Sunday, September 27, 2009

Revisit Evangelion: The End

So we come to the end at last. Evangelion has not one but two of the most controversial endings of all times. The mere mention of both the TV series ending, and The End Of Evangelion are enough to send people sputtering into a rage. One’s an almost completely subjective psychological purge, the other the equivalent of burning down your house when the neighbors complain that you’re playing your music too loud.

For the record I will be reviewing both endings as separate entities. I know that a lot of fans believe that the two are merely different views on the same occurrence. But despite some overlap, I simply cannot reconcile the differences in tone. The TV show is an ending of hope the Movie is an ending of despair.

I have always been something of an apologist for the TV ending. No matter how clumsy it is I find it moving. Yes it’s little more then a stream of conscience rant, a barely coherent couch trip. And no, it doesn’t solve all the mysteries. Hell I’m not even sure what’s happening. But damn it, it’s such an honest unguarded work of art. Someone nakedly saying “This is who I am.” I can’t help but find that brave and fascinating. And if you where just here for the giant robots I can see how this would annoy. But those where always the window dressing. Make no mistake the series does end in a battle royale, it’s just instead of robots fighting monsters, existentialism’s philosophy of self determination fights to the death with the ultimate example of collective will. The real battlefield of Evangelion was always inside the character’s heads and in my opinion the ending that fight get’s here is suitably epic.

The episode begins with Shinji melting down over his inability to process killing Kaworu. From the moment it starts he’s trapped inside his own head, and as the actual apocalypse begins and the world falls down around him it just gets worse. This is where Evangelion stylistically hits it’s nadir or zenith depending on your point of view.

Showing the end of the world is easy, Anno wants to show the shifting of the entire human consciousness, not so easy. The episode is basically one long free association based montage. The characters swimming in and out of each other’s heads and neurosis, aided by an unusually haunting score. I find the bracingly abstract style, to be quite engaging. It has been known to make people tear out there eyes though so I suppose it is something of a matter of taste (And in all fairness I can see how a title card informing you of the apocalypse can be frustratingly anti climatic).

Even if it’s clumsy, and didatic, and Anno’s philosophizing comes off more as rank solipsism rather then great truth, I always find these episodes to be oddly refreshing in a literal way. I always feel good after I watch them. After the marathon of suffering that was the second half of the series, these two episodes have the feeling of a hard won victory. The oft parodied “Congratulations” truly does feel like the right thing to say. For their ambition, and openness I will always love these two episodes.

But it’s just how hard won that victory is that makes The End Of Evangelion go down so bitter.

The funny thing about EoE is it gives the fans everything they thought want in the worst possible way. That movie is practically Faustian.

You want to see Shinji to sack up and tell Asuka how he feels? Why don't you watch him do it while he wanks off over her catatonic body! Want to see SEELE and NERV throw down? Then watch this utter massacre! You want to see Misato kick alot of ass? Then watch her do it, and then get her head blown off! Want to see Asuka back out of her coma and kicking ass? Watch her get cannibalized afterwards! Want to see Eva-01 in full form? You'll get to. For um about fifteen seconds. Want to see what happens to the world after instrumentality? Well you ain't going to like it.

Honestly did a fanboy wish for this movie using the Monkey's Paw?

It really is understandable why Anno would do this. Imagine if you will that you create your opus. A piece of art that not only sums up your entire world view, philosophy and bears your soul to the world, but autobiographically summarizes your own journey from suicidal depression to self acceptance. And the response from your previously adoring masses is a general “Fuck You.” Frustration is understandable.

But just because it’s understandable doesn’t make it enjoyable. It’s hard to watch End Of Evangelion without the sour feeling that you’re watching a spoiled child break his toys with a hammer so no one else can play with them. It’s an act of cinematic petulance that has never been matched.

It’d just be churlish though to write The End Of Evangelion off. As ugly as it is, there are some true moments of brilliance scattered throughout. SEELE’s elimination of NERV (again the fact that the difference between SEELE and Gendo’s end games is never explained is the one loose end of Evangelion that’s always irked me. I’m not even sure whose ended up happening) is chilling in its brutal efficiency.

Asuka’s doomed last stand is as glorious as it is horrifying. And when Third Impact does occur it doesn’t disappoint depicted with imagery strange, appalling, and beautiful enough to be the actual apocalypse. It’s the end of the world depicted with glorious imagination, and when the world simultaneously into a sea of LCL and burning crosses it’s tough not to feel something approaching real awe.

Despite Shinji coming to more or less the same realization he came to in the TV show, the results are markedly different. Waking up in the dead world alone it just doesn’t feel right. It has moments of glory, and some of the most powerful imagery I’ve ever seen in a movie, but at the End Of Evangelion on that beach, it’s the Sex Pistols epitath that comes to mind “Ever feel like you’ve been cheated?”

The End Of Evangelion paradoxically remains a complete triumph as a work of art. And a complete failure as a work of storytelling.

TV Show Ending: A
End Of Evangelion: B

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