is a series of immages and dialogue that simply overwhelm the mind, and it's hard to immagine how even Anno could have had a full understanding of what he had put together. Well... I'm quite exhausted after my 3-day Eva marathon- it's a very tiring series to watch, given all of the deep subject matter you need to constantly stay on top of. Perhaps I'll revisit it in another year to see if I can get more out of it :)

-- Wolf (, December 07, 2004.

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