Movie Review: End of Evangelion
“The fate of destruction is also the joy of rebirth.”
Just some basic info in case people don’t know this already: Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion is the direct continuation and conclusion to the original Neon Genesis Evangelion TV series, meaning you cannot watch it without having already seen the original TV anime. This post mostly only talks about the film (hence the post title), but it does make references to the original 26-episode TV series.
Let’s not mince words here: I love this film. I love it with every fiber of my being. It’s touched me in ways I can’t really describe, and it refuses to leave me alone. I simply cannot stop thinking about it. I’ve watched it thrice in just 2 days. End of Evangelion is right up there as one of my all-time favourite films regardless of the medium in question.
End of Evangelion is a sci-fi film about the apocalypse that is the Third Impact, and also about so many more things as well. The film itself is a cinematic masterpiece – with some of the most beautiful sequences in film I’ve ever witnessed. Its combination of hauntingly beautiful imagery with some truly unique choices in audio really put EoE on an entirely different level already. Almost every shot is rich with visual parallels and motifs that emphasize the main themes of Evangelion – ideas of connecting with others, seeking out your mother’s love and guidance, humanity’s constant desire to attain perfection, love, coming of age….the film’s imagery is just so, so rich and filled with so much emotion that I found it impossible to look away from it. Of course, I was also unable to look away from some of the most disturbing images ever – the apocalypse has never been so horrifying, yet also so beautiful at the same time.
Unlike the original TV series’ use of hyper-limited animation (which created an aesthetic I did really love, even if it was excessive), End of Evangelion is beautifully animated. Its ridiculously fluid, with so much literal weight to many of the animated sequences – in particular a battle involving Asuka was so amazingly done. Every movement had so much weight to it that you could truly experience the massive scale of the battle.
I’ve seen people say that the characters don’t really ‘develop’, that Shinji’s still a ‘whiny pussy’ by the end of it, and that no one’s problems are ‘solved’, I feel the need to talk about this. Regarding the first claim, I don’t think that’s true. Shinji’s growth and revelations are not obvious, but they’re present. For the first time he makes a decision for himself, because of himself and his desire to assert his individuality, and to prove to himself the value of his own existence. He chooses to stop running away, to stop seeking this fake happiness, he chooses to face the world in all its pain and suffering that it brings him. He grows up. On to the second claim – saying that would kind of miss the point of the film’s message. By accepting to grow up and enter the world that act alone does not make the world a better place. The world still sucks. It’s about living in that world and seeking to attain happiness, being alive EVEN IF the world sucked, even if you had problems you couldn’t solve, even if people didn’t love you. The most important thing is that you continue to exist and that you continue to be yourself.
End of Evangelion is not an easy film to watch – it’s very bleak in tone despite its core messages, can be downright disturbing and uncomfortable to watch as the film often explores the human psyche and invokes a lot of personal reflection in the viewer, but its worth a try at the very least. You may not like it (especially if you don’t enjoy stories with ambiguous endings), but in my opinion it’s worth a shot for the experience alone. Perfection is highly subjective, but if there was a word to describe what I think of this film it would be ‘perfect’. It has such a beautiful message (at least the message I got) to tell its viewers, a message that Anno has come up for himself after much soul-searching and psychoanalyzing himself. It’s a film that I think truly understands humans and our desire to find meaning in our lives, and to find someone who will love us unconditionally. I think I can safely say that it has kind of changed my outlook on life.
Near the end of the film we get a strange section with live-action which I believe plays two roles. One, it represents a kind of reality where Shinji and the Evas do not exist (hence the what are dreams and what is reality dialogue that occurs during this sequence). Two, through the sequences with shots of an expectant audience presumably waiting for the film to begin, it is Anno’s attempt at getting the audience to recognize that End of Evangelion has value, because it is HIS and his alone. It represents his voice, his individuality, his own proof of existence – just like how Shinji finds his self-worth through himself.
To conclude, End of Evangelion isn’t just a film, it’s an experience. It invoked awe, it touched me deeply with its messages about self-worth and growing up, there really hasn’t been anything like it out of anything I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s a film I’m sure will stick with me for years to come and I’m so very happy to have seen it for myself.
Even in all the death and destruction, there’s still so much hope that we can still attain true happiness simply because we’re alive.
Now I want to talk a bit about some of the motifs/sequences that I adored in the film and my personal interpretations of them, so if you have yet to see it, spoiler alert!
1. Sandcastle sequence
The sandcastle sequence perfectly encapsulates Shinji’s struggles in one of the most beautiful ways possible. The swing that keeps on moving like a pendulum indicates a passing of time, the two dolls with Shinji are essentially a messed up version of Misato and Asuka. Shinji’s in a sandbox in a perfect square shape, while two symmetrical hills (they look like breasts, at least to me) lie in the background – its overt sexual imagery that seems to represent Shinji being in his mother’s vagina. He builds a perfect triangular structure shaped like the geo-front – like his constant piloting of the Eva. He breaks down from loneliness as the girls leave him (as they literally do in the series), but then starts to build the geo-front ‘sandcastle’ again. Slowly, lighting sources resembling stage lights in the background appear – we’re slowly but surely digging deeper and deeper into Shinji’s psyche.
2. The Eva as your mother’s womb, as instrumentality itself, and as a static existence that you need to shed
The Eva itself is obviously a symbol for the mother figures of the pilots (except for Rei of course, since she is technically also Yui), and the LCL is like uterine liquid. It’s no coincidence that we often see images of Shinji and Asuka in a fetal position while they are in the Eva, and the Eva is often referred to as the safest place for Shinji and Asuka to be. The Eva itself contains the souls of the two’s mothers, guiding them, protecting them, watching them…but they also need to be connected to the power source (Asuka calls it the umbilical cord for obvious reasons). Without the cord, eventually the Eva stops moving. You can never truly grow if you’re always protected by your Mother, stuck in your Mother’s womb and trapped in her comfortable, familiar warmth. You become a static existence. In fact, do you even exist at all within the womb that is the Eva? Within instrumentality? You’re free from pain and suffering, there is no ‘other’…but there is also no ‘you’. The concept of individuality does not exist. You can’t feel pain, you can’t love, you don’t even belong to yourself. Is that truly living, truly existing?
Being in an Eva is likened to being in a state of instrumentality – since we later see that instrumentality is visually represented by Rei (Yui) and Shinji literally having sex. The way the entry plug is inserted into the Eva, in a sense, the pilots are in their Mother’s womb, in another sense, they’re penetrating their Mother. It also links back to this ambiguous oedipal love the series likes to present (most obviously with Misato in the film). I’d want to say more about this, but I’m unequipped with the relevant knowledge to do so. Someone in the comments section please enlighten me?
3. The hand motif
The hand motif, to me, represents so many things, and is probably my favourite motif in the film, and in the Eva saga as a whole. The hand can represent Shinji’s desire to reach out to his father. It is also representative of his attempts (misguided as they may be) to connect with Asuka – he uses those same hands to masturbate to her comatose body, he violently chokes her; they’re all his attempts at expressing his feelings for Asuka, be it to her, or as a message to himself. The action of choking can also be seen as Shinji’s desire to stand up for himself and his individuality. It also represents a Mother (and also a lover?)’s warm, comforting touch – as Shinji rejects instrumentality, his mother Yui strokes his face as he bids her farewell. Later, he tries to choke Asuka again (I see it as him gaining agency by recognizing his personal existence as separate from Asuka), and breaks down after she gently strokes him on his cheek just like his Mother did – he’s found the forgiveness he’s been looking for.
4. Humankind’s reach for a false God, and a false unity
I see certain parallels between this film and 2001: A Space Odyssey in that they’re both about humans trying to attain perfection through creating God – the scientists in 2001 create HAL and seek to reach a penultimate end to the evolution of mankind to perfection, and NERV tries to start Third Impact to become a unified (perfect?) being.
This is an idea that I think was represented during Asuka’s fight scene with the mass-produced Evas, before shortly being stabbed by the Lance of Longinus and later disemboweled. She then loses it and in her rage, the Eva continues to reach for the mass-produced Evas. In a literal sense, it seems to represent (at least to me) humankind’s innate desire to attain everything- Unit 02 reaches out not just for the mass-produced Evas, but also for the sun (often a symbol of the higher self) and fails. It’s also kind of like a foreshadowing of the human instrumentality project that is to come, and Shinji rejecting it.
In the end, Shinji and the rest of mankind become one entity, and yet Shinji discovers no solace in this. It’s an artificial kind of happiness, and it’s running away from reality. It’s giving up personal agency, giving up your personal reason for existing to ‘become one’ with others. This bleeds in to one of End of Evangelion (and also the TV series’) core messages – to be alive, is to be yourself. And to be yourself, is to be worth something. Only you can give yourself value. It is only after you realize the intrinsic value of your own existence, can you truly begin to seek out others. To be alive, and to be yourself, your own existence, is to be able to love, even in times of suffering.
A short aside regarding the conclusion of the film: I think this conclusion can also reflect the nature of Asuka and Shinji – they’re both individuals that have suffered so much that desire nothing but completely solidarity, yet at the same time also want nothing more than to be loved and embraced by someone else. Quite ironic that Shinji, in choking Asuka, is seeking rejection, and also at the same time he is seeking love and redemption.