Forgotten Relics and a Schizophrenic Present: An Analysis of Big O

Written by Alexander Greco

August 9, 2020

Ah, yes.

Big O.

It’s been a long time coming.

Big O could’ve gone down in anime history alongside Neon Genesis Evangelion as one of the best giant mech anime of all time, and even as one of the best anime in general of all time.

However, Big O suffered not only similar flaws as Neon Genesis, but enough other of its own flaws that it is hardly even remembered (ironically). It’s a forgotten relic of the late 90’s and early 00’s: a giant robot anime that tried to fuse neo-noir Gotham-City-style action and mystery with the Modernist techno-dystopia style of movies like Metropolis, Bladerunner and Dark City.

Underlying this neo-noir, Modernist dystopia are questions of existentialism: free will, purpose, meaning, the relationship of the individual to society and the universe, the nature of being. And here, we can begin to see how Big O inevitably failed where an anime like Neon Genesis succeeded. Big O spread itself out across too many themes.

Both shows ran for 26 episodes, both were unique takes on the giant mech genre, and both were incredibly ambitious—delving into depths many “deep” anime only scratched at. The problem with Big O was that it was too scattered, too schizophrenic and too self-aware. Where Neon Genesis never felt like it was trying to be anything other than Neon Genesis, Big O felt like it was trying to be Kafka, Huxley, Orwell, Joyce, Bradbury and Asimov all at once.

Where Neon Genesis had a solid structure, a solid core to it (albeit a structure/core that was difficult to articulate at times, but was at all times clearly felt), Big O feels unstable, loose and uncertain. It’s difficult to even know how one should feel about it.

And, as one final critique, Hideaki Anno is simply a better story writer. Neon Genesis was able to wedge its characters and the central plot into our minds almost immediately, then develop the characters, plot and themes at a perfect pace (until, of course, the very end). Big O just has too much going on: too many sub-plots, too many mysteries, too many revolving-door-characters and standalone story-arcs.

The plot of NGE builds and stacks itself, like the stories of a tower, where Big O schizophrenically assembles the disparate and thinly-associated pieces of a broad puzzle. 90% of the characters appear in only one or two episodes; most individual or standalone story-arcs support the broader plot and themes, but are much more self-contained; and the philosophical themes of the story can never agree with each other on what questions they ought to be asking.

While this style of storytelling—the neo-noir, mystery/detective style of a succession of standalone plots supporting a larger plot—can work incredibly well if executed properly (such as in Cowboy Bebop), Big O was too cluttered to execute it as well as it should have been.

However, I did in fact start this analysis saying, “Big O could’ve gone down in history…” and I mean it. I want there to be no confusion here, despite my criticism, how I feel about this anime.

I love this anime.

Big O has such fucking style, such unique blends of themes and aesthetics, and such memorable, if not at times flawed, characters, plot points, scenes, settings and tone.

God, I fucking love this anime.

Big O was ambitious. In many ways, it was an homage to the science fiction, noir and modernism of the 20th century, and borrowed quite a lot from series like NGE and Batman (yes, there’s a lot of Batman in this show), but in many was its own, wholly unique show, tempered by the style and storytelling of anime.

This show is incredibly fun and unique—the robot fights, by the way, are sweet and plentiful—and the show contains quite a lot of depth to it, as well as good complexity beneath all the not-so-good complexity. And so, with the rest of this article, I will delve into the depths and attempt to come to terms with Big O.

There is a lot I won’t be able to cover. There is a lot you will simply have to experience for yourself and try to understand in your own fashion. But this analysis will hopefully provide a solid framework to understanding Big O.

If you don’t want spoilers: stop reading, go watch the short 2 seasons of Big O, and come back and read this when you’re done.

I will try to keep the initial explanation of Big O as short as I can, but, if you know Big O well enough, feel free to skip to the Literary and Structural analysis. Or, feel free to skip the next part and come back to it as a reference (or just do whatever).

Setting, History and Plot of Big O

Big O is set in Paradigm City, “a city of Amnesia”. There are a number of domes throughout the city: giant, spherical, glass-and-steel enclosures that separate the rich from the poor. The city within the domes is affluent, clean and often beautiful—the parts of cities you see on post-cards or Google-image searches—and the massive domes provide artificial skies and sunlight. The city outside the domes are run-down, dirty and bleak—the parts of cities you see when you actually drive through the cities in post-card—and are fully exposed to the “real sky”, a perpetually overcast sky where the Sun, stars and Moon are never visible.

On one side of the city is an ocean, where hundreds of drowned skyscrapers peak out from the water’s surface. On the other side of the city is a vast, desolate wasteland—a desert where even more of the city’s past is buried beneath the sand (evidenced by images of buried buildings, abandoned military outposts and even a sand-covered amusement park).

It is suggested that there is no civilization outside of Paradigm City­—no countries or other cities beyond the ocean and the desert—but there is a mysterious group known as “The Union”, led by Vera Rondstadt, who are comprised of “foreigners”. However, even the legitimacy of these people being “foreigners” is called into question.

There are a number of other factions in Paradigm City in addition to The Union, but the two most important ones are the Military Police, led by Dan Datsun, and the Paradigm Corporation, led by Alex Rosewater. The Military Police act, as the name would imply, as both the domestic police force and the military army of Paradigm City, though they are also work under Paradigm Corp as the corporation’s “watchdogs”. Paradigm Corp essentially controls or rules over Paradigm City and all the organizations and business within the city.

It is remarked at one point that a business Roger is asked to work for is controlled by a parent company, and Roger states that anytime “parent company” is mentioned, it inevitably refers to Paradigm Corp.

The nature, design and isolation of Paradigm City, the perpetually gray skies and the drowned and buried cityscape surrounding Paradigm City are all a result of the City’s past.

No one in Paradigm City can remember anything prior to 40 years ago, though there are many relics of the past—such as the titular mecha, Big O—and many citizens of Paradigm City have scattered or partial memories of the past. While these memories play a large part in the show, they are also a great mystery in the show, even after its conclusion

What we can surmise from these memories, and from revelations throughout the show, is that there was some great and likely worldwide catastrophe 40 years ago. We are shown visions of Paradigm City engulfed in flame. Giant mechas known as Megadeus, or the plural Megadei, are rampaging through the streets or flying through the skies. While there are only three individual Megadei in the show’s present time—Big O, Big Duo and Big Fau, with a number of other “Bigs” that don’ qualify as Megadei—in the memories of 40 years ago, we see vast armies of Megadei.

Hundreds of Big O mechas march through the streets, with hundreds of Big Duos flying through the sky, and at least one Big Fau. On top of this, we see a number of other “Bigs” battling the Megadei, many of which are also present throughout the contemporary story of Big O.

In addition to the Megadei, there are also human-esque androids that have survived from the past. While most of these androids are quite obviously robotic, a few of them, such as R Dorothy Wayneright (one of the main characters of the show). The existence of androids like Dorothy also calls into question who is and who isn’t an android. These androids were constructed in the past, and only a few survivors of the past apocalypse remember how to construct androids. The same goes for the Megadei—only a few people know how to construct or repair the Megadei, and even fewer know what the nature or purpose of the Megadei are.

With the past ever-looming over the present events of Big O, the plot revolves around Roger Smith, Paradigm City’s “top negotiator” (or just, “The Negotiator”) and the pilot of the Megadeus, Big O. While working for a plethora of clients throughout the City as “The Negotiator”, Roger Smith secretly pilots Big O and protects the residents of the City from various attacks and catastrophes, and slowly works to unravel the history and the secrets of Paradigm City.

Characters

Roger Smith

The protagonist of Big O is, of course, Roger Smith and his Megadeus, Big O.

Roger Smith is characterized as a sort of Bruce Wayne/Batman character: a wealthy individual who possesses an array of technology and resources, and secretly protects the city as the pilot of Big O (which could be argued is Roger Smith’s alter ego). Roger Smith as The Negotiator works outside of the various political and social forces of Paradigm City, and, as the pilot of Big O, works outside the law.

At one point in the rememberable past, Roger Smith worked as a Military Police, but left, presumably, because of the police’s connection to Paradigm Corp and the resulting corruption of the police. Nonetheless, Roger is still friends with and frequently works in tandem with one of the primary officers/commanders of the MP, Dan Datsun.

However, as the history of Paradigm City unfolds, Roger Smith’s character likewise unfolds. It is suggested that Roger Smith is a creation of the Paradigm Corporation. It is also suggested that Roger Smith was one of many “creations” of the Paradigm Corporation from the City’s past, and even, possibly, a member or associate of Paradigm City.

If one reads between the lines a bit, it may even be that Roger Smith himself is an android (and once you see it, it’s hard to unsee it). For me, this is evidenced in Roger Smith’s mannerisms and behavior throughout the show, particularly in Roger’s dialogues with Dorothy. Roger’s speech patterns, logical processes and behavior seems to mirror Dorothy’s own, much more pronounced mechanical behavior and logic.

Dorothy

Dorothy is probably the second-most primary character in the show, though her place in the show is often rivaled with Angel (who plays arguably the largest role in the show’s conclusion).

R Dorothy Wayneright is an android created by Miguel Soldano, who was commissioned to create her by the affluent Timothy Wayneright. Timothy Wayneright presumably had a now-deceased human daughter named Dorothy, whom the android Dorothy was modeled after.

The show begins with Roger saving Dorothy as a part of his contract with Soldano, learning after this that Dorothy has a “sister” who is in fact a giant mech, or Big, who Roger defeats in robot-combat. Dorothy eventually decides to stay with Roger in his mansion and work for him out of gratitude. While initially she mostly does housework alongside Roger’s butler, Norman, she begins assisting Norman with the repair and maintenance of Big O and aids Roger in his negotiation contracts and his giant robot side hustle.

You can just barely see it… but it’s there…

Dorothy is a unique android in several ways. While most androids in the city follow Asimov’s three rules of robotics, Dorothy frequently does not, particularly in her relationship with Roger (though this may be evidence of Roger’s own robotic nature). In addition to her passive aggression and, at times, blatant insults towards Roger, she begins developing a romantic attraction towards Roger, which, to the despair of Dorothy, Roger denies. This also shows that Dorothy is capable of human emotion, particularly jealousy, but she also is shown to possess other human capacities, such as fear, sadness, contempt, self-awareness, and (in one short but glorious shot) smugness.

Dorothy is also one of a few androids who appears on the surface level to be entirely human, and Dorothy has some sort of unexplained connection to Big O. On top of this, she has some sort of empathic connection to other “Bigs” and other androids or machines.  

Angel

Angel appears early on in the show, going by the alias Casseey Jones, and then later as Patricia Lovejoy. After calling herself “Angel”, Roger remarks that she is a “Fallen Angel”. Angel works for Paradigm Corp, though she seems to have her own agenda. Later, it is revealed that Angel is a part of the Union, which is a group of foreigners living outside of Paradigm City (though it is mentioned by their leader, Vera, that they were actually “cast out” of Paradigm City 40 years ago) who rebel against Paradigm Corp/City.

Angel often works either alongside Roger Smith, or at odds with Roger Smith—their motivations and agendas oscillating between allyship and conflict. However, as the show progresses, Angel and Roger seem to develop a romantic relationship, which is at odds with Dorothy’s romantic attachment to Roger (which at one point results in Dorothy’s aforementioned smugness).

It is later revealed that Angel has two scars going down her back, which is even later suggested to be where “wings” have been “cut off”. There are frequent allusions to Angel being Lucifer, or something equivalent in the story’s narrative. In the show’s conclusion, she becomes the pilot of Big Venus, the fourth Megadeus. Big Venus—Venus being an allusion to the Morningstar, being a name for Lucifer—essentially “resets” the show and returns Paradigm City to the amnesic state it was at the beginning of Big O.

Schwarzwald

Schwarzwald (“Black Forest” in German) is only an active character in a handful of episodes, but he is a major character in these episodes, and his presence is felt throughout the show—particularly in philosophical narrations permeating the show, even after his death.

Schwarzwald, born Michael Seebach, is the pilot of the Megadeus, Big Duo, and is motivated towards exposing the truth of Paradigm City’s corruption, its many secrets and its forgotten past. In addition towards this motivation, which he frequently gives manic monologues about, he seems to revere the Megadei as godly creations, or perhaps even as gods themselves (the Megadei and other Bigs as gods being a semi-frequent theme throughout the show).

Schwarzwald uses his Megadeus, Big Duo, to combat Roger Smith and Big O, but, while initially having the upper hand, is finally defeated by Roger and “dies” in the event. However, it is implied that Schwarzwald’s “ghost” may still be lingering in the City, still searching for the Truth.

Alex and Gordon Rosewater

Alex Rosewater is the leader of Paradigm Corp, the corporation in control of Paradigm City, and eventually becomes the pilot of Big Fau, the “Third Big” or third Megadeus. Alex Rosewater looks down on the poor population of Paradigm City, who reside outside the domes, and uses the Military Police to pursue his own goals, rather than for the protection of the City. Alex possesses something like a God Complex, and believes himself to be a superior Dominus to Roger Smith (“Dominus” being a term referring to the pilot of a Megadeus).

However, while Big Fau seems to be technologically superior to Big O, Alex does not seem to be as capable of a pilot as Roger and cannot maintain control over Big Fau as Roger maintains control over Big O.

Gordon Rosewater is the father of Alex Rosewater, and in some ways seems to be the ultimate “king” or patriarch of Paradigm City. He was in charge of Paradigm Corp before Alex was, and it is revealed that the construction of the contemporary Paradigm City (the domes, in particular) and the construction of androids was done under Gordon’s rule.

In the present times of Paradigm City/Corp, Gordon resides in his own personal dome where he lives on a large and beautiful farm and raises tomato crops. The tomato crops are implied to be something of a metaphor for Gordon’s creations—including the androids, “humans” such as Roger and Alex, and possibly even the Megadei themselves. After Roger Smith’s first encounter with Gordon Rosewater, Roger begins questioning if he himself “is a tomato”—a creation, crop and commodity of Gordon and Paradigm Corp.

The Megadei

While Big O and the other Megadei aren’t necessarily characters in the same sense that Roger Smith, Dorothy, Angel and so on are, they do play an integral role to the plot and history of the show, and it is frequently implied that they possess some level of sentience. The Megadei and other Bigs are also semi-frequently referred to or revered as gods.

The three primary Megadei are Big O, Big Duo and Big Fau. With frequent allusions throughout the show to Behemoth and Leviathan from Judeo-Christian myth and lore, it has been speculated that the three Megadei are partially symbolic of Behemoth, Leviathan and Ziz, Big O is entirely land-based, which would align with Behemoth, a giant land monstere; Big Duo is capable of flight, with the Ziz being a flying creature in Jewish mythology; and Big Fau is capable of maneuvering through water, with the Leviathan being a sea creature.

While typically not included in the roster of primary Megadei, there is the fourth Megadeus, Big Venus, which, as stated before, could be symbolic of Lucifer. This may also complete the metaphor of land, air and water, with Lucifer often being associated to fire (the “fourth element” of classical philosophy and alchemic writings). In the conclusion of Big O, Big Venus seems to be the force that brings an end to the current iteration of Paradigm City, resulting in the new era of Paradigm City where everyone has lost their memory once again.

In addition to the three/four primary Bigs, there are a number of other Bigs, as well as giant monsters, including (but not limited to):

– Dorothy-1, Dorothy’s Big sister

– The Archetype, a proto-Megadeus that appeared in one of the Schwarzwald

– Bonaparte, a Big controlled by the Union

– The Bigs created by Beck, various Bigs created and controlled by the recurring side character, a criminal known as Beck

– Eel and Hydra Eel, organic Bigs that utilized electricity (which appear both in the contemporary story and in memories of the past)

– Leviathan, a serpent-like mechanical Big that came from the desert

Structural and Literary Analysis

As you may have surmised from my “brief” summary of Big O, there are a lot of details and moving parts to this anime, as well as many things I didn’t mention.

I’ve only “briefly” discussed the main components of the anime, and there are single episodes that could have their own, individual analyses written over them. Just like Big O’s Big Brother, Neon Genesis, there’s too much to comprehensively discuss in one analysis, so—like I did with NGE—this analysis will be a broader exploration of the show, attempting to provide something more like a foundation or framework to understand the many individual components of the show.

Hopefully, however, this will be a shorter analysis.

First, we have to examine the setting of Big O, Paradigm City.

Paradigm City has as handful of major components: its history, its design and the ocean and desert surrounding it.

However, while the design of Paradigm City and the geography it is embedded within are meaningful, the history of the City is most important to understanding Big O.

Paradigm City is a city with amnesia. No one can remember anything about its history prior to 40 years ago, with the exception of a small number of people who can recall fragments of its past in brief glimpses.

At the conclusion of Big O, Paradigm City is essentially reset to its initial state at the beginning of Big O. The City is being rebuilt, and, presumably, none of the characters remember the events that took place throughout the anime. There are implications that Paradigm City has changed after its latest “apocalypse”, with the City still partially destroyed and Angel and Dorothy being shown together, possibly as friends or companions rather than beginning the show not knowing each other.

However, we can also presume that the state of Paradigm City at the beginning of the show was different than the state of Paradigm City prior to 40 years ago, and we can presume that history will repeat itself again.

This, in many ways, is the state of society and civilization as it is now—as it ever is, was and will be in “the now”.

While our history looms over us as an ever-present ghost, or maybe more accurately as a revenant, so much of our history is lost to us. Even the history that we can remember, the brief glimpses of the past that is recorded in our history books, is lost to most of us. We are so caught up in the tides of the present that we forget the lessons of the past.

And with this forgetting of the past, we forget our place in history. Nietzsche described Modern Humanity as begin disassociated from the rest of history, as being unmoored from its past, and so having no clear understanding of who or what they are, what their place, purpose or meaning in existence is, and no understanding of where to move on from here.

With Paradigm City’s past being so shrouded, it’s nearly impossible to understand the ongoing, historical narrative that one is a part of.

It is implied that the Megadei were created, and even mass produced, by Paradigm Corp under the rule of Gordon Rosewater, but what was their function or purpose? Why were they created and what was their function?

We don’t even necessarily know that Gordon and his intentions were evil, as his character is highly ambivalent to the plot and meaning of the show. If we don’t know what happened 40 years ago and why it happened, then how can we understand what is currently happening.

In addition, it is implied that androids, even Roger Smith androids, were created and mass produced by Gordon/Paradigm Corp. What were their purposes? Roger Smith is shown in a flashback as wearing a military uniform while piloting one of the mass produced Big O’s during the great event that resulted in the end of the previous historical era. It is also revealed that Roger Smith as The Negotiator had a contract with Gordon Rosewater prior to 40 years ago, which is contrasted to Roger’s current distrust and contempt towards Paradigm Corp. What was Roger Smith’s purpose?

And what does Roger Smith’s shrouded history say about his current purpose in the present era?

Why does Robert Smith pilot Big O? Why is he The Negotiator? Why does he disdain Paradigm Corp, and why is he constantly seeking the Truth of Paradigm City’s history?

While Schwarzwald in many ways is a foil to Roger Smith, he is also a mirrored image to Roger Smith. Just like Roger Smith, Schwarzwald seeks the Truth, battles against the perceived corruption of the City, and pilots the Megadeus, Big Duo.

Schwarzwald might in fact be the underlying or unconscious manifestation of Roger’s obsession with uncovering the secrets of the past and present, and his motivation to do good for the world. Schwarzwald is like a ghost throughout the show—a spirit that refuses to die, even after physical destruction. Schwarzwald is the manic, unconscious motivations we shroud and repress, but that still emerge from beneath our surfaces in all our beliefs, motivations and actions.

This repression, however, may be healthy. The irony of Schwarzwald’s search for the Truth is how blind he is to his own actions and decisions. Where Roger is tempered by his self-awareness and his awareness of the ethics of his actions, Schwarzwald is reckless and blind to the destruction his own pursuit of Truth and righteous vindication engender upon the innocent and down-trodden.

Here, we can find something I’ve personally been thinking quite a lot about lately: the relationship of moral values and the resulting actions and motivations.

Schwarzwald is obsessed with uncovering the Truth and executing vengeance upon Paradigm Corp/City. These are his highest values.

However, while these values are important to Roger, they are subordinated under his desire to protect the citizens of Paradigm City. Whatever Roger’s past is, whatever his purpose and role in Paradigm City was and is, he is driven by his current moral obligation to protect the City.

Roger even mentions on several occasions that he is not defined by the past—something Gordon Rosewater also mentions. Gordon at one point says that he hopes one of his creations can break free of its pre-ordained purpose or role, and decide its own fate.

Still, it is ambivalent whether this is accomplished or even possible.

Not exactly a flattering picture of ol’ Rogey

If Roger was a soldier and Megadeus pilot prior to 40 years ago, as well as a Negotiator working under Gordon Rosewater, and if Roger became a Military Police member before once again becoming The Negotiator and pilot of Big O, then has Roger simply returned to his prior role? And will he return to this role with the resetting of society?

Has and will Roger always be a soldier, Negotiator and Megadeus pilot whose role in the grand narrative of Paradigm City always been to protect the citizens of the civilization?

And one final, and quite obvious note, on Paradigm City and Paradigm Corp is the name itself, “Paradigm”.

The original and primary definition of a paradigm is as a pattern, a reoccurring set of events or circumstances, or an underlying structure.

Plato used the idea of a paradigm in his metaphysical notion of the Demiurge creating reality from a model or pattern.

Merriam-Webster defines a paradigm as “a philosophical and theoretical framework of a scientific school or discipline within which theories, laws, and generalizations and the experiments performed in support of them are formulated; broadly: a philosophical or theoretical framework of any kind.”

When speaking more cynically about a paradigm in the context of society, government, law, etc., the paradigm of a society is essentially the ruling ideology, the ruling narrative or the ruling way of thinking and being. While the definition of paradigm is a complicated one, the use of paradigm in Big O in all its complexity may be intentional.

In this way, Paradigm City may be a City of Patterns, a City of Eternal Reoccurrence. But, Paradigm City may also be referring to the ruling ideology that permeates a society or culture.

The Paradigm, on the surface, may be the oppressive and dominant paradigm of the City’s rulers and elite—the paradigm created by Alex and Gordon Rosewater. But underlying this, the Paradigm of Big O may be the cyclical pattern of history, and the cyclical pattern of roles that individuals play in that history.

Roger’s paradigm is that of protector and Negotiator—mediating between the citizens and the higher powers of Paradigm City.

In concordance with a paradigm is a paradigm shift, a revolution in the ways of thinking. While this idea of a paradigm shift originated and is used more in the sciences—with Einstein and Darwin being two of the biggest examples of people who caused a paradigm shift—the idea can be applied to nearly anything with an ideological, legal, social or philosophical framework.

In Big O, the paradigm shift is the shift in society Alex Rosewater and Vera Ronstadt both seek.

Alex Rosewater as the figurehead of Paradigm Corp seeks to cleanse the city of “undesirables” (poor people, essentially, but also foreigners and others) and create a better, more perfect world. Vera Ronstadt as the figurehead of the Union seeks to destroy Paradigm Corp and create a world that accepts the “undesirables”, and possibly even where the “undesirables” are in power.

It could be argued (though it would be a pretty reductionist argument) that these two forces and their desired paradigm shift are equivalent to the two primary political forces, particularly in Western society: Liberalism and Conservatism. However, the term “Liberal” has been somewhat bastardized as of late, so a better comparison would probably be: Progressivism and Conservatism.

At their ultimate examples, Communism and Fascism (in many ways similar, but still the hyper-products of far-left-wing and far-right-wing politics), we see direct parallels to Paradigm Corp and The Union. The Union seeks a grand levelling of a society, essentially calling for a destruction of culture where the disempowered rule, and Paradigm Corp seeks a grand cleansing of a society, essentially calling for a Holocaust of those outside the ruling culture where the empowered rule.

Shit gets very confusing in the end

Angel, who works both for Paradigm Corp and the Union, and is frequently allied with Roger Smith, sits squarely in the middle of this Paradigm Shift, and inevitably is the driver of the final Paradigm Shift resulting in a New World, or new iteration of Paradigm City. She is the pilot of the Big Venus, the Morningstar—the Lucifer or Light-Bearer of the apocalypse who brings about and oversees the final battle of the revolutionary moment.

Not only this, it is (confusingly) revealed that Angel is the daughter of Vera Ronstadt and/or Gordon Rosewater—the Matriarch of the Union and Patriarch of Paradigm Corp/City. Angel worked throughout the show on both sides, working both for Alex Rosewater and for the Union.

Very confusing

And Roger Smith is the Negotiator, the person mediating between these two political forces. Roger is both a wealthy, powerful elite himself and is the protector of the average citizen, and he ultimately stands as the savior of Paradigm City. Roger Smith mediates between the various conflicting forces of society, and, in the end, confronts Angel as the revived pilot of the Morningstar.

The destruction of society and culture is stopped, the average citizen and the down-trodden are saved, and the cycle of history begins once again.

Now, there is still more to get into here, and this is in part where Big O starts to fray.

There is still the matter of the androids—of Roger as an android/tomato—and the Megadei. While these do fit within the underlying theme of the reoccurring conflicts and the revolutions of society, they can distract from this underlying theme, both philosophically and narratively or as events/plot points in the show.

So, the androids. The androids are creations of the state, creations of Paradigm Corp. In the end of the show, there are a few moments that imply everyone might be an android, or at least that it’s impossibly to really know who is and who isn’t an android. This could mean that everyone is a product of the state—everyone is a tomato, or a crop that is grown and harvested by the ruling class of society.

Roger, for example, often goes into existential spirals wondering if he is in fact a tomato, and this, connecting back with the cyclical paradigm shifts of history, gets into a question of free will.

Free will has always been a topic that comes up with Artificial Intelligence or Robotics of any kind, and one of our biggest fears is that sentient machines will rise up against us. Maybe this is the same fear that those in the ruling class have of those they rule: they will gain a higher sentience and self-awareness, causing them to rise up against those in power.

However, free will in Big O is more nuanced and much more personal than this. It isn’t necessarily about political movements, it’s also about us as individuals. Do we have free will? Or are we pawns in the machinations of culture at large?

For Roger, are his actions free? Or is his role in society pre-ordained by history and by contemporary culture?

There’s some ambivalence here though, because perhaps having this role in society is necessary. While Roger’s actions both reset the cycles of history and return him and everyone else to a more blissfully ignorant state, he does in fact save Paradigm City—moreover, the innocent people of Paradigm City.

And, there’s even more ambivalence here. Who is actually in charge of these roles? Who is in control of the narrative? Alex Rosewater certainly isn’t in control of the narrative, or in control of the roles people play in the narrative. If he was, Angel and Roger wouldn’t have “won” (or whatever you’d call what happened).

Gordon Rosewater certainly doesn’t seem to be in control of anything by the end of the show. Vera isn’t in control. Angel isn’t in control. Roger isn’t in control.

So what is in control? What is the paradigm or source of the paradigm that pre-ordains the narratives and roles of society? Is this simply “how things are”? Is this simply how things always were and always will be?

And of course, to follow Roger’s personal desire and Gordon’s desire for his creations, will it ever be possible to break out of this paradigm?

And would we want to break out of this paradigm? What would happen if we did? What would that reality be like?

And how could we break out of this paradigm without actually being an unknowing participant in the paradigm?

Is the act of trying to break free of these pre-ordained structures, narratives and roles in fact a part of the paradigm itself? Is the act of trying to obtain free will a part of what creates, drives or perpetuates the paradigm?

And finally, the Megadei.

Borrowing a bit from my Neon Genesis analysis, the Megadei and the other Bigs can likely be seen as a number of things, but, most relevantly, the Megadei are like transcendent manifestations of various aspects or forces within the paradigm.

The Megadei and the Bigs are manifestations of the various conflicting forces, ideologies, motivations within the grand narrative of Big O.

Big O is the manifestation of Roger and Roger’s motivations:

– Big O being the “Behemoth” or land creature is “grounded” or terrestrial, rooted in the reality of everyday people and everyday existence

– Roger seeks to protect the people of Paradigm City; Big O is the ultimate protector of Paradigm City

– Roger seeks to mediate between the various forces of Paradigm City; Big O is the vehicle that meets Big Venus in the end to “compromise” on a new society or reality

– Roger seeks free will and the ability to act as his own individual; Big O is that power, or at least what gives Roger the ability to act as his own individual

Big Duo is the manifestation of Schwarzwald and Schwarzwald’s desire to seek the truth and strike vengeance on Paradigm Corp/City. Big Duo is literally “above it all”, Big Duo is capable of flight, and is capable of reaching heights that are impossible to reach for the other Megadei. Schwarzwald is also blind to his own actions, blind to what his manic ambitions to him and others. The final destruction of Big Duo flying into one of the lights at the top of the dome alludes to Icarus, and mirrors Schwarzwald’s desire to see the truth of the artificiality of Paradigm City. Schwarzwald as a ghost or spirit might be manifested in the “resurrection” of Big Duo later in the show.

Big Fau is the manifestation of Alex and Alex’s motivation. It is gaudy, it is technologically superior, and it is used to bring about the destruction of the undesirable aspects of Paradigm City. In addition, Alex throughout the show believes he is in control of everything, including Big Fau, but in the end is just a pawn himself. Big Fau acts on its own accord, and seems to control Alex more than Alex controls Big Fau.

The list goes on.

Beck’s Bigs are gaudy, useless, lack the capabilities the other Bigs have.

Bonaparte, the Big controlled by the Union, is an amalgamation of various other Bigs, just as the Union is an amalgamation of various foreigners of different backgrounds, lower class individuals from different walks of life, and even androids and human-android hybrids such as Alan Gabriel.

Big Venus is a manifestation of Angel as “the fallen angel”, as the central figure in the paradigm shift, and as the child of two conflicting political forces (the creation of God that eventually opposes God and brings about Armageddon), but also more literally as the Morningstar, as the light heralding the new day (the new day being the new cycle of history).

The Archetype is the manifestation of the unconscious and unconscious forces, but also of the past and the underlying influence the past has on the present.

The Eel, Electric City as a blue collar residence eventually used by the Union; the Construction Robot, working class hijacked by the Union; Chimera, the horrors of science; Osrail, the revenant of revenge; Eumenides, a Big used for assassination/vengeance.

The Megadei and the Bigs are all the manifestations of some grand, underlying force of society. They are a collective of individuals who share an ideology or common motivations, or they are an inevitable force of culture and society, which emerges as a grander force or active agent.

The only exception might be Big O, as Big O might be more of a manifestation of individuality itself. However, even if Big O is this manifestation of individuality (Roger the “Negotiator” being the Ego of the psyche), Big O might be a manifestation of the collective desire for individuality present in society.

And while I could go on for several thousand more words on giant robots, this is a good place to stop.

Conclusion

Big O, like its Big Brother, NGE, is a dense, complicated and opaque anime.

There’s a lot to digest, and it doesn’t give its secrets away readily.

I remember watching this show as a wee lad and being both incredibly excited by the giant robot fights and incredibly confused by everything else. But, even as a young lad, I knew there was something to this anime.

As an older lad, I still love the robot fights and am still incredibly confused by everything else, but I think less confused.

The show is definitely underrated, and I don’t think it or many other giant robot anime have been given the proper acknowledgement or understanding they deserve. The metaphors I’ve discussed, both in this analysis and the NGE analysis, of robots being manifestations of socio-cultural, individual and potentially metaphysical forces and realities are grossly under-analyzed and under-appreciated.

Still, Big O doesn’t do itself any favors.

I’ve simplified the show quite a bit, and so it might sound like I’ve got Big O pinned down, but I really don’t.

Big O feels like it contradicts itself, or that it’s confused as to what it’s trying to portray, but the show is such an elusive tangle of exposition and events at times that many of these internal contradictions and confusions are nearly impossible to even pin down.

It might simply be the execution in parts of the show, and the show did have a somewhat rocky production at times, but so did Neon Genesis—so do most shows and movies.

It could be that Big O was trying to do too much—to be too much—and that the show became too cluttered with its own aesthetics and its own ambitions.

It could also be that I’m a dull, incompetent, uncultured swine who doesn’t understand the nuances of modernist neo-noir/giant-robot/vintage-sci-fi fusion anime, and I’ve certainly taken this into consideration.

Still, I do think the best way to see where Big O went wrong is to look at where Neon Genesis went right.

Both shows are incredibly complicated, dense and opaque, rife with tangled philosophy and psychology, and both possess a large cast of complex characters.

However, Neon Genesis had a solid focal point or central plot-mover that moored the complexity of the show: the battles between Eva and Angel.

Big O doesn’t have this focal point to the same degree.

The show is about Roger Smith working as The Negotiator, and all the shenanigans he gets into. It’s also about Roger Smith protecting Paradigm City with Big O. It’s also about Roger Smith uncovering the truth of Paradigm City and its past. It’s also about Roger Smith’s conflict with Paradigm Corp and Alex Rosewater. It’s also about a lot of other things.

While Neon Genesis had many sub-plots, tangential exposition, and labyrinthian character development, the entire show, from start to finish, was focused on the Eva-Angel conflict, which, ultimately, was about the Third Impact.

The events of the past were the result of previous Impacts, the present events were the inevitable steps leading to the Third Impact, and the finale of the series was the Third Impact.

While, yes, the various focuses of Big O were all centered on the apocalypse of the previous era, and the finale of Big O was the new apocalypse that brought about the next era, these were all too disassociated from many of the events of Big O. It didn’t feel centered, and Neon Genesis was very powerfully centered on the Eva-Angel and Third Impact plot.

Maybe Big O was too opaque. Maybe it didn’t give us enough information, and the information it did give us was hand-fed and little was left to the imagination. The pieces of the puzzle were always present in Neon Genesis, and we were given the freedom to put a few of the pieces in ourselves; whereas the pieces of Big O’s puzzle were like disparate islands that eventually (kinda) came together in the end, but only by the hands of its creators.

Big O is nonetheless a terrific anime. It’s flawed, but everything is flawed.

The confusion and schizophrenic plot development of Big O might just be the confusion and schizophrenic state of modernity as it is. Big O is cluttered: life is cluttered. Big O is confusing: life is confusing. Big O is scattered, the pieces don’t all fit perfectly, and a few are missing: have you figured out life yet?

And flaws aside, when the pieces of Big O are put together, they’re absolutely brilliant. What the creators of Big O tried to do—and the things they did do—were incredible and impressive.

Flaws aside, Big O is a fun fucking anime. The setting of Paradigm City is wicked cool; the constant mystery mixed with the action mixed with the retro-modern aesthetic is A+; the characters can be a lil’ flat at times, but they’re still great and very memorable; and the giant robots and monsters are sick, bruh.

Fuck the philosophy.

Fuck the psychology.

Fuck the mythology.

Fuck the “But, what does it mean?”

Giant. Fucking. Robots.

Watch this anime.

Xander out.

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“I Kicked That Fucker into the Creek!”: An Analysis of The Blair Witch Project; OR How The Blair Witch Project is Secretly Genius

Written by Alexander Greco

August 31, 2020

The Blair Witch Project, one of a number of the 90’s death throes, has become something of a meme. It’s a low-budget horror flic written by film students in the 90’s: it was filmed in 8 days, the entire script was improvised with almost no retakes, 80% of the movie is three people walking through the woods, and we never actually see the “villain” of the film (the mysterious Blair Witch). The Blair Witch Project has often been epitomized as the quintessential cheap, shitty, b-horror film. However, a less cynical and more appreciative mind might find this film to be quite enjoyable, and possibly even far more intelligent and intelligently created than it’s ever been given credit.

While I could spend this article exploring why The Blair Witch Project is an example of impressive cinematographic ingenuity on the part of its amateur cast and crew, and how it influenced countless films after its release, this has been discussed at length in the 21 years since Blair Witch’s release. What I’d rather talk about is the overlooked genius of the film that I doubt anyone has ever realized—possibly not even by the creators. The horror of The Blair Witch Project is being lost in the wilderness, stalked by unknown, unseen forces, with no map to help you return home—the genius of The Blair Witch Project is that this horror reflects one of the underlying horrors of modernity.

I was conceived and born smack-dab in the middle of the 90’s (~June 1995 – March 1996). The first birthday I remember was my third birthday, which would have been in 1999 (which would have been 3 months before The Blair Witch Project was released). I also remember my fourth birthday in March 2000, my fifth birthday in March 2001, and the collapse of the World Trade Center in September 2001.

It would be over a decade before I realized the 9-11 attacks were precipitated in part by the military actions of the US during the decade I had been born. It would be almost another decade later before I would really appreciate that the events that had precipitated 9-11 were precipitated by a vast number of prior events, which had been precipitated by an even vaster number of prior events, which had been precipitated by a nearly infinite gulf of prior history, which all create a continuum of history that resulted in our current state of society and reality, along which 9-11 happened.

The 90’s were something like a pivot point, both culturally and historically. Long-held traditions were, for many, little more than a joke at this point. A sense of Nationalism had in large part been disintegrated in America and across the world—a phenomenon that seemed to have begun post-WW2 and, in America, after the death of JFK and the rise of Hippie, Punk and other underground movements.

By the time of the 90’s, so little was genuine anymore—if it ever had been. Everything was cartoons and sitcoms, everything was commercial breaks and advertisements, everything was playing pretend, ignoring foreign wars, ignoring drug epidemics, ignoring government and economic corruption. Or, conversely, everything was Rage Against the Machine, but there was only Rage and the Machine, and no Against: no action. Now, even Zach de la Rocha has sold out, with “the Machine” providing him a net worth of 30 million dollars, despite still “Raging” about the broken system to sold-out shows.

So few things by the 90’s were genuine—no genuine wars, no genuine political movements, no genuine arts—and the things that were “genuine”, like the Grunge movement, were, with some exception, hopelessly cynical. This was because the only things that could be genuine, other than, perhaps, science, were the cynical things that shed light on the disingenuous nature of contemporary humanity.

No one really knew who they were anymore. As individuals, and as a society—possibly even as a species. Then, in 2001, 9-11 happened. The world watched in quiet shock as the World Trade Center collapsed in the middle of New York City—the crown jewel of America—and we still don’t know what this event even means for us.

We’re still living in the post 9-11 era, still stumbling from the aftershocks of that massive quake. We can’t agree on whether or not the resulting war was justified or even worth the effort. We can’t agree on the motivations of the aggressors and their allies. We can’t even agree on whether or not our own government was involved in the attacks of 9-11.

And now, we live in a world that seems entirely disingenuous, beyond what it was before. With social media, with ideological tribalism, with all facets of information and sense-making from all angles coming into question and under attack, with the inability to agree on the facts and “facts” of reality, we can’t even agree on what reality is. Who among us even can tell what reality is anymore?

We can’t agree on a common narrative. We can’t agree on what our various narratives even mean or signify. We can’t agree on what is meaningful, what is moral, what is true—or even what it means for something to be true, or if it is even possible for something to be “true” (whatever “true” might mean).

We are living in a chaotic time, with existential threats standing all around us like specters at a deathbed, and we’ve lost all ability to even understand what is happening. We don’t know what is going on around us, we don’t know who we are, and we don’t know where we are.

And this brings us back to The Blair Witch Project.

Blair Witch was developed throughout the 90’s and released right at the end of the decade, in ’99.

The entire movie was filmed as if it was an amateur documentary—a mockumentary, or a pretend documentary. It depicts three individuals—Heather Donahue (Heather), Michael C. Williams (Mike), and Joshua Leonard (Josh)—going to the small town of Burkittsville, Maryland to investigate the legend of the Blair Witch. After interviewing a variety of townsfolk, the trio embarks into the woods north of the town, where the Blair Witch is said to live.

As a quick aside, the names of the three characters are actually the names of the real-life (“real-life”) actors who play these characters.

Intending to stay in the woods overnight and return to civilization the next day, the trio ends up getting lost in the woods. While lost in the woods, they find strange things, such as piles of stones in a small clearing and sculptures or perhaps totems made from branches and vines that are hanging in trees. At night, they hear strange sounds coming from the woods and are even attacked at one point while trying to sleep in their tent.

In the end, Josh goes missing, and then Heather and Mike find an abandoned house, where they presumably meet their demise (though their demise is not seen).

Ironically, the best shot of the map in the entire movie is when Mike is holding it.

Throughout the movie, Heather relies on a map to guide them through the forest, though Mike does not trust Heather’s navigation skills, and Mike does not trust the map itself. However, Heather wakes up one morning to find that the map is missing. Josh blames Heather for losing the map, and Heather questions whether or not Josh or Mike took the map as a joke. We later find out that Mike actually took the map and essentially destroyed it, laughing as he tells Josh and Heather:

“…I kicked that fucking map into the creek yesterday. It was useless! I kicked that fucker into the creek!”

Heather and Josh are rightfully indignant, and the movie from this point on takes on a markedly nihilistic and dread-filled tone. At this point, they are lost in the forest, they are being stalked by unknown forces in an uncivilized pocket of nature, and they have no map to return home.

And this is both the central horror and the central theme of the story.

Blindly wandering through the wilderness, stalked by unknown, unknowable forces beyond our control, without any useful form of navigation.

Now, there is one more important aspect of the movie that must be brought to light here: the filming of the movie itself.

The entire film, as I mentioned earlier, is supposed to be shot as if it were a documentary, giving it a Gonzo style of film (meaning the one filming the movie is also an actor, and the fact that the film is being shot is an element of the film itself). The entire film is shot from cameras the characters/actors are holding, which is constantly made obvious or relevant by the character referencing or interacting with their film equipment.

While this is important, obviously, to the horror of the movie—giving the movie it’s “real” quality, where the horror is that the movie is supposed to a depiction of reality—it is even more important to the underlying themes of the movie.

The film we watch is not in fact reality, it is a representation of reality, and it is a filtered representation of reality. This is made explicit in the film when Josh tells Heather:

“I see why you like this video camera so much. […] It’s not quite reality. […] No, but it’s totally like a filtered reality, man. It’s like you can pretend everything’s not quite the way it is.”

Now, we can begin breaking down some of the major components of the film: the map, the wilderness, the camera and the witch.

The map that Heather uses is their symbolic representation of reality. The map is not reality, but it is a symbolic depiction of reality, signifying the geography of reality, that is used to navigate that reality.

That reality is the wilderness, and the wilderness is symbolic of the true nature of the world we exist in: the world in-and-of-itself, as it is outside of our representation. If you look at a cellphone, you see the cellphone as what your brain decides it is. The cellphone is an object—an incredibly complex object—designed, primarily (or at least initially) to communicate with other people who have an object that can communicate with your object. That is our “map” of the cellphone. However, a cellphone is also an object made out of plastic, metal, glass and other materials, arranged by humans in a specific pattern to achieve its desired outcome.

However, these components of a cellphone are things that are only signified by our words, which have an agreed upon definition. These material components are only known to us as they are (these materials as such) in an incomplete way through science, or through Empiricism. We can never completely understand, know, perceive, etc. these material components because we can only experience them as external stimuli that have been filtered through our knowledge structures and our personal, subjective experience (more complexly, through our neurological structures, but we won’t get into that).

The wilderness is this primary reality—the true, actual reality that we exist within, but that we can only partially experience and imperfectly represent.

And this brings us to the cameras used in the film. These cameras are our knowledge structures and our subjective experience. They are the lens, the filter, and the mechanism by which we perceive reality. The camera is both our neurological mechanism representing reality—our imperfect capabilities of perceiving the wilderness we live in—and it is the knowledge structure of our society—the camera literally being an invention of modern humans.

Finally, the Blair Witch her/itself. The Blair Witch is a bit more complicated. Mythologically, we can connect the Witch to the Occult, most commonly thought of as Pagan or Satanic practices (though “Satanic” is usually a reactionary description of witchcraft). More deeply, the Witch can be connected to Nature—a priestess of the wilderness. She is the invoker of Nature, of the Wild, of the ambivalence of reality—both one who can heal and one who can curse, one who invokes the growth and life of nature and the destruction and cruelty of nature, and one who lives outside the scope and structure of civilization.

If we combine these two—Nature, or the wilderness and the occult—we get a “clearer” picture of the Blair Witch. “Occult” actually means “hidden” or “secretive”—that which is esoteric, unknown or unknowable. “Occult” practices were not “Satanic” practices, as they are often represented, but in fact practices meant to invoke “hidden” forces or discover “secret” knowledge. But the Blair Witch is also an entity which lives in the depths of the wilderness, far removed from society, who exists within and as a part of the forces of the unknown that we fear and cannot understand.

She might in fact be a symbol of this wilderness—a personified representation or manifestation of the wilderness.

We never see the Blair Witch: she is in fact the Occult—the unseen, the elusive, the hidden, the unknown and unknowable. She cannot be represented by our cameras—our subjective experience and our cultural knowledge structures.

To summarize these:

The map is the representation of reality.

The wilderness is that reality (reality in and of itself).

The camera is the lens of knowledge structures and subjective experience we view reality through.

The Blair Witch is the personified embodiment of the wilderness, or the personified embodiment of that which cannot be truly seen or understood.

Now, to bring these together.

On the surface, The Blair Witch Project is about three film students attempting to investigate the Blair Witch, and end up getting lost in the wilderness after their map is destroyed. They are stalked and eventually killed (presumably, we don’t know actually know) by the very thing they are investigating, the Blair Witch.

However, if we take the deeper analysis of the various aspects of the film, The Blair Witch Project is about individuals attempting to understand and represent the wilderness of reality in and of itself. While exploring the depths of reality, they find that their representation of reality does not adequately describe the world they live in. Their representation of reality is destroyed, and the three try to escape the reality they no longer understand and return to a reality they do understand. However, they ultimately meet their demise by the forces of the unknown and unknowable.

This demise could represent a few things. The death of these three individuals might be the death of their knowledge structures. They perceived reality with their pre-created representation of it (their map), and this representation was destroyed. As they attempted to flee the wilderness of reality and the overwhelming horrors of existing in a reality they don’t understand, they inevitably were lost inside this wilderness and could not return to the society they once existed in. They themselves might not have died physically, but the framework they represented the world with collapsed, and so it was impossible now to escape the wilderness of reality.

Now, to bring this back to the actual state of society as it is now and as it was when this film was created, I’m going to tie in the postmodern philosopher, Jean Baudrillard, and his book, Simulacra and Simulation.

Now, postmodernism is a somewhat controversial collection of philosophies, and I myself have a few issues with some of the tenants of these philosophies, but they raise a number or important issues about humanity and the knowledge structures of humanity that are certainly worth discussing. These issues may even be at the core, or at least a portion of the core, of the current predicaments of society.

The central tensions of Postmodernism could be characterized as a criticism of our representation of reality—though there is admittedly quite a lot of nuance in the Postmodernist philosophies and one ought to simplify Postmodernism with caution. Since our beliefs and how we act within reality and society is determined by our representation of reality, Postmodernism is also a criticism of our beliefs and our actions.

Jean Baudrillard’s primary contention in Simulacra and Simulation follows this core concept of criticizing how we represent reality.

The first two paragraphs of Simulacra and Simulation go as follows:

“If once we were able to view the Borges fable in which the cartographers of the Empire draw up a map so detailed that it ends up covering the territory exactly (the decline of the Empire witnesses the fraying of this map, little by little, and its fall into ruins, though some shreds are still discernible in the deserts – the metaphysical beauty of this ruined abstraction testifying to a pride equal to the Empire and rotting like a carcass, returning to the substance of the soil, a bit as the double ends by being confused with the real through aging) – as the most beautiful allegory of simulation, this fable has now come full circle for us, and possesses nothing but the discrete charm of second-order simulacra.

“Today abstraction is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror, or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being, or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal. The territory no longer precedes the map, nor does it survive it. It is nevertheless the map that precedes the territory – precession of simulacra – that engenders the territory, and if one must return to the fable, today it is the territory whose shreds slowly rot across the extent of the map. It is the real, and not the map, whose vestiges persist here and there in the deserts that are no longer those of the Empire, but ours. The desert of the real itself.”

Now, in the text following this, Baudrillard immediately contradicts everything he just says, adding to the opacity of Baudrillard’s writing, and means that quoting Baudrillard and referencing his work can be a bit perilous, but this quote will do.

To simplify what Baudrillard is saying here, we have a socially/culturally “agreed-upon” representation of reality (the map), and the map represents what we believe to be reality (the territory). Now, as what we believe to be reality erodes (the territory), so too does our representation of reality (the map). What we are left with is the “The desert of the real itself”, which parallels the wilderness of Blair Witch.

Baudrillard goes on throughout his book to use his metaphor of the desert-territory-map to analyze and critique a number of things, including (put simply) the disingenuous state of “reality” as the map and territory—leaving the desert as a blank, ungraspable truth beneath the map and territory.

However, here I would say that the Blair Witch’s forest—the wilderness—is a better representation of “the real itself”. The “real” is not an empty, desolate void, but an incredibly complex and dense tangle of existence. The problem of contending with “the real” is not that it is an empty wasteland, but, quite the opposite, that it is an infinitely complex landscape of objects, information, perceptions, interpretations, morals and decisions.

While Baudrillard simplifies the reality that exists beneath, or perhaps outside, our representation of reality, Blair Witch shows us this reality for all of its infinite complexity.

Nonetheless, the parallel metaphors paired together give us, ironically, an accurate representation of our current state of being.

This is the state of reality we find ourselves in today—the state, you could say, that was in the process of either being created or destroyed by the time the 90’s rolled around.

Currently, we are all blindly stumbling through a wilderness. The territory we reside within is crumbling, and, with it, so too crumbles our map. We do not understand and cannot adequately represent reality, and so our actions are all either ignorant fumblings or self-destructive collapsings.

Blair Witch can be seen as a commentary on this state of reality.

There is a major ambiguity in Blair Witch that is important to explore here.

The trio seemed to be lost in the woods even before Mike “kicked that fucker into the creek”. Despite Heather reassuring Mike and Josh that she could read the map, and that she knew exactly where they were and where they were going, the three of them couldn’t find their way out of the woods, even while Heather possessed the map.

The three different characters each had their own beliefs as to why they were lost. Heather thought they were lost because they lost the map. Josh thought they were lost because he didn’t think Heather knew how to read the map. Mike thought they were lost because the map itself was inherently useless or flawed.

So, following the three different beliefs of the three different characters, we as a society might be in our current state of confusion for three different reasons:

– We’ve lost the map / Our representation of reality is accurate and decipherable, but it was destroyed

– We are incapable of deciphering the map / Our representation of reality is accurate, but it cannot be deciphered

– We never had an accurate map to begin with / Our representation of reality was never accurate to begin with, so, rather than attempt deciphering it, the map ought to be destroyed

Whose interpretation of the situation is correct?

These interpretations and the question of which one is correct can be transferred to our current state of society and our current relationship with reality.

Do we / Did we have an accurate map of reality, but our map is being destroyed, and this is how we arrived at where we now are?

This would be a nihilism aimed at the actions of fellow humans.

Is our map of reality accurate, but the map is impossible to decipher by us, and so we cannot agree on what the map depicts?

This would be a nihilism aimed at the ignorance of fellow humans.

Is our map actually inaccurate, and so any attempt at contending with reality using our representation is inevitably worthless?

This would be a nihilism aimed at the nature of humanity and the state of reality itself.

And lets look at how the characters of Blair Witch were “picked off” throughout the end of the movie, in the order that these events happened.

First, Josh went missing. His voice could still be heard in the wilderness, and Heather and Mike still tried to save him, but he couldn’t be found, and the search for Josh inevitably led to the demise of both Heather and Mike.

We didn’t lose faith in humanity’s ability to contend with reality, but we lost faith in our ability to comprehend reality.

Second, Heather finds Mike staring into the corner of the room. Mike went to the basement of reality, to the darkest pit of the witch’s lair (to the darkest pit of the unknown and unknowable), hoping that salvation was still possible even without a map, and succumbed to a motionless apathy.

We stopped believing that it was in fact possible to contend with reality.

Finally, Heather drops the camera she is holding (her entire subjective experience/knowledge structure falls) and the movie ends. Heather finds that she has lost both Josh and Mike to the Blair Witch, and, in her presumed demise, lets go of all attempts to perceive or even experience reality (self-destruction, possibly to the point of suicide).

We stopped believing in humanity itself.

2 years, 7 months and 20 days after The Blair Witch Project was released at the ’99 Sundance Film Festival, the whole world, my 5-year-old self included, watched the Twin Towers fall.

Almost 10 years after 9-11, we still can’t agree on why it happened, we still can’t agree what happened that day, we still can’t agree how we should have reacted to what happened, and we still can’t agree on the state of reality as it was and as it is now.

Who are our enemies? Who are our allies? Where are we? What is our civilization? Why are we where we are right now? What do we do? How do we do it? Why do we do it?

With our map destroyed, how do we move on?

With our faith in our knowledge, our perception, our structures and even our fellow humans crumbling in our hands, what do we do next?

The only thing I can say we do is salvage what we still have—which I would say is quite a lot more than what many people suspect—reinvigorate and reconstruct our knowledge structures and our social systems, and regain faith in humanity.

Perhaps it is good for portions of our structures and systems to be torn down, but, with them, there is much that ought not to be torn down, and in the wake of these structures’ collapse, there must be better, stronger, truer, more genuine structures that are erected.

We have to create better maps—maps that do accurately represent the reality we live in; we have to grow as people, as individuals—so that we can create these better maps, interpret these maps and act appropriately by these maps; and we have to maintain our faith in fellow humans—maintain faith that we can understand reality, that we can trust other people, and that there is a way out of the wilderness.

There is nothing else we can do, except stumble into our own self-destruction and be devoured by the wilderness manifested by our actions and our disintegrating humanity.

We can emerge from this wilderness alive.

The Blair Witch Project may go down as a b-movie horror flic that grossed an impressively large amount of money and inspired two decades of b-movie horror flics in its wake.

However, I think Blair Witch represents a deep aspect of the society it emerged from, and ought to be remembered as such.

Not only should it be remembered as a film that quite profoundly represents one of the many horrors of modernity, how it represents this ought to be remembered.

Someone who excels at their given craft can engineer beautiful, thought-provoking creations with that craft.

Someone who can take their craft to the next level can use the aspects of their creations, in-and-of-themselves, to communicate meaning.

With a writer like James Joyce, meaning is not only conveyed with the plot and characters, but meaning is also conveyed with sentence structure, paragraph placement and with language itself (rather than the meanings of specific words used in that language). With the abstract movements of modern art, the elements of art are broken down to their constituent elements (color, tone, form, shape, line, etc.), and these elements are the focus or the subject of the art, rather than the elements that create the focus or subject.

With film, David Lynch might be the most well-known example of someone who can make the elements of cinematography themselves to communicate meaning. It isn’t only that the camera angle helps the subject of the film communicate meaning, or that the words of the dialogue are all that is communicating meaning, or even that the events of the movie contribute only to the meaning derived from plot and character arc. All of these elements in a David Lynch film not only help the subjects of the film communicate meaning, but the elements themselves are meaningful and communicate meaning.

With The Blair Witch Project, while much of the meaning is communicated in what is being communicated through the subject of the film—three students lost in the woods, stalked by an unknown and unknowable force—meaning is also communicated in how the subject is depicted to us. It isn’t just the tribulations of three people trying to survive in and escape from the woods, it’s that we see these tribulations through the lenses of their perceptions and knowledge structures.

The documentary intended to investigate and depict the legend—the narrative or modern representation—of the Blair Witch devolves into the last record of three people’s lives. The representation of the film begins as an attempt at objectivity—investigative journalism or documentarianism—with this lens of modern society and civilization, but the documentary falls apart and gives way to fear, dread and hopelessness.

The lens of modernity gives way to the survival of humanity amidst the wilderness of reality.

Remember this movie not as a strange novelty that emerged at the tail end of the 20th century, but as a misunderstood representation of the historic pivoting we currently find ourselves stumbling through.

An Analysis of Dark: How to Write a Good Soap Opera

Written By Alexander Greco

August 19, 2020

I recently finished watching Netflix’s first German series, Dark, a sci-fi drama set in Winden, Germany. Dark is not only a rather philosophical show that delves into questions on human nature, morality, the philosophy of time and the nature of reality, but it is an incredibly well written show with a narrative that stands on the knife’s edge of complexity and cohesion.

While there’s much about the underlying philosophical themes I want to discuss in other articles in this article I want to focus on the narrative structure of Dark. It is an impressively complex show that manages to keep its storyline and character arcs cohesive, without any glaring plot holes or (with some exceptions) lazy writing.

However, in tangent, I also want to discuss something that has been interesting me for a few years now. The adoption of soap opera narrative structures into “non soap opera” genres.

Why? Because Dark was essentially a short and sweet soap opera involving time travel, parallel realities and philosophical and moral quandaries.

How to Write a Good Soap Opera

It was Game of Thrones that made me realize the vast majority of televised media is either mindless hypno-spirals or glorified soap operas. For anyone who isn’t already disappointed with Game of Thrones, it’s just a soap opera with swords, dragons and incest. Similarly, The Walking Dead is a soap opera about zombies and homeless people, and Breaking Bad is a soap opera about meth addicts and cancer patients.

Now, while the term “soap opera” can be a bit of a pejorative for those of us who aren’t fans of Days of Our Lives, being a soap opera isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Among the soap operas out there, some are good soap operas. Game of Thrones, for example, wasn’t bad. Until it was. Soap, a parody of soap operas (though, still essentially a soap opera), was a surprisingly good show. Among these not-bad soap operas are a few really good soap operas.

But what makes something a soap opera?

A soap opera is essentially an episodic, televised narrative with long story and character arcs, which are typically the focus of the show. We are given a stable, or at least semi-stable, ensemble cast of characters, each with their own unique circumstances, motivations, problems and goals.

While the problems of the characters may be interwoven, their goals and motivations either convergent or at odds, and their circumstances tangential, they are all fully-developed and dynamic characters, and each character typically has their own developed story arc.

The plot arcs of soap operas can span over several episodes, an entire season, or an entire series. An issue can be presented at the beginning of a series that isn’t resolved until the end of a series, or is never resolved at all. That problem might even morph into other problems as the series progresses, creating a train of causal story arcs like a line of dominoes.

Not only this, there can be a multitude of these domino chains going on at once, and usually there are. With each character possessing unique long-standing problems or goals, each character will have their own series of major plot events. On top of this, each character may have more than one plot or story arc, or sub-arcs related to major arcs—or, their arcs may, and usually inevitably will, overlap or interweave with other characters’ arcs. This soap opera style narrative is really nothing but unending drama.

I will never understand the fascination.

Part of the intention of a soap opera is to end each episode leaving viewers wanting more. Each episode ends with a cliff hanger, some sort of big reveal, or a twist. There is no finality to a soap opera, there is only a continual tipping of dominoes. That’s why shows like Days of Our Lives have been on air for ridiculously long spans of time (50+ years).

However, the tropes and narrative style of a typical soap opera, which usually has pretty distinct aesthetics and subject matter as opposed to “non soap operas”, can be applied to “non soap opera” shows.

So then, the term “soap opera” might be better referred to as “longform drama” or “longform dramatic narrative”. It is a style of narrative that is not only designed to span chronologically over long breadths of time, but also to delve deeply into each character’s story arcs and growth, and it is a style of narrative designed to constantly engage the viewer with new developments that will not immediately be resolved.

This skeleton of longform narrative can then be applied to stories that aren’t typical daytime dramas. This is how you get aforementioned shows like Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, or Game of Thrones. A lot of not-much-but-seems-important happens over the span of several hour-long episodes, and yet we are still thoroughly engaged with whatever is happening in the show.

The issue that can happen with these longform narratives is that they aren’t designed to end. They are designed to keep going, to add more drama and tension and side-stories and plot twists and Jimmy gets Angie pregnant, and how will so-and-so escape the zombies, and what happens now that so-and-so #2 gets shot by the mean drug dealer, and how will Daenerys save her dragon, but wait, there’s more, and so on and so forth, ad infinitum…

How do you end a show that isn’t designed to end? You end it quickly.

You either die with millions on the edge of their seat, or you live to see yourself become a stumbling disappointment. Or, somehow, you keep bored, pill-popping wino-housewives coming back for more, week after week. Month after month. Year after year. Decade after decade. Ad infinitum.

Breaking Bad did it right. 5 seasons. Near perfect story and character arcs, in keeping with the underlying moral themes of the show. Doesn’t overstay its welcome, leaves before it’s unwanted, and gets carried out on its shield like a G. Game of Thrones did it right, until they didn’t. And then, boy, did they not do it right. And, as much as I love Negan, Walking Dead should’ve died with Shane.

Wanna know who did stick the landing? Wanna know who didn’t overstay their welcome and who crafted a brilliant story while they were at it? Dark.

Dark, The SoapTime Continuum Opera

Dark used this narrative style—“soap opera” or “longform dramatic narrative”—almost perfectly, and caps off the series at season 3. Not only does Dark masterfully employ the soap opera narrative structure to a T, it goes beyond what the original masters of the art had ever imagined, with story arcs that span across future and present timelines, as well as parallel universes. Dark has transcended the original art of soap opera writing into something truly grand and beautiful.

On top of this, Dark escaped the downward spiral of good drama by knowing not only when to stop, but how to stop—how to stick the landing like a champ.

The story begins by introducing us to the lives of various characters and showing us their relationships to each other. There four primary families whom the show revolves around: the Nielsens, the Kahnwalds, the Tiedemanns and the Dopplers.

In the Nielsen family, Ulrich and Katharina Nielsen, and their children, Magnus, Martha and Mikkel.

In the Kahnwald family, there is Hannah and Michael Kahnwald, and their son, Jonas Kahnwald.

In the Tiedemann family, there is Aleksander and Regina Tiedemann, and their son, Bartosz.

In the Doppler family, there is Peter and Charlotte Doppler, and their children, Elisabeth and Franziska.

Left to Right: Jonas, Martha, Bartosz

The show begins with Michael Kahnwald committing suicide. Jonas Kahnwald goes to a psychiatric ward for two months, and returns to find that his best friend, Bartosz, is dating is love interest, Martha. At the same time, Ulrich Nielsen is cheating on Katharina with Jonas’s mom, Hannah.

We find out that a teenage drug dealer named Erik Obendorf has gone missing, and this has raised alarm across the town of Winden. Ulrich, a police officer, is one of man who are searching for Erik, along with Charlotte Doppler, the chief of police/Ulrich’s boss. Charlotte’s daughter, Elisabeth, is deaf, and Charlotte’s other daughter, Franziska, is developing a romantic relationship with Magnus, Ulrich’s son.

At the same time, Charlotte is having tension with her husband, Peter Doppler. In later episodes, we find out this is because Peter cheated on her with a transgender prostitute named Bernadette. Also, Peter’s father/Charlotte’s father-in-law, Helge Doppler, who seems to be senile to some degree, begins ranting about how “it’s all happening again” or “it’s going to happen again.

This indirectly ties back to how Ulrich’s brother, Mads Nielsen, mysteriously disappeared in 1986, just how Erik disappeared, and Ulrich, among others, frequently questions if these events are somehow connected.

On top of this, Aleksander Tiedemann, Bartosz’s father, mentions that Winden’s nuclear power plant—which Aleksander runs—will soon be closing down, and also mentions that he’s been working there for 33 years (since 1986). Aleksander’s wife, Regina, co-owns a hotel with her husband which is currently going out of business because no one wants to visit a town where a child has gone missing.

Then, at the end of episode 1, Mikkel (one of the Nielsen children) goes missing.

Boom!

What a way to start a show—that’s episode 1 (mostly)—and if that doesn’t sound like the pilot of a soap opera, I don’t know what would.

From here, the show is focused on the disappearance of Mikkel. Everyone in the town is now searching for two children. Charlotte Doppler now has to organize searches for Mikkel. Ulrich begins investigating Aleksander Tiedemann, who runs Winden’s nuclear power plant, which is near where Mikkel went missing.

In addition, tensions begin to build between all the characters, and every scene in the episodes after Mikkel disappears further develops the drama and the relationships established in the first episode (or, in some cases, proceeding episodes).

Ulrich stops seeing Hannah because he is focused on finding his missing son, but Hannah strongly desires Ulrich.

Hannah begins resenting Ulrich, while at the same time Katharina begins suspecting Ulrich of being unfaithful.

Ulrich also begins suspecting Erik’s father, Jurgen Obendorf, of being involved in Mikkel’s disappearance, because Jurgen works for Aleksander Tiedemann and at the nuclear plant (which is near where Mikkel went missing).

Magnus still is interested in Franziska, but is also angry at her because she was in the woods where Mikkel went missing the night of his disappearance.

Peter Doppler begins acting strange and emotional after the disappearance of Mikkel and the discovery of another child’s body, though we don’t know why.

We find out that Helge used to work at the power plant in 1986 (around the time Mads disappeared).

Martha begins distancing herself from Bartosz while trying to get closer to Mikkel.

This and more are all developed throughout the first season of the show, amidst the turmoil of searching for Mikkel.

However, in the third episode, it is revealed that Mikkel has travelled back in time to 1986 (the same year Ulrich’s younger brother went missing).

And here, the primary subject matter of the show is kicked off.

The show, really, is primarily focused on the plotlines associated with time travel (and eventually travel across parallel dimensions).

So now, we have three layers of the show:

  • Drama and relationships
  • Disappearance of Mikkel
  • Time Travel

But then, because of Time Travel, even more layers of the show are revealed.

And here is where the writers of Dark began to seriously impress me.

Because Mikkel travels back to 1986, and we begin witnessing events that occur while Mikkel is in 1986 Winden, a whole new layer of drama is created. We get to witness not only the drama and relationships of Winden in 2019, but also the drama and relationships of Winden in 1986.

On top of that, because we are witnessing events of the past, many of which involve characters in “present-day” Winden (Ulrich, Katharina, Regina, Hanna, Helge Doppler, Charlotte, etc.), we witness events that will eventually shape the future.

80’s Katharina and Ulrich

So, there are now two timelines going on. There is the 1986 timeline, where the future adults are high-schoolers, and the 2019 timeline, where the teenagers of 1986 are adults, and their children are now high-schoolers.

The 1986 timeline, while slightly simpler (in the beginning) than the 2019 timeline, still maintains a level of depth and dimensionality comparable to the 2019 timeline. There are complex relationships between characters, there are dramas, there are tensions, and there are major, impactful plot points. In addition, the 1986 plot-line informs the 2019 plot-line, so that what we know about 2019 is altered by 1986. In addition, the 2019 plot-line also informs the 1986 plot-line so that what happens in the “present” timeline informs us about characters and events in the “past” timeline.

If you don’t know how difficult this would be to write—and difficult to write with as many interesting, dynamic/3-dimensional characters and with as many intriguing, engaging plot points as Dark has—go try it for yourself. Give it shot.

Just try to write as good of a show or narrative with one longform narrative, and then try to write a parallel yet chronologically distinct narrative that is as complex and engaging, and maintains the narrative integrity of the other timeline (no plot holes), and informs us on the characters and events of the other timeline.

On top of this, there is an entire, mysterious sub-narrative involving mysterious figures that have come to Winden, and it is slowly revealed how they are connected to time travel and the missing children.

There’s two super-narratives or timelines going on—the 1986 narrative and the 2019 narrative. For each super-narrative, there’s close to a dozen characters with individual narratives, which all interweave and co-develop each other’s character and narrative. And then, these dozens of narratives inform the narratives of the other super-narrative and the individuals of that super-narrative. And then, there’s a sub-narrative that slowly begins developing even deeper implications about the show, the show’s plot and the characters of the show.

Now, here, I’ve only really discussed events that have happened in the first season, so I wouldn’t really call them spoilers. However, if you haven’t watched beyond the first season, or haven’t watched the show at all, here there be spoilers.

At the end of season 1, it is revealed that the future of Winden (circa 2052) is a dystopian. So now, a third timeline is created.

Throughout season 2, not only are the 1986/1987 and 2019/2020 timelines developed, but so is the 2052/2053 timeline (though not in as much depth). Season 2 also introduces the 1921 timeline (99 years prior to 2020) and the 1953 timeline, in which the adults of 1986 are now children.

In season 2, there are now five timelines. The 1921 timeline isn’t developed in as much depth as the others, but the 1953 timeline does have a number of characters who are either already established in the 1986 and 2019 timelines, or are otherwise important to the story.

Jonas and Jonas

By this point, characters have begun travelling across time to various other timelines, which means individual narratives now take place across various timelines or super-narratives. This also means that the primary focus of different timelines or super-narratives now take place across multiple super-narratives. The plot of Mikkel disappearing, for example, now develops across the 1953 timeline (where 2019 Ulrich travels), the 1986 timeline (where 2019 Mikkel travels), the 2019 timeline (where Mikkel’s family is still trying to find Mikkel and now Ulrich as well), and the 2053 timeline (where Jonas has traveled).

The boarder between timelines or super-narratives has now been all but eroded. Characters from various timelines travel to other timelines (teenage Jonas travels to 2053, then to 1921, where he meets the elderly Jonas and adult Jonas travels to 2020 and meets teenage Martha/adult Claudia from 1986 begins time travelling, and we are introduced to the elderly Claudia, who also time travels/adult Hannah travels back to 1921 and meets adult Ulrich, who is now trapped).

There are no real separate super-narratives across time anymore, these different timelines are not more or less treated as separate settings with different characters. However, the events that take place in past “settings” still have an effect on and inform us about future “settings”.

Enter Emoverse

Finally, in season 3, not only are there all of the timelines and individual narratives established in the first two seasons, but there is now a parallel universe (we’ll call it Universe 2, or, more fittingly, the Emoverse) with its own timelines (though fewer timelines are established). In the first universe/set of timelines, the 1888 timeline is also established.

In addition, a third universe is eventually established, which is the “original” reality, from which Universe 1 and the Emoverse are created.

Emo Martha somehow manages to be both more and less likable than Wholesome, Well-Rounded Martha

Okay, so now we have Universe 1, which contains 6 timelines, the Emoverse, or Universe 2, which contains a small number of timelines, and the original universe (which only has one established timeline). From each universe and each timeline are characters who not only travel across time, but their actions in various timelines both cause and inform events in future timelines, or are caused by or are informed by the events of past timelines.

However, because people time travel, someone could travel to the year 2053, and then an event in 2053 will cause a change in that character’s personality. Then, if that character travels to the year 1921, anything caused by that character will essentially have been the result of what happened in 2053. So, the events of the future can influence the events of the past.

And, because people can now travel to parallel realities, the events that happen in one universe can (through the actions of characters) influence the events that happen in another universe.

This gets incredibly complicated. As as “simple” example, the events of 2053 can influence the events of 1921, which can influence the events of 2020, which can influence the events of 1986, which can influence the events of Universe 2’s 2053, which can influence the event’s of Universe 1’s 1888, which can influence the events of Universe 2’s 2020, which can influence the events of Universe 1’s 2053 (which we already established influenced the events of Universe 1’s 1921, which influenced the events of 2020).

Emo Martha and Magnus look a lot like Coraline and Henry Rollins

The weakest points of the show may come in season 3, and they come simply because of the incredible complexity of the multitude of narratives that are occurring simultaneously across time and across parallel realities. Ironically, and somewhat paradoxically, because the show is now so complicated—because there’s so much going on—much of the second half of season 3, feels simplified and rushed.

The first half of season 3, however, feels tedious and slow (and the Emoverse is really depressing). Not only that, but you get the sinking feeling that this show is going to go on forever. It suddenly feels like a soap opera that is in year 3 of a 50 year reign, and the characters are just going to keep time travelling and universe-hopping—and, now, you can just keep adding more universes and more timelines—and god fucking knows how long this show is going to go on.

There’s, like, 20 new characters that are suddenly added to the show (though some of them are just Emo versions of other characters), and we have to completely learn and relearn the backstories and motivations and goals and conflicts of completely new characters and timelines, and, at this point, we’ve completely stopped giving a shit about the missing Mikkel (because, as we find out, Mikkel is actually Jonas’s dad who commits suicide at the beginning of the show, so the Mikkel plot is really just an empty loop that eventually only serves to develop Jonas’s story and character arc).

The show now is incredibly complex. There’s nearly 70 characters in season 3, most of which are the same characters from different timelines, and over 70 if you count the different versions of characters from the parallel universes. The show takes place across ~10 timelines in two separate universes (three once the original reality is introduced). Not only are there parallel universes, but there’s parallel timelines in parallel universes (timelines, say, where Jonas did or did not die, timelines where Martha did or did not travel to a parallel universe, and timelines where Martha did or did not die).

The ending of Akira is something that cannot be unseen.

What was once a beautiful, magnificent storyboard has now become an omnipotent yet grotesque, uncomfortable-to-watch monster, much like Tetsuo at the end of Akira, and there is no hope for an end in sight.

But then, the second half of season 3 comes, and the second half of season 3 is where the story becomes rushed. Rather than the slow and deliberate, yet engaging and thought-provoking events of the first two seasons, the second half of season 3 runs through various plot points and important developments in character arcs at a sprint.

For example, the adult Jonas, who has essentially become Nicolas Tesla in the 1888 timeline, seemingly morphs into Darth Vader overnight, and his transformation from 1888 to 1921 is glossed over, the events only implied.

A lot happens in only a few episodes, and a lot happens exponentially fast in only a few episodes.

While the events leading up to the climax of Dark are certainly rushed, the silver lining is that the show does end at the finale of season 3. Not only does it end, all the events of the show are wrapped up quite gracefully and thoughtfully, and with a bittersweet, nostalgic cherry on top (I won’t spoil this. Either you know what happens, or you don’t.)

Season 3 gets rocky, but the show sticks the landing.

Dark gets almost overwhelmingly complex and, ironically, over-simplified and rushed in season 3, but it all comes to an end quite gracefully.

What Dark Got Right Narratively

Looking back on Dark after watching the final episode, what the creators of this show did was incredibly ambitious, and I do criticize the show both respectfully and cautiously.

Season 1 of Dark was a master-class on writing an engaging and multi-dimensional narrative, and Season 2 was something beyond a master-class. While Season 2 certainly did have its faults, and the narrative got a bit muddied at times, the sheer scope of what they accomplished was mind-blowing.

I dare you to write one good season of a “soap opera”. Now, go write one good season of four “soap operas” occurring simultaneously, with the events and characters of each “soap opera” influencing the events and characters of all the other “soap operas”. Season 2 really did push the envelope of what one can do with a longform narrative. Granted, Dark is not the only series to have done this.

Time travel and parallel realities have been a staple in comic book series for decades now. God knows how many novels and book series have explored both of these themes. And TV series like NBC’s Heroes have created longform narratives with time travel and parallel realities in them. But no TV series has quite fleshed out the possibilities of what one can do with this sort of narrative quite like Dark has done.

The show is admirably detailed in story structure, and times incredibly clever and subtle. And the writing, beyond being structurally impressive, is just good. The character development isn’t the best of all time, but it’s certainly nothing to scoff at. There’re some clichés in the beginning, some lazy spots, especially as the show begins wrapping up, and definitely some cringe moments (like Jonas getting his parallel-universe aunt/great-great-great-grandmother pregnant (which means Jonas is both his own great-great-great-grandfather and his own uncle-in-law)), but the ratio of good writing to bad writing drastically skews towards good.

On top of this, the show uses its narrative to explore not only the events and causality of time travel and parallel universes, but also the associated philosophy, paradoxes and moral problems that arise from them. The narrative structure of the show is inherently important to the underlying meaning of the show (that’s how you can spot a meta-level writer).

I mean, time is an illusion anyway, right?

Season 3 of Dark maybe wasn’t the best season of television/web-series history, but it wasn’t necessarily bad. It was maybe just overly ambitious and had abstracted itself too far from the narrative of season 1 and 2. It was certainly still fun and engaging, the twists and turns of the show were rapid-fire at this point, and the philosophical conundrums were dialed up to 11 (such as: Is it okay to have sex with your aunt if she’s from another universe?).

The ending of season 3 was executed well enough that it more than redeemed some of the faults of prior episodes, and left me wishing there was more (and glad that wish wasn’t granted).

In short, the show is kinda brilliant. Is it a soap opera? Yes, but so is every other show you like. Does it have its faults? Yes, but it’s an ambitious show, and it lives up to many of its ambitions. Am I done talking about Dark? Probably not. There’s still more to write about, though I might not write more about Dark in the immediate future. Nonetheless, if you’re interested in the show, keep an eye out for future articles, and thank you for reading.

The Art of Maury van Loon / Fall~

Written by Alexander Greco

June 29, 2020

The more I delved into the artwork of Maury van Loon (artist name, Fall~), the more I was reminded of two books: An Eternal Golden Braid, by Douglas Hofstadter, and House of Leaves, by Mark Danielewski; and I was reminded of two specific concepts from those books: consciousness as a feedback loop of infinite, mirrored reflections, and unconsciousness as a labyrinth, with our conscious egos/identities as the trapped Icarus.

Maury’s artwork really clicked for me when I saw in them these mirrors and this labyrinth.

And Then the Bubble Burst
Summer 2019
A5 paper. Pen and ink.

Making almost exclusively black and white ink art, though with a few notable pieces that include color, Maury mixes elements of surrealism and abstraction with influences from anime and similar art styles. Her artwork has wide range of content and subject, but the primary focus seems to be on identity: our identity in relation to others, and our identity in relation to ourselves. Maury does this with portrayals of faceless or featureless individuals, depictions of bodies disassociated from their faces, mirrored counterparts of either twin-like or dualistic individuals, and of people falling into vast or disintegrating spaces.

However, as Maury discussed more and more about her creative life, I discovered her interests and skills to be far broader than only visual art. In addition to surreal ink-work, Maury is active in music—including work on film scores—currently studies Japanese Language and Culture, and has worked off and on for a few years on a fantasy story. Though our interview focused on Maury’s artwork and the underlying themes of the artwork, our overlapping interests opened up a number of topics we only scratched the surface of.

“[…] I would currently describe my endeavors as an artist as ‘illustrator’, but I have a degree in music composition, and I’m currently studying Japanese which sometimes makes me feel a bit in Japanese I would say barabara, which means ‘in pieces’, as if I’m holding a handful of different identities and I am not just one person.”

Still, though Fall~ has a wide range of interests, art has been and remains a central part of their life.

Us
April 2020
A4 paper. Pen, ink, gel pen.

“I have been drawing since as long as I can remember. It has always been a form of expression, as I had (and to a certain degree still have) trouble grasping the meaning and reality of my being. I think I started with illustrating, since it’s a very low-key form of art. Basically I can draw whenever I want, wherever I want, because I only need a pen and paper.

“I do believe all different forms of art have their own ‘language’ of expression – music or film can take you on a whole different emotional journey – and I am more than only an illustrator, as I have done a degree in music composition with a specialization in film and I’m currently doing a degree in Japanese Language and Culture with a specialization in Japanese film and animation. But making art is the one that seems most consistent throughout my life.”

Here, I completely agree with the idea that every form of art has its own sort of language, but I would also go on from that and say that every artist has their own variation of that language, with Maury being no exception to this. So, what is the language she speaks with her art?

We Live Inside a Bubble
Summer 2019
A5 paper. Pen and ink.

Maury speaks with sharp contrasts of black and white, swarming lines like black static, and blurred clouds of grey. Maury’s syntax is the human form, floating or falling into teeming mouths of the abyss, or into the vast emptiness of space. Faces especially are key in this language, whether they are emotional, blank, expressionless, hollow, or replaced with disconnected, celestial objects.

Many of Maury’s pieces depict twisting, knotting throngs of arms reaching out to or out from the piece’s subject, or other similar serpentine forms. In many pieces, there is a symmetry to them, either a mirroring of images or some other geometric translation, and many pieces also possess a yin-yang type of duality, strongly influenced by the black and white contrasts. In others, there is an almost anti-symmetry, a chaos of lines or ink static.

Circles are a consistent motif, some being the subject’s head, some being in or through the subject’s head, others being in the subject’s chest or abdomen, and others surround an individual or individuals. These circles—often comprised of circles within circles (sometimes within even more circles); and often ringed with jagged lines or objects, or with twisting, looping, knotting forms—recall the forms of the labyrinth, particularly the Classical Cretan labyrinth and the Medieval Chartres pattern.

However, the best example of this Labyrinth is not in any of the pieces with primarily circular patterns, but in “Lost in Thought”, which really shows this maze-like nature of the mind.

Lost in Thought
June 2020
A4 paper. Pen.

“This piece is about how far you can become separated from your true self, by trying to fit in or please people around you. It’s a recent piece, but it reflects back to a time when I truly lost myself and now I regularly evaluate my choices and how far I stand from things that matter for me, instead of trying to become the ideal of society (or rather, how I think society would like me to be). The further you get, the harder it becomes, so the line between body and brain becomes this maze-like thing and at some point, you will get stuck and lose (like in the Nokia 3310 snake-game).”

So much of Maury’s artwork relates to identity: either finding or rediscovering oneself.

How is it that the most difficult thing to find on this planet is yourself?

How is it that so many of our own thoughts can be so much harder to understand than the endlessly complex machinations of the external world?

How is it that our own minds—the place we ought to feel most at home, the place we ought to know better than any other landscape, the place we ought to feel safest can be the most frightening and cruel of landscapes; can possess the deepest jungles of the uncanny and unfamiliar; and, in times of great uncertainty, in moments of overwhelming depravity and in the darkest architectures of our Dreams’ wild cinemas, can our own minds be venues of such tremendous violence, disorientation and disassociation?

Let Us Catch You
February 2020
A4 paper. Pen, ink, gel pen.

There is also a recurrent theme of falling, though the movement of many subjects is ambivalent (in many pieces, individuals could potentially be perceived either as falling or rising). Paired with this theme of falling/rising, there is often an impalement or explosion from the abdomen, and in a few, there is another body emerging from the abdomen, implying something like a birth or a rebirth (similar in some ways to the emergence from a cocoon or chrysalis). This also carries on the ambivalence of rising/falling, as one body seems limp and lifeless, while another living body reaches up above it.

On this theme, Maury explained:

“It contains this sense of loss and despair, living in a world that doesn’t feel quite right. A world where you don’t seem to belong. When you long for something, someone, anyone, and reach out, but you can never really grasp it. Is it just an illusion meant for someone else? Are you not worthy?

“It’s a sense of the fear of not being in control yet at the same time it’s the realization and acceptance you’re not in control and that it’s completely fine. Maybe it’s not falling, but letting go.”

A number of pieces possess the motif of a wave-like object/figure which seems to be just about to crash onto the subject of the piece like crashing water of an ocean. This might be the internal ocean of the unconsciousness crashing down on the conscious ego, but this might also be the minotaur stalking that unconsciousness, overpowering the conscious mind.

The piece “Shadowself” puts a face to this crashing wave or cave minotaur, and Maury gives it a name.

Shadowself
March 2020
A4 paper. Pen and ink.

“My official artist name is Fall~ and the right character in this piece is the visualization of Fall~. It represents the unexplainable core of feelings and thoughts that want to break out.”

Does this make the figure on the left Maury?

Is this Maury studying Fall~?

And Fall~ studying Maury?

And if Fall~, as depicted here, is the “Shadowself”, the unexplainable core of feelings and thoughts attempting to break out, does that mean the Minotaur stalking Maury’s mind is Maury’s own creativity? Is the Shadowself (Fall~) a rejection and repression of creativity—of ideas, talents and expressions not welcomed by society—and the projection of negative attributes onto oneself?

A loathing of something you love—of something that makes you unique—until it becomes a monster you must reconcile with?

But Maury, rather than flee as Icarus did, confronted this minotaur in her artwork, and it became Fall~.

Here, I think I’m actually reminded of Gandalf and the Balrog’s fall in the Mines of Moria, prompted not by the wizard fleeing, but by his confrontation. This fall—this confrontation—not partially parallels the Icarus myth (Moria being the Labyrinth, the Balrog being the minotaur), but also has the ambivalent duality of rising and falling. The two’s fall eventually led to a rise back up from the depths, where the battle finally concluded on top of a mountain peak. This of course led to transformation, metamorphosis and rebirth.

These complexities of identity, self-identity and self-transformation do not end here, however, and Maury had quite a lot more to say about both one’s self and one’s ego, as well as one’s self in relationship to others.

“I think one’s identity is relative and thus continuously changing. Without people around us and memories to mirror who we were, who we are, and who we do or do not want to become, there is no ego. There is a certain human connection to it, whether through a shared experience, a longing, or a realization that you have gone so far from your true self. By exploring these areas through art, I can identify, acknowledge and express things that are blocking me, but also things I couldn’t or wouldn’t say out loud.”

Here, I asked if this fluidity of identity was something inherent in being human, or if it was a contemporary issue of modernity, and also if there was any way of truly getting to know one’s self. Maury replied:

“It’s probably part of human nature, but I do think modernity has amplified our sense of self and our capability to manipulate our self-image. One reason is that we are now encouraged to become individuals and have our own opinion, and this seems to go hand in hand with a sense or a wish to be unique and different […] On the other hand, there’s social media and textual communication, which allows you to have a big control on how you represent yourself in your use of words, your looks, your identity. With which sub-culture do you associate yourself with?

“Maybe we have become a lot more self-centered, but maybe we also have become a lot more dependent on the approval people around us. We’re more fluid. And because upbringing and environment have such a huge influence on the development of oneself, I don’t think you could ever purely be your true inner self. Maybe if you live in a shack up a mountain in Farawayistan. I try to keep myself in check by really trying to listen to my belly-feeling (inner-universe 🙂 ) to feel if choices I’m making feel right for me and feel right for my moral-compass, and if my moral-compass is still moral enough, so I can keep going without self-doubt or regret.”

How do you go about defining yourself? And where do you plant your flag in saying, “This is ‘I’; this is what ‘I’ am and what ‘I’ believe”?

So many, if not all, of our own ideas and beliefs are ideas have been circulating throughout cultures and societies across history—evolving or adapting with each new age or era and growing into new ideas or spawning new fields of knowledge. So much of what we call our own mind are collections of ideas passed on to us through our parents, through school, through our friends, or through televisions, computers and phones. So much of our behavior is either instinctually or chemically influenced, or they are behaviors we’ve picked up from those around us, people we see on TV, characters in books, comics, movies or shows.

How much of “you” can actually be found amidst this carnival of “not you”? And how much of the “not you” has influenced and altered “you”?

Beyond this, “who we are” can be such a fleeting reality. We’re one person at one moment, then we’re angry or sad or scared the next moment, and suddenly we’re practically a completely different person. We may even change how we act depending on what we wear, who we talk to, where we talk to them. How different of a person are you if you’re having drinks at a bar compared to drinks at a friend’s house, or how different are you when you wear denim jeans and sneakers compared to shorts and flip flops, or when you’re at work compared to when you’re at home?

How different of a person might you be just based on the colors of the walls around you, the smell of the room you’re in, the expressions and body language of the people nearby?

Maury further explores the influences that others have on us and our sense of self, particularly the painful and at times frightening aspects of it, in the piece, “Kings”.

Kings
Summer 2019
A5 paper. Pen, ink, gel pen.

“’Kings’ kind of represents all the people around us that we feel are judging us (often with no good reason). It could be that guy in the train, or the woman in the store. They gang up, stare, judge. Them against us. There is a sense of power and arrogance in it, hence that they are self-proclaimed kings. I think it is also influenced by the growth of the importance of individualism, in which many are prone to believe they themselves are the most important, rather than the wellbeing of the community.

But obviously this judging only happens in my head, because 99% of the people you pass in the streets don’t even notice you, let alone care.”

An often overlooked or undervalued aspect of understanding someone’s creations is understanding where these ideas have grown from—the inspirations and influences of someone’s art, music, writing and so forth.

In addition to anime, Maury mentioned a number of other influences, including film and music.

“I have this peculiar habit of intensely loving only a few artists so much that their work is on repeat rather than exploring a quantitative amount of artists. My current repeat playlist (named “repeat”) consists of #2 by Nils Frahm and a handful of tracks from the Westworld soundtrack by Ramin Djawadi. I especially love films that are thought provoking, or take me on a journey and preferably have an amazing atmospheric original score. Watching the Lord of the Rings Trilogy kind of has become a yearly tradition, and I have become so familiar with the lines that I bought the Japanese dubbed version to use it for my language studies haha. Anime is also a huge influence, especially visual, since the Japanese seem to apply a lot of shots and poses that I find beautiful and my computer is full of screenshots that I use as reference.

“In the end I love the feeling these works give me, this feeling of inspiration, or they maybe even make me feel alive and that I’m allowed to live. That there’s more to life than only living. And that’s what I want to give back to the world. If the inspired-me can inspire someone else again, who then can inspire another and so forth… That would be enough.”

In discussing her favorite anime, Maury said:

“One of my favorite anime films is Ghost in the Shell, because it’s full of layers. As humans we are watching a drawn representation of human-like cyborgs, so there is this double sense of artificiality. The director Oshii Mamoru also uses a lot of visual symbolisms and mechanisms that confuse the spectator. This is even more noticeable in his other animation film Angel’s Egg in collaboration with illustrator Amano Yoshitaka, who also worked on the Final Fantasy series (which I love 🙂 also the soundtrack!). The themes in Angel’s Egg are about loneliness and purpose and faith, and it’s set in a very dark world where this girl wanders through a deserted town with an egg, until she meets a man of whom we never truly know if he is friend of foe. It’s on YouTube with subtitles if anyone’s interested.

The original Fullmetal Alchemist has been hugely influential, which I prefer over Brotherhood because I think the original is more dramatic. Although, both soundtracks are wonderful. The hands that are represent in my work definitely find their origin in this series. The parallel universe/time travel theory of Steins;Gate also had a very big impact on my own way of theorizing an approach to life choices. They have a timeline that breaks up in several timelines, and made it really visible. Nowadays, when I look back at choices I have made and how they lead me to where I am now, I imagine the choices being forked roads and every path is another Maury leading a different life.”

Welcome to My Mirrored World
Winter 2018
A3 paper. Pen, ink, gel pen.

The influence of both Ghost in the Shell and Fullmetal Alchemist can be seen in Maury’s works, “Welcome to My Mirrored World” and “Let Us Catch You”.

Maury mentioned that a shot from the 1995 Ghost in the Shell anime film inspired “Welcome to My Mirrored World”, and though I don’t know specifically which shot this was, the scene I immediately thought of was one where the protagonist is rising to the surface of a body of water, and her reflection creates a sort of mirrored, parallel reality before she breaks the surface of the water. With “Let Us Catch You” and several other pieces, we see the inspiration of the long, tendril-like arms related to Truth and various scenes where certain types of Alchemy are performed in Fullmetal Alchemist.

Though we didn’t discuss her art process in as much depth as we discussed other topics, Maury did explain how she comes up with many of her ideas, as well as part of her process of using recurring motifs in her art:

“There are two ways. Way 1: I live life. Life gives emotional friction. This emotional friction finds a visual representation that I doodle in my book of ideas. Way 2: I watch film. Film merges with random thoughts and memories of other things and I doodle it in my book of ideas. When I feel creative or a necessity to deal with my thoughts and emotions, I open my book of ideas, pick a pre-sketch and start drawing the composition. A lot of times inspiration and this feeling of necessity happen in the same moment.

“Often, I already know what kind of textures I want to use, or I decide to use several, for example I make one with a universe background, while the other will get a tree growing out of somewhere. For this reason, I create a template for most of my designs so I can easily make several versions with the help of a light box. I kind of see it as a puzzle. I have several reoccurring textures and motifs which I keep switching around in new compositions. Sometimes new ones are added or old ones become obsolete.”

Along with discussing her art, Maury and I talked a bit about her music, film projects she’s been involved with and a story of hers she’s been working with off and on for a few years.

“I would love to compose a score for a Japanese animation. That’s definitely in the top three of my bucket list.

“During my music degree at Plymouth University I worked on the feature film Jannertown with director Guy Brasher, which was such an amazing experience. His film is presented in several chapters that all have their own genre, but everything is connected. So musically this meant working with several themes that could return in various ways ranging from elevator music to futuristic synth music and orchestral superhero music.

“More recently I have worked with Pim Kromhout on a performance theater act inspired by the painting “Golconde” by René Magritte. The act consists of four very tall men with umbrella’s and there is music coming out of the umbrellas. Although the four men look the same and the music sounds as one whole, every man has his own tune that symbolizes his individuality. Unfortunately, it’s on hold because of Covid-19.

“[…]

Chaos
2016
A4 paper. Pen, ink, coloured pencils.

“My art and my music come from the same inner-location, which I at some point started to see as a fictional world. In my art there are returning characters which were initially just personifications of emotions, but at some point, influenced by the endless amounts of binge-watched/read-stories, I thought I could try to make my own story. And I got as far as plotting the whole first part of a trilogy, including strange dimensional travel laws, gods and prophecies, geographical maps. It was supposed to get a soundtrack too, with themes for different locations and characters. There was a lot of longing and tragedy.

“Unfortunately, I’m not a very good reader, so I failed to read back what I had written and then I lost track of all the complexities and now we’re three years later. But with all the free time Covid-19 has given me I’m actually taking a different approach in telling the story in a visual novel style. (trying to.) (also giving me a temporary meaning in this meaningless existence.)

“The story is set in an unchanging world. Characters that do administration of administration of administration. They look like barcodes and every minute of every day of every day is planned out for them. The world has long ago reached a form of perfection and so they are in a state of preservation, because if there would be any change, Being would change to Becoming and he would carry the world back to Chaos. (this works better in Dutch). While this barcode-species called ‘Others’ are supposed to be like robots, the main character has this inside-universe that makes her set out into the world and then things happen and she meets all kinds of people and discovers all sorts of secrets.”

The fortunate and the unfortunate aspect of Maury and I’s discussion is that we had a huge overlap in interests and so much to discuss. There was a lot Maury had to say that I could not fit into the article, as well a lot I wanted to say about Maury’s artwork and a number of topics related to her artwork that I could not fit in. Nonetheless, it has been a pleasure going through her artwork and hearing her thoughts on many things.

Whaleoplane
March 2020
A3 paper. Pen, ink, gel pen.

Maury’s artwork spans across philosophical and psychological themes and subjects, but her artwork stands on its own even without these underlying themes. The stark contrasts of black and white captures your attention, pulling your mind into a reeling labyrinth of shifting identities, crashing emotions, and the enveloping hands and faces of a comforting, conforming throng of people. With every day being another trek through a maze of faces, words, beliefs, motivations, personalities, relationships—and all the twisting, knotted, overlapping, intersecting crossroads between them—how long can we avoid the minotaur we’ve kept imprisoned inside our minds?

How long until the walls come down? And all the thoughts, emotions and beliefs we keep bottled inside come surging out?

Maury’s art is able to show both the tension between ourselves and others, and the tension between ourselves and our own minds: the mazes and the mirrors we navigate every day.

If you would like to see more of Maury’s work, you can find her on Instagram at www.instagram.com/fallsomnia or @fallsomnia and @fall.in.progress. Her primary website is www.fallsomnia.com and her music can be found on www.soundcloud.com/fallsomnia. Please give her art as well as her music a look/listen, and if you enjoy it, be sure to follow her.

Analysis of Neon Genesis Evangelion, Episodes 1 & 2

Creature Fear

Part 3

Written by Alexander Greco

June 20, 2020

Metaphor for a missing moment
Pull me into your perfect circle

One womb
One shape
One resolve

Liberate this will
To release us all

Gotta cut away, clear away
Snip away and sever this
Umbilical residue that’s
Keeping me from killing you

A Perfect Circle
Introduction

This is the third and final part of my analysis of the first two episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion. If you haven’t read the previous two articles, I would recommend doing so, as much of the information discussed in those articles is highly relevant to understanding this article.

In the conclusion of this analysis, I will examine the Angels and Eva’s, then discuss the Setting of NGE, and finally attempt to bring all the parts of the analysis together into a more cohesive whole. I will conclude the analysis with a meta-analysis examining other lenses NGE can be analyzed, my own method of analysis, potential holes in the analysis, and discuss where this analysis can be taken to next.

I’ve tried to eliminate major spoilers from this article (which has slightly dampened the analysis), but be forewarned that some may still be lurking. In the future, I may release a more comprehensive, unabridged analysis that includes all the references to future episodes, and, because these articles have been so long, I may condense the analysis into a much shorter version.

And now, here is the conclusion to “Creature Fear”.

Angel and Eva

What of the Angels and Eva’s?

The Angels are capable of complete self-reliance, self-defense and autonomous warfare.

The Humans rely on society in order to survive, flourish and defend themselves.

The Angels are the species of the Individual.

The Humans are the species of the Collective.

Here, there is a Ying-Yang dynamic.

Yes, the Angels are what I’ve been calling “Hyper-Individuals”, but they also seem to act with the same ambitions or motivations—essentially the usurpation of humanity as the dominant species on Earth. While they act autonomously, they all act with the same goals.

Yes, the Humans require the collective effort of society in order to function, but this collective is made of a multitude of individuals with varying ambitions and motivations. While they must act socially, they all act with different goals and varying talents.

There are a few interesting things to note about both Angels and Eva’s, and a few interesting lines of thought.

First, the Angels act exactly how most villains in most stories act, except that their purpose, their motivations and any sort of morality they might possess is left almost completely ambiguous.

Most villains act as a highly singular individual (the “hyper-individual”). The villains are oftentimes above the law, or they do not obey social norms and state-sanctioned legal systems.

This could be a character like X-Men’s Magneto, who, while leading a cult of personality outside the confines of human society, is incredibly powerful and capable of engaging in combat alone with a multitude of enemies.

This could be a character like Galactus, who is a nearly omnipotent villain with little to no allies or companions, who is capable of engaging with all of Earth’s forces single-handedly, and who consumes entire planets serving as homes for a vast multitude of life-forms.

This could be a character like Lucifer. Similar to Magneto, Lucifer leads the armies of Hell and whatnot, but, beyond Magneto, Lucifer can be seen as one of the most singularly powerful entities in Judeo-Christianity, second only, perhaps, to God.

It’s difficult to say that these Villains are “evil” (though Lucifer could be argued to be the embodiment or manifestation of evil). A better understanding of them may be as amoral, or possibly as possessing a sociopathic morality. They are neither “evil” nor “good”. Their morality does not fall within the standard confines of society’s morality.

Once again, this falls under Nietzsche’s Ubermensch—individuals who are capable of standing outside the confines of society, either physically or cognitively. They do not possess the morality of the collective. They possess only their own morality.

The Angels are not necessarily evil. They simply have an agenda that is completely at odds with the agenda of humanity. This is how they become villains.

Eva’s, on the other hand, are similar in many regards to Angels. In fact, every Eva, with the possible exception of Unit 01, is made from the genetic material of Adam, the progenitor of the Angels.

The primary difference physically between Eva’s and Angels is that Eva’s can only hold one form—a form roughly equivalent to a human form—while the Angels can take any form they choose once they metamorphose from an Embryo.

While Angels have absolute determination of themselves, the Eva’s must still take the basic form of a human. In a sense, the Eva’s are humans, they are simply giant humans—hyper-individualized humans capable of far greater feats than normal humans.

More than this, the Eva’s only exist because the collective of Society has come together to create them. Eva’s are possible only because of the combined efforts of scientists, engineers and militaries under the authority of Seele.

And, Eva’s do not carry out their own will. They carry out the will of Society. This can be seen as an Individual Human (Shinji) becoming a living Tool carrying out the will of Society, or this can be seen as the manifestation of the Collective Conscious of Society—the Collective Conscious made Flesh—in the form of an Eva.

The Eva’s are the Will of Society come to life, represented as a singular entity.

We must don the armor given to us by our Father to carry out their will. The justification for this is ambivalent though.

Is it fair that we should be handed our place in Society by the powers above us? Is it right that the only way for us to become fully functioning Individuals within a Society is for a Society to transform us into a living Tool of its design? Is it even good for us and Society that we act this way, or is there a better way of being?

And yet, it is good, in that Shinji saves millions of lives. And it is good in that Shinji performs some of the most important tasks for society. And it is good that Shinji learns how to become a Hero, and how to become an Individual capable of confronting reality.

The alternatives are mass extinction, loneliness and isolation, and sheer uselessness as a human being.

However, this views the story as a representation of a Collective Reality. Shinji is a representation of the entire youth generation of a particular era in time. Gendo is a representation of all Father/Authority figures. The Angels are a representation of all major catastrophes or obstacles that a civilization is faced with.

From a Collective perspective, Shinji is any generation of youth maturing into adulthood, tasked by Gendo, the authority of any and all Societies, to confront the broad range of potential catastrophes we as a species may face.

However, from an Individual perspective, this is about the Individual (Shinji) confronting the terrors that internally threaten his sense of self and his existence.

This part of the analysis I have had the most difficulty in fully articulating.

Part of this difficulty comes from defining what both an Angel and an Eva are in Neon Genesis, both literally and symbolically.

In its simplest form, Shinji confronting the Angels is Shinji confronting his fears. From there, we enter the rabbit hole.

The Japanese word used for “Angel” in NGE, shito, means both “angel” and “apostle”, and both have an inherent meaning as “messenger”. Angels as messengers of God can be entities “sent” by reality to test, challenge and push Shinji, helping him develop as an Individual. The different incarnations of Angels (the different incarnations of Hyper-Individuality) may be the different incarnations of who Shinji as an Individual can become.

The final Angel Shinji must face in NGE is Kowaru, an Angel created in the Second Impact who takes the physical form of a Human. Kowaru is incredibly open, incredibly accepting and incredibly loving. There is a homoerotic romantic connection between the two of them, and this may be Shinji having to learn to love himself. However, with the ensuing tragedy of Shinji and Kowaru’s final confrontation, we see that Shinji is still incapable of this, and he may never be capable of this.

But what about how the Angels confront Tokyo-3, NERV and Shinji?

These Angels, these “messengers”, are attempting to penetrate into the deepest inner sanctums of NERV, and Shinji is tasked with repeatedly battling the Angels to keep them from doing this. Is this Shinji keeping these “messengers” from entering the inner depths of his psyche?

Is this Shinji battling the terrifying forces of Individuality, which are attempting to overcome the innermost force of his psyche. Lilith?

Humanity is a Collective force, while the Angels are Individual forces. Shinji must pilot the Eva’s, a manifestation of the Collective will, in order to become a powerful enough Individual to combat the Angels. In doing so, he must confront his own Individuality.

Without spoiling too much, the entity known as Lilith resides at the bottom of NERV, and Lilith arguably could be a symbol of the Collective power, force or will of Humanity. The Angels are continuously attempting to overcome this source of Collective human power, while Shinji is becoming a hyper-individual in order to save the Collective. But, ultimately, this creates a tension between Individuality and Collectivism.

Is this the ongoing tension between Ego and sense of self or identity, and the forces of Society asking us to annihilate our identity in order to become one boundless, egoless self?

However, if this show is a psychodynamic “theater” that exists in Shinji’s mind, as I originally discussed in the first article, then how are the Angels constructions of Shinji’s psyche? What are Angels as psychological constructions?

First, they are simultaneously “messengers” and destroyers. They are both that which helps Shinji reach a higher level of personal development, and that which is annihilating his psyche. They are “messengers” of Individuality, but they must annihilate the constraints put on him by society before he can become a completely Individualized human.

He fears the Angels both because he is taught to fear them, and because he projects his own fears of Individuality on them.

This entire show is about human relationships and the connections we form between each other. The contact between Shinji and the Angels can be just as traumatic and terrifying as the contact between Shinji and other human beings. The Angels are the terrors of Individuality manifested and made flesh.

With Individuality, one must take personal responsibility, one must be honest about yourself and who you are, and one must allow yourself to become vulnerable enough to show others who you are.

The opposite of this—what Shinji is defending any time he keeps the Angels from destroying Lilith—is having no Individuality, but complete openness between everyone. There is no pain of Individuality because there are no Individuals.

Shinji is projecting onto the Angels—or perhaps the Angels are the projections themselves projected onto reality—his sense of vulnerability, his sense of hopelessness, his sense of uselessness, his fear of the psychological violence involved in getting closer to others, his fear of annihilating oneself in order to become a new Individual.

The Angels seem not to be representations of Shinji’s fears themselves, but representations of what Shinji projects fear, violence and conflict onto. These are ideas, personalities and realities that Shinji refuses to let into his inner psyche and chooses to violently destroy rather than accept. They are the psychological forces, concepts or realizations that confront Shinji’s vulnerabilities.

To explore this further—to cement the concept that Neon Genesis Evangelion is a theatrical or narrativized representation of the inner workings of Shinji’s psyche—I will examine the primary setting of NGE.

Setting

Ruined City and Ocean

This I have analyzed in depth in the first article, but I will recap and expand on it here. The Ruined City shown in the beginning of Episode 1 is the ruins of previous generations. It is the scars left on our society—and from our society onto us—by the horrors of the past.

The Ocean represents both the Unknown as a place where tangible, external threats emerge from; and the Unconscious as a place where deep psychic forces emerge and terrorize our consciousness.

The Ruined City and the Ocean can also represent the border between the external and the internal. It is the border between the inner reality of our psyche and the external reality of the material world, and it is also the border where external threats manifest consciously in our psyches. On one side of this border is the Unknown, where potential threats exist, but we are not consciously aware of their existence.

Once this border has been crossed, once we perceive the external threat entering our consciousness, the Angels’ form crystallizes in our minds, and we must confront this external threat as both material and as idea.

However, this analysis of the Ruined City and Ocean as the border between internal and external becomes muddied if one takes the Ocean as the Unconscious.

One potential key to solving this may be in the fact that Lillith—which could potentially be seen as the ultimate source of Shinji’s problems—lies at the bottom of NERV. The Angels may be external threats emerging from the unconscious in that they are external stimuli emerging into our awareness, and it is the projection of the ultimate, core conflict (Lilith/Individuality vs Collectivism) from our inner psyche onto our external threats.

These external threats may be threats to our survival, but they may also be threats to our Ego. They may be people who come into our lives who threaten our sense of self, who question ourselves and our beliefs, or who get closer and closer to us, where we must show our vulnerabilities. They may be people who come into our lives who prompt action from us: Will you do the things I need you to do? Will you be the person I want you to be? Will you help me do the things I need to do and become the person I want to be?

They may also represent our hopes, our goals and our ambitions—each of which holds its own fears. With every dream we have, there is the war one must wage in order to see that dream to fruition; there is the threat of that dream forcing changes within us before it can be fully realized; and there is the threat that our dreams may never come to fruition, which is an assault on us as an individual incapable of fulfilling our dreams.

Rejection and failure may be far more painful than passivity, but we must confront rejection and failure if we are every to actualize our ambitions, and, in the end, never having tried to actualize our ambitions may be the most painful of all.

So, the Angels crossing this external/internal border are both external threats and internal projections of threats.

An interesting note here—addressing the muddiness of external threat and internal projection onto external reality—is that our unconscious mind processes external stimuli before we consciously perceive what we are seeing.

In order for our brains to react to threats faster, if we see something that our brain has categorized as threat (such as a snake, bear or moving car), the “reptilian” brain begins reacting before we’re even consciously aware of what we are looking at.

If we put our hand on a stove, we don’t wait to rationalize out, “This is really hot. Really hot really hurts. If I don’t want to hurt, I should stop touching the hot. Alright. I shall remove my hand from the hot so as to stop the hurt.”

The instant our unconscious mind perceives pain that exceeds our tolerance levels, it takes over and pulls our hand away.

The unconscious mind (NERV) perceives and categorizes the external threats (Angels) far before our conscious minds (Shinji as Ego within Tokyo-3) are ever aware of these threats. In fact, the military has been mobilized to confront the Angel long before Shinji is even aware that there is an Angel.

The unconscious mind is actually at the front-lines of our psyche, constantly wary of threats, even though we may perceive or represent it as being within our conscious mind, or in the depths of our conscious mind.

Something to analyze further in later episodes is where Angels appear and/or how they appear, as well as what their method of penetrating into NERV headquarters is. While all Angels seem to have the same basic motivation, their approach and their methods of entry all vary, and these variations may be significant.

Tokyo-3

Tokyo-3 is the current incarnation of our society. Though this may be a stretch, you could potentially think of it as Tokyo-1 as the pre-history society (ancestor’s civilization), Tokyo-2 as the pre-present society (Father’s civilization), and Tokyo-3 as the contemporary or present-day society (new generation’s civilization).

This may ring especially true since all of the Evangelion pilots are children.

Tokyo-3 is also the landscape of both the conscious mind and the autonomic nervous system. When threatened, the landscape shrinks, its inhabitants flee, and we are left with the militarization of an otherwise empty, quiet psyche until the force threatening us is dealt with.

It is the aboveground landscape of the psyche and nervous system—the day-to-day activity, the calm, conscious perception of reality, the awake and aware tip of our mind’s iceberg. It is the conscious landscape of thoughts, emotions and actions Shinji, the Ego, must traverse. When we are threatened, when the streets of our psyche are emptied of its cognitive inhabitants, this landscape becomes a warzone where we face our most formidable opponents.

Tokyo-3 is the landscape of the conscious mind.

NERV

NERV, by contrast, is the underground landscape of the psyche and the nervous system. It is where the deeper motivations and machinations of the psyche lie. Despite the day-to-day activities of the aboveground landscape of the consciousness, the real ambitions and meaning of the city are derived from NERV.

NERV can only be entered through a tram system, which delves deep into the Earth, before entering the Geo-Front.

The Geo-Front is an underground cavern, far larger than the aboveground city. Hanging from the ceiling of the Geo-Front are the buildings of the aboveground city that have retreated during the threat of the Angel, and they are little more than stalactites compared to the enormity of the rest of the Geo-Front.

However, the hanging, inverted city is nonetheless beautiful and heavenly here. The shape of it, similar to the dynamic of Misato and Ritsuko, resembles the bilateral hemispheres of the brain, with two equally tall buildings forming the two peaks of the city/brain. The heavenly glow and the bright lines of trains moving through the air may represent the activity of the brain, the hum of electricity, and the communication of neurotransmitters.

However, this heavenly glow may also represent the sacredness of this inner sanctum. This is the realm of the Unconscious—the realm of Dreams, the source of our emotions, the home of the roots feeding the trees of our conscious beliefs. This is the realm of mythology, the realm housing instincts, personas, archetypes and cognitive structures that have evolved over millions of years.

Aboveground is the new, the temporary, the fleeting.

Belowground is the ancient, the eternal, the foundation.

Mirroring the hanging city, the pyramid of NERV headquarters similarly has a bilateral design, with one solid pyramid pointing up (bottom-up) and one inverted pyramid filled with water (top-down). NERV’s inner architecture is like a hive—literally shaped like the hexagon of a beehive—and its complex paths moving in every direction extend downward, compounding depth onto complexity in an abyssal volume of pathways (similar to the enormous number of synapses in the average human brain, which outnumber the stars in our galaxy).

Deep, deep in the recesses of NERV are the Eva’s. Eva Unit 01 could be seen as Shinji’s Shadow—a Jungian term describing the repressed emotions, instincts and behaviors we have (similar in some ways to the Id). Eva Unit 01 is the Monster Shinji must become in order to confront the horrors of reality.

However, following Jungian psychoanalysis, incorporating the Shadow into our personality, rather than repressing it, is necessary for Individuation—the process of becoming a unified, unique person. Individuation is necessary for Actualization—Actualizing our highest potentials in life.

Far into NERV (into the unconscious) lies the Monstrous aspects of our psyche and of our personalities, and yet this Monster we keep caged within us is necessary for becoming complete, unified individuals—which is exactly what Shinji spends NGE and End of Evangelion becoming.

The different levels of NERV abyssal depths could be analyzed, and would lay quite nicely across the Jungian concept of the unconscious, but this would spoil much of the show for those who haven’t seen it.

For now, I’ll summarize NERV and my analysis of NERV with this: shit goes deep.

Bringing the Pieces Back Together

How can we simplify these various components and bring them together?

We’ll start from the ground up.

NERV, Tokyo-3 and the Ruined City and Ocean are Shinji’s psyche. NERV is the inner sanctum of the unconscious mind. Tokyo-3 is the conscious mind as well as the autonomous/day-to-day functions of the brain. The Ruined City and the Ocean are the border of the internal and the external realm—the border between Shinji’s mind and the external world—but they are also the border between conscious and unconscious, in that the unconscious mind projects onto the external world.

Within this microcosm of NERV/Tokyo-3/Ruined City/Ocean are components of Shinji’s personality, broken up into sub-personalities.

These sub-personalities are the Ego (Shinji), the Super-Ego (Gendo), the Left/Right Brain lateralization (Ritsuko and Misato), the Anima (Rei), the Shadow (Eva), and the Id (Lillith).

It is the relationship of these characters (and more, as the show progresses) that reveal Shinji’s relationship with himself, the external world, and the powers that be:

  • Shinji with Shinji – Anxiety, uncertainty, self-loathing, depression
  • Shinji with Gendo – Cold relationship, transactional, little to no communication, necessary for mutual survival
  • Shinji with Ritsuko – A knowledge of how he (and Eva) function, what the technical details of various machines, tools, etc. are and so forth
  • Shinji with Misato – 1) Top-down thinking, as emotions and ideals, source of higher morality 2) Relationship with Mother Nature: woman as “sexual other”, woman as compassionate and nurturing source of life, woman as violent and cruel consumer of life, woman as mysterious, external unknown
  • Shinji with Rei – Guiding inner force bringing Shinji into contact with his deeper self, his deeper desires and motivations, and to his full potential. She is Shinji’s Anima, or inner feminine psychic spirit
  • Shinji with Eva – Monster Shinji must become in order to overcome his conflicts with external and internal reality. Shinji’s potential for violence, destruction, individuality and Godliness
  • Shinji with Lillith – The deepest conflict Shinji must face: Individuality vs Collectivism (Id vs Super-Ego), as well as the source of life for humanity

Now that we have a clear picture of the structure of the Shinji’s psyche (setting) and the components of Shinji’s psyche (characters), we can look at the conflicts of Shinji’s psyche (Eva and Angel).

The projections of the Unconscious onto the external reality are the Angels. The projected Angels are “messengers” of a Supreme Individuality, or of a Hyper-Individuality. Every rejection of an Angel into the core of NERV is Shinji rejecting his own Individuality in favor of doing what he is told by the Super-Ego (Gendo/Society/the Collective). The violence he commits onto the Angels is the violence he commits on to himself or on to others.

Throughout the show, there are themes relating to self-loathing, insecurity, anxiety, depression, suicide. So much of this show might be Shinji’s rejection of himself, his rejection of his own emotions or thoughts, a rejection of his own desires.

However, the violence of the Angels unto Shinji and the other Eva pilots, as well as the violence done unto the city and NERV, is the violence of the thoughts telling us to be more individualistic. They are the pain and anxiety of changing yourself into something new. They are the intrusive thoughts asking, “Why haven’t you done this? Why haven’t you done that? Why are you still eating that shitty food? Why are you so afraid of talking to that person? God, what is wrong with you?”

“Why are you so lonely? Why are you so afraid? Why are you so helpless? You made yourself this way. You can unmake and remake yourself. You have the potential to become something new.”

I mentioned in the last article that the Super-Ego as Gendo provides answers to these. Culture and Society provide you community through nationality, social norms and family structure. They protect you from the horrors of reality. They give you an occupation and a purpose in life. However, it is ultimately up to the Individual to provide these for themselves if they wish to break out of the tyrannical conformity of society, fully or partially.

It is up to the Individual to become someone they aren’t afraid of being and make true, genuine connections with others. It is up to the Individual to become self-reliant and capable of self-defense, and find a cause worth facing your fears for. It is up to the Individual to carve their own path in life, train and develop themselves and their skills, and create their own place in society that uniquely benefits others.

It is possible that the Third Impact—the catastrophic event thought to happen if an Angel makes it to the core of NERV—is actually the “death” of Shinji’s former identity or personality, and the birth of a new one.

These projected Angels can also represent actual individuals, or possibly the projections of Shinji’s insecurities onto other individuals, and Shinji may be confronting his own fears of getting close to others. The violence between the Eva’s and the Angels may be the violence between two people in conversation, two people trying to get to know each other, or two people wondering if they even should get to know each other.

It may be the violence of having to push deeper into someone’s life, of having to get closer and closer to another person, even in times when it makes us uncomfortable to do so—even at times when it hurts incredibly bad.

While I don’t entirely agree with the Postmodern notion that words are violence, it’s an interesting idea to take into consideration at a psychological or phenomenological level.

To the degree that words can tear down someone else, or reduce them to either a sad, sobbing mess or a furious, shaking monster, words can be viewed (though only to a certain degree or in a specific lens) as violence.

This might be the violence of honesty. How can someone know what you actually think if they don’t bear the pain of hearing your honest opinion? How can someone know what your feelings are if they don’t risk discovering there are negative emotions pointed at you? How do you fully understand who a person actually is without understanding the horrors and tragedies within them—as repulsive as they may be?

So, the violence done to and by the Angels is:

  • The violence we do unto ourselves, as we come to understand ourselves better, or try to change ourselves
  • The violence others do unto us, as their personality, their emotions, their thoughts and their identity comes into greater and greater contact with our own
  • The violence we do unto others, as we get closer to others and see them more and more as who they really are

Altogether, Neon Genesis Evangelion depicts a psychodynamic narrative that is not happening in a physical reality, but in the psychological and phenomenological reality of Shinji Ikari’s mind.

The relationships between people in Neon Genesis are the relationships between various components of Shinji’s psyche.

The physical conflicts are conflicts within Shinji’s mind, either as the tensions Shinji has with others, or the tensions Shinji has with himself.

Violence can be: an act of change; an act of repressing change; an act of showing one’s own vulnerabilities; an act of revealing someone else’s vulnerabilities. However, these all have the potential to produce tremendous anxiety and depression.

The Angels entering Shinji’s psyche reflect external threats entering our consciousness, other individuals in our lives entering our consciousness, and reflections of our selves and our potentials entering our consciousness.

Neon Genesis Evangelion is a psychodynamic depiction of the psychological reality occurring within Shinji Ikari’s mind.

Conclusion

This analysis can be one of many, and I want to conclude with a meta-analysis of this analysis.

There are many levels of Neon Genesis Evangelion to explore, especially since so much in the original series and in End of Evangelion is so ambiguous.

One can explore the literal events—the plot—and attempt to correlate various events on that level.

One can explore the lore of the world and try to correlate the many fragments of tiny details and exposition that have yet to be pieced together.

One can explore the characters, their relationships with each other, their individual lore and background, and their development through the series.

One can analyze this on a more literal psychological basis than I have, on a philosophical level, or from a socio-cultural angle.

One can analyze just one sub-component—a single character, a single Angel, a single episode—from many different angles and likely yield great depth from just that one component from one particular lens of analysis.

That is part of what is so powerful with this story: there is a bottomless pit of information to sift through and analyze, there are so many lines of thought one can follow, and there are so many different interpretations of just single events.

However, I think my interpretation here can reveal some of the deepest insights about the story, and I think some of the insights I’ve unearthed and articulated here are applicable to all other levels or lenses of analysis (at least partially).

This analysis certainly is not conclusive, as this was only intended to serve as a framework to view the series and its complex web of characters and events. Even from this one lens of analysis—the psychodynamic lens—there are great depths one could explore within just one character or one relationship between characters.

I do feel though that if one follows this particular line of thought—viewing Neon Genesis Evangelion through a lens of Psychodynamic Narrative—one will find that it remains applicable throughout the rest of the series. However, considering that there is a mountain of information, plot points, lore-building, characters and characterization that have yet to be introduced or fully explored in the first two episodes, then there is still quite a lot that must be accommodated into this analysis.

One blaring example is Asuka, a pivotal character for much of the series.

How does she fit into this framework? How does she relate to Shinji, Gendo, Misato, the Eva’s and Angels, and the setting?

Also, there is the fact that this story is not told in first person point of view. How can this be a psychodynamic analysis of a show exploring one character’s psyche if the show is in 3rd Person Perspective? How can this be a window into Shinji’s psyche if Shinji as the Ego is not present in many of the scenes?

To that I would say that many of these scenes may be unconscious processes or functions that Shinji is not conscious of. Or, they may be Shinji contemplating others, contemplating certain events and contemplating various aspects of his psyche without him contemplating himself in direct relation to them.

Seeing Shinji or being in Shinji’s mind may be Shinji contemplating himself as an Individual or as an Ego. Seeing other characters without Shinji may be Shinji as the Ego/Self contemplating other aspects of himself disassociated from his sense of self.

Another important note here—and this applies to nearly all creative works—is that this show is not an actual, documentarian depiction of something. This show is the brain-child of Hideaki Anno and the product of dozens of people (maybe over a hundred or more, who knows?) working together to create this show, and this must be kept in the back of one’s mind.

Why did they do this? What was the point of this? What were they thinking when they made this specific scene or drew this specific character in this way?

What was Hideaki thinking when he did X, Y or Z? Why did he choose to do this in this specific way? What was the purpose of A, B or C?

This is all important to think about when analyzing any piece of creative work—art, literature, music, film, etc.—as well as thinking about the process of creating these works.

Nonetheless, much work still needs to be done in this framework of analysis alone, but these articles have hopefully formed a solid foundation to proceed forward.

This analysis has helped me and my thinking in regards to NGE, as well as in my thinking of other narratives. Much of what I wanted to display with these articles was not just an analysis of NGE specifically, but approaching a Psychodynamic analysis like this in general, and how to view these narratives. I hope this analysis can help others understand NGE better, or at least in a different light, and I hope this analysis also helps others understand narratives in a Psychodynamic perspective in general.

Analysis of Neon Genesis Episodes 1 & 2

Creature Fear

Part 2

Written by Alexander Greco

June 17, 2020


So many foreign worlds
So relatively fucked
So ready for us
So ready for us
The creature fear

Bon Iver

Introduction

This article takes off where I ended the last article on Neon Genesis Evangelion, beginning with an analysis of Episode 2. If you haven’t read the previous article, I recommend doing so, as much of the information—including a general description of my foundational framework for understanding NGE and an analysis of Episode 1—will pertain to what I discuss here.

This was previously intended to be the conclusion of the previous article, but ended up being ~4x as long as the first article, so I’ve split this article up into two parts (Part 2 and Part 3)

In this article, I will examine Episode 2 of NGE, then delve more deeply into the characters and their psychodynamic relationship to each other.

While these articles are not a comprehensive analysis of NGE, and it is not the only angle one can analyze the show from, they will provide a framework for understanding the show from a symbolic and psychodynamic perspective.

In addition, although the analysis in these articles are focused on the first two episodes of the series, there are some references to later episodes or information that isn’t revealed until later episodes (so, potential spoilers ahead…). I’ve tried to remove an major spoilers and as many references to later episodes as I could, this somewhat diminishes parts of the analysis, so I may publish a more comprehensive article in the future that includes these references.

Episode 2

Episode 2 begins right where Episode 1 left off, with Shinji piloting the Eva, about to confront the Angel, Sachiel.

Shinji is only able to take one step forward with the Eva before he falls forward and the Eva lands face down in the street. Shinji is unable to stand up as the Angel looms overhead.

The Angel picks up the limp Eva. After snapping the Eva’s forearm, a spear of light from the Angel’s hand begins thrusting into the Eva’s head. The spear finally penetrates the Eva’s skull, impaling the Eva through its right eye, and throws the Eva into a nearby building, profusely bleeding from its skull.

There is a brief moment of extreme panic, then we cut to a shot of Shinji waking up in a hospital bed, remarking that the ceiling above him is unfamiliar.

We will not see the conclusion of Shinji and Sachiel’s confrontation until the end of the episode.

As a small side note, this is brilliant storytelling on the part of Hideaki Anno. The rest of the episode, until this final conclusion, is a small marathon of exposition. This isn’t to say that it’s uninteresting, the middle of this episode provides a tremendous amount of relevant information, but we spend the entire episode at the edge of our seats, even though most of the events in between the beginning and end of the battle are filled with talking. This allows Hideaki to begin deeply informing the viewers on the peripheral information regarding the larger plot/story, lore and world of NGE.

First after this cliffhanger are a series of small scenes bouncing back and forth between Misato and Ritsuko at the aftermath of the battle and Gendo, Shinji’s father, attending a highly secretive meeting between members of an organization known as Seele.

While the shots with Misato and Ritsuko in the city provide only minor exposition, the shots of Gendo reveal far deeper information regarding the show. Primarily, we are shown that NERV is actually under the authority of this organization known as Seele, and the Instrumentality Project is first mentioned here.

The Instrumentality Project will remain a growing mystery for much of the show, but what is important about Instrumentality for the analysis is that it involves the themes of individualism vs. collectivism and of our difficulties in connecting with other humans—our fear of vulnerability and pain in social interaction.

Much of the rest of the episode is focused on Shinji being let out from the hospital, and Misato taking him home with her after he discovers Shinji will otherwise have to live alone.

Here, we are more thoroughly introduced to the dysfunctional, erratic and ambivalent Misato, but alongside this, we are shown the more compassionate, kind and hopeful aspects of Misato’s character.

First, Misato takes Shinji to a store to buy cheap microwavable food for them, claiming they are going to have a party. Then, Misato takes Shinji to a hill overlooking Tokyo-3, where Shinji watches the city buildings rise from the ground. Misato explains that the entire city was designed as a fortress guarding against the Angels, and tells Shinji that this was the city he saved.

Shinji is then brought to Misato’s apartment and is somewhat repulsed by the sight of empty beer cans and bottles of booze, trash littering the apartment, unopened boxes of Misato’s belongings and a refrigerator full of alcohol.

The two have dinner together, with Misato quickly becoming raucously drunk, berating Shinji for not eating the food right away, then quickly changing her mood, mentioning that it’s nice, the two of them being alone with each other. We are shown many shots in these scenes of Misato’s butt and bouncing boobies (the fanservice is real in NGE), with Shinji shrinking in fear and embarrassment with the small storm of mixed signals, including lines from Misato like, “take advantage of anything… except me…”

When Shinji continuously agrees to everything she says, Misato gets mad at him for constantly agreeing to everything, telling him to act more like a man. She reaches across the table, on all fours like an animal, and grabs him by the hair, shaking his head. Shinji agrees to her violent demand, and she happily relents, saying that that’s just the way he is.

Here, we are shown a short, semi-distant shot of Misato and Shinji at the dinner table that I found to be slightly genius. Misato is on the left, Shinji is on the right. Misato is obscured by a dark and blurry leafy plant in the foreground. The color of the plants roughly matches the color of Misato’s hair, and the posture of the leaves roughly matches the posture of Misato. I will discuss this more later.

Shinji goes to take a bath, which Misato tells him will cleanse his mind and soul. We are then shown Shinji, completely undressed, staring up at Misato’s bras and underwear hanging from the ceiling, as he is about to take a bath. He opens the door, and meets Pen-Pen, a warmwater penguin. Shinji freaks out and runs back to Misato, and Misato calmly tells Shinji about Pen-Pen, their other roommate.

I won’t discuss this much in the later analysis, but I think Pen-Pen here might be symbolic of Shinji’s own “Pen-Pen”. Shinji is naked, staring at Misato’s bras and panties, then opens the door to the bathroom to discover Pen-Pen. This might be Shinji getting aroused at the sight of Misato’s intimates and Shinji freaking out at the sight of his arousal. In the next shot, when Shinji goes to Misato, still completely naked, we are not shown Shinji’s “Pen-Pen”, but our attention is comically drawn to it by clever censorship.

Though this detail likely isn’t majorly relevant to the story or analysis, there is one other interesting detail here. Pen-Pen (the penguin Pen-Pen) has roughly the same eye color as Eva Unit 01

Shinji takes a bath, then we are taken to Gendo and Ritsuko in NERV headquarters, examining Unit 00 (Rei’s Eva). Here, we see Gendo’s coldness as discusses the pilots of the Eva’s. He seems to have little to no regard for them as anything but tools for his plans, except for Rei (for reasons). In addition, Ritsuko’s behavior seems different when alone with Gendo as opposed to when she is with others.

Then, we are taken back to Shinji, who is now laying in bed, listening to music, and staring at the ceiling. Shinji remarks that this is another unfamiliar ceiling, harkening back to when he first woke up in the hospital.

We hear the sound of footsteps approaching—the Angel’s footsteps—as Shinji continues staring at the ceiling.

Suddenly, we are back in the fight from the beginning of the episode. The Angel’s spear pierces and impales the Eva’s head. The Eva is thrown back against the building. Blood explodes from its head.

The Eva is unresponsive. They cannot eject the entry plug containing Shinji from the Eva. Shinji is losing his mind inside the Eva.

Then, the Eva reawakens and enters “Berserker Mode”. The Eva’s mouth opens. It roars and charges the Angel, leaping at it and attacking it. The Angel and the Eva begin battling, with Gendo’s second in-command commenting, “It looks like we’ve won.”

Unit 01 tears through the Angel’s Absolute Terror Field (or AT Field), using its hands to pry apart the energy field surrounding the Angel.

The Angel attacks the Eva back with a cross-shaped explosion, but this does almost nothing to the Eva. The Eva grabs the Angel’s arms and snaps them, then pins the Angel down and tears its chest open.

The Eva begins slamming its hands into the red sphere in the Angel’s chest, beginning to break the sphere, but the Angel wraps itself around the Eva and self-destructs, causing a massive explosion.

However, the Eva emerges from the explosion, unharmed.

The episode ends back with Shinji lying in bed, his eyes wide open and his back to the door. Misato opens the door, telling him how good Shinji did, and that he should be proud of himself. Shijni does not respond. Misato tells him to hang in there, then closes the door. Shinji is still wide awake, traumatized by what he just lived through.

Breakdown of Episode 2

The major event of Episode 2 is obviously the conclusion to Shinji’s first confrontation with the Angels. However, there are other details I’d like to cover first.

Gendo is symbolic of the Super-Ego—the Super-Ego being the forces of society acting on your psyche. Mythologically, the King or Father God is representative of society, social order and culture (though, of course, the Father Gods of various mythologies have their own individual complexities).

Someone’s parents are theorized to be the first source of the Super-Ego, though Freud put the Father Figure as the primary influence on the developing Super-Ego. Then the child is exposed to broader society where their idea of the Super-Ego is expanded.

The Seele Council can be seen as this broader Super-Ego. They are like a Meta-Super-Ego. Our first experiences with the rules, standards and norms of society come from our parents, other family members and any other family friends we may come in contact with in the beginnings of our development.

Then, we come in contact with teachers, coaches, other kids and their parents, and so forth. We meet more and more people out in public, then eventually we learn more about policing, government officials, politicians, the military, and then other countries and their forms of authority, leadership and cultural norms.

The more forms of authority, social expectations and laws we come in contact with or learn about, the more complex and nuanced our Super-Ego becomes. As this sense of the Super-Ego grows, we begin to understand broader patterns in authorities or in social norms that can be simplified into more universal patterns with different levels of variation.

This is what Seele is. They are the meta-authorities—distillations of patterns of authority and cultural norms—which bear down on us and must be appeased. They are the rulers of the rulers of the rulers. Seele can be seen as representing not the literal rulers of the rulers of the rulers, but as the ideas, which govern the world leaders, who govern our society, who govern our parents, who govern us (until we learn to govern ourselves).

To further cement this idea, we never physically see the members of Seele—we only see either holograms or the floating monoliths representing them.

Their hidden agenda is the Instrumentality project. In the finale of the original series, End of Evangelion, the Instrumentality project essentially poses a question to Shinji: Do I remain an individual consciousness, isolated, lonely, paranoid and afraid? Or do I tear down all the boundaries between myself and others (an insanely violent process in EoE), so that there is no individuality, but there is also no pain, suffering, loneliness or fear after these boundaries are torn down?

Next, Misato (translated to “beauty”, “beautiful home/village” or “beautiful knowledge”).

In this episode, Misato’s character and relationship to Shinji is particularly fleshed out. We see the more erratic, childish and hedonic side of her personality, and we see her compassion and care towards Shinji.

Why did Misato choose to take Shinji in? One theory is that Misato has no children of her own, and, as shown later in the show, has a complicated history with sex, romance and paternity. Perhaps these are her maternal instincts kicking in? On the other side of the relationship, Shinji’s mother has been dead for most of his life, so Misato may be filling the Maternal role Shinji never had.

Misato’s behavior is also highly familiar with Shinji, in the sense that she acts unprofessionally, at times rudely and definitely very bluntly with Shinji—much how we act with our own families. Misato doesn’t treat Shinji like someone else’s child, she treats Shinji like her own child, or at least like a little brother (her sexual remarks, however, make this a little creepy).

Ritsuko may be the flip side of being Shinji’s mother, as many mothers have jobs. When we see our mothers at their place of work, it’s a much different experience. They have to act more professionally, they still have to perform their duties, and they have to maintain workplace relationships, which are different from our personal relationships with parents.

Nonetheless, they are still our parents, even at their place of work, which in part may be why we see Misato and Ritsuko working together. The two of them are the distillation of the different “modes” of Shinji’s concept of his Mother—or different modes of the concept/symbol “Mother” and/or “Woman”.

To add onto this, Rei could be the distillation or compartmentalization of Shinji’s understanding of women as his source of sexual attraction. Connecting Rei to Shinji’s mother would be a 100% spoiler, and would incite the ever-controversial Freudian Oedipal Complex, but, nonetheless, an argument can be made that Rei is the ultimate personification of Shinji’s concept of “female”, “woman” or “sexual other” (which I will discuss later).

However, Misato seems to be more than this. The scene with the plants in the foreground indicates Misato as being another meta-symbol similar to Gendo and Seele.

Throughout mythology, Nature has typically been represented as feminine—Mother Nature. In the semi-distant shot of Misato and Shinji at the dinner table, mentioned previously, the blurry, dark plants in the foreground seem to almost blend into Misato or envelop her. At this same moment, Shinji is dealing with a series of mixed signals and conflicting emotions from Misato.

This can represent multiple things.

This can be showing the mystery of the opposite gender: the difficulty men and women have at understanding each other, the miscommunications that arise either from differences in our psychology, our mode of communication, or in the added sense vulnerability we feel around those we are sexually attracted to. This can also be showing the mystery of nature and reality; the infinite oceans of information that we will never fully grasp or correlate.

Mother Nature is just as ambivalent as Misato. In Erich Neumann and others’ analysis of the “Great Mother” (essentially synonymous to “Mother Nature”), the meta-archetype of Mother is simultaneously protective, nurturing and compassionate, and cruel, violent and indifferent.

Misato protected Shinji from the Angel, but then drove him to NERV so that he could risk his life fighting the Angel. Misato takes Shinji home to give him food, shelter and companionship, but then repeatedly berates and belittles him, as well as give him the majority of chores at the apartment. Misato is a source of comfort and love—telling Shinji how well he did piloting the Eva—but is also a source of pain and fear—being the one who makes Shinji pilot the Eva.

And now, the inevitable end.

At its simplest, the confrontation between Angel and Eva is the confrontation with the Ego—Shinji, the Protagonist—with one’s fears.

The Eva as a suit of armor is a projection of the inner Self, but it is also the combative persona we wear in order to confront that which threatens us. They are both our defense mechanisms and our weapons of attack. However, the Eva’s are also an armor and weapon constructed for the pilots by society and culture.

As I mentioned before, the Angels are what I would call “hyper-individuals”, that is, they are autonomous entities with enormous, self-contained power, which can overpower the combined forces of an entire city’s military defenses. They are many, many times stronger than the forces of society—the thousands of faceless soldiers in tanks and helicopters—attempting to stop them.

The fact the Angels are trying to penetrate into NERV means they represent psychodynamic manifestations of physical challenges, of our emotions, or of other people. They are the things we fear the most entering our most sacred and vulnerable parts of our psyche.

This is mirrored by the Absolute Terror Field, which is like a shield we put up in order to keep others out.

Just as the Angel’s attempt to penetrate NERV, the Eva’s must penetrate the Angel’s Absolute Terror Field.

As the character Kowaru explained in one of the last episodes of the show (very mild spoilers):

“This is the light of my soul. A sacred territory in which no one may intrude. Aren’t you Lilin even aware that your AT field is merely that wall that encloses every mind that exists?”

This battle is essentially over once Unit 01 enters Berserk Mode. Berserk Mode would be akin to getting pushed to the absolute edge of your emotional tolerance or wherewithal. There is no control. There is no holding back. There is no mercy.

The Eva then tears open the Angel’s AT Field with is hands, using its own AT Field to “corrode” the Angel’s.

Perhaps Berserk Mode is a manifestation of the Will to Life, or the Will to Power. Perhaps this is the Eva’s desire to survive overwhelming the Angel’s desire to survive. In the end, once the Eva has thoroughly overpowered the Angel, the Angel self-destructs. Its self-preservation goes out the window, and it decides to attempt annihilating the Eva at the cost of its own life.

Perhaps this is a contemplation of suicide? Or the destruction of a part of our psyche? The attempt at killing the Angel is nonetheless an attempt at annihilating our fears or the projection of our fears.

While the Angels are Hyper-Individuals capable of laying waste to thousands if not millions of individual humans, the Eva’s also are these Hyper-Individuals, which are in many ways just like Angels, except that they are created by humans.

This final confrontation is about an Individual nested within Society—Shinji as our Ego’s stand-in—becoming a Hyper-Individual in order to confront their greatest fears and overcome humanity’s greatest obstacles. Shinji dons the living armor, weapon and tool that is the Eva, and, for fleeting moments, we witness the power of Nietzsche’s Ubermensch before Shinji returns to normal.

This is the potential within us all, the potential of being so much more than ourselves—of becoming like Gods. Humans must become like Monsters to defeat Monsters, but Humans must become like God to defeat Gods.

Characters

Gendo

Gendo acts as the Super-Ego—the Father or God the Father, symbolic of society, law, authority and culture.

However, it is how Gendo (the Super-Ego) treats Shinji that expresses Hideaki’s ideas on the Super-Ego or on Society/Culture.

Gendo is callous and cold. Gendo doesn’t seem to care about Shinji whatsoever. For Gendo, the only reason to keep Shinji around is so he can pilot the Eva, and Gendo is ready to discard anyone not performing their “function” at the drop of a hat.

Society seems ready to discard anyone at the drop of a hat. Anyone who doesn’t play their part in society might as well be a non-entity. In today’s society, fortunately, there are many roles one can play, many professions or occupations one can have, that allow one to remain a part of and flourish within society. Nonetheless, there is little to no compassion or care for someone who cannot uphold their duties.

Is this fair?

Yes and no.

To a certain degree, this dehumanizes us. We become cogs, we become stats, we become numbers and functions. We are barely human amidst the grand mechanisms of economy, geo-politics, species survival, innovation and technology, and so forth.

However, what are we anyway if we are not fulfilling our duty to society? What are we if we do nothing and expect everything? What are we if we give nothing to the world around us, and yet expect the world to accept us, to love us, to need us?

We’re alone. We’re unnecessary. We’re useless.

Unless we live in the woods, own a self-sustaining farm or live some other self-contained, isolated lifestyle, why should anyone care about us if we don’t give them a reason to care about us?

This is Shinji’s emotional turmoil when Gendo, Ritsuko and Misato ask Shinji to pilot the Eva. It doesn’t seem fair that the only reason his Father should want him is to pilot Unit 01. It doesn’t seem fair that everyone should turn their backs on us simply because we’re not the person they want us to be. It doesn’t seem fair that we should be discarded because we don’t play our part.

This leads to one of Shinji’s most insufferable but relatable moments.

He is given the potential to perform the most important, honorable and prestigious task in all of humanity—piloting Eva Unit 01 in order to confront the Angels. However, he turns this down because it isn’t fair that he should only be loved if he attempts this horrifying, impossible task. Shouldn’t one be needed simply for the sake of their existence and nothing else?

So, when Shinji refuses, everyone turns their back on Shinji, and Shinji affirms, like a self-fulfilling prophecy, that no one actually needed him after all.

What a bratty, selfish and disingenuous thing to say. Shinji was given every opportunity to pilot the Eva—to be the person everyone on the planet needed him to be. And when he refused this, he bitterly affirms that no one actually needed him. But why should anyone expect to be needed if they don’t do the things society needs them to do?

This of course is completely understandable. Though many argue that our Capitalist, Free-Market, Democratic society dehumanizes us, the dehumanization by society has likely been prevalent since the first community of humans that exceeded Dunbar’s Number (the maximum number of stable social relationships one can maintain).

As painful as this can be, and as harsh as this reality is, why should anyone need you simply for the sake of your existence? What is your existence anyway if you can’t benefit yourself, your family, your friends, your community and so forth? What is your existence if you can’t make the world a better place for those around you?

Gendo is the manifestation—the idea made flesh—of this. Gendo (law, culture, society) provides protection, provides productive roles in society and provides identities for those under him, but Gendo is also tyrannical, harsh and dehumanizing.

Ritsuko

Ritsuko’s character is not fleshed out for a while in this show, or, at least, is fleshed out rather slowly.

However, Ritsuko should be seen as both a manifestation of Shinji’s psyche and anima, and a manifestation of Shinji’s conception of “woman”.

Ritsuko is the left-brainism to Misato’s right-brainism. She is analytical, she is poised and professional, and she is socially disconnected.

Ritsuko is not sexualized to the degree Misato is, and she is at times more threatening and imposing than Misato is. Where Misato is Shinji’s conception of “Woman” on a sexual, outgoing, extroverted level, Ritsuko may be the more threatening and superior conception of “Woman”.

Where Misato is mysterious to Shinji simply because of who she is and her erratic behavior, Ritsuko is mysterious because we don’t see much of her behavior. We don’t see many outbursts of emotion from Ritsuko, we don’t get to hear much of Ritsuko’s personal thoughts or ideas, we don’t get to see Ritsuko act as anything but professional.

Where Misato is veiled simply by who she is and the disconnect between her personality and Shinji’s, Ritsuko is veiled because she veils her self. She is veiled because she is cold, she is affectless, she stands above us as a calm, unwavering, always-rational pillar of reason.

Ritsuko’s Apollonian gaze in the first two episodes occasionally parallels the cold, harsh, self-superiorizing gaze of the Nefertiti bust—which also softly parallels the much colder, harsher gaze of Gendo

An interesting note here is in the difference between Misato and Ritsuko’s relationship to Gendo.

Misato doesn’t seem to have any great attachment to Gendo except as her boss and as Shinji’s Father. Misato is only loyal to Gendo because of a sort of social contract, and because of the higher ideals her and Gendo share.

One could say that Misato is not devoted to the material Father, she is devoted to the transcendent Father, the Father living in heaven, represented by the cross she wears.

Ritsuko, on the other hand, is not attached to Gendo’s ambitions and ideals, but is attached to Gendo as a material being. She is loyal to Gendo physically rather than loyal to him morally.

Ritsuko might not have morals the same way Misato has. She might truly be cold and amoral, and follow Gendo only because of his power, his authority, his material property (NERV), and because of sexual attraction.

Misato is loyal to Gendo as Idea.

Ritsuko is loyal to Gendo as Flesh.

Misato

Misato is another mode of Shinji’s anima and conception of “woman”.

Misato is the right-brain aspect of Shinji’s psyche, and is both more emotional and idealistic than Ritsuko. Where Ritsuko is more focused on the material, the physical and the tangible, Misato is more focused on the idealistic, the moral and the transcendent. This is shown partially with the cross she wears, an icon representing a divine or transcendent Father—a divine or transcendent source of morality.

Where the left hemisphere of the brain operates with more bottom-up processing (detail-oriented but lacking in certain higher-order functions), the right hemisphere operates with top-down processing (starting with the “bigger picture”, or higher-order concerns, and conceptualizing details from this higher-order “big picture”).

Misato similarly seems to operate in this way. She sees the world through the lens of the “bigger picture”, or from seeing what is important first and processing information from those first principles.

Misato is also more impulsive and emotional than Ritsuko. Though she operates from seeing the bigger picture, she is less capable of dealing with the small details. Why sweat the small things? Why constantly discipline yourself and punish yourself when larger things are at stake?

This of course leads to Misato’s hedonic lifestyle and more open sexuality. While Misato may lead a (somewhat) more emotionally healthy life than Ritsuko, Ritsuko leads a far more productive and physically healthy life than Misato.

However, because Misato is more focused on the bigger picture, this makes her a stronger, more prevalent character in the story, as well as a stronger moral compass for Shinji. Her voice in Shinji’s ear urges him towards doing what is important, what is right and what is morally good. Ritsuko has little to no voice in Shinji’s actions.

Rei

Rei is complicated, she isn’t deeply explored in the first two episodes, and it’s difficult to delve into Rei’s character without spoiling much of the show. However, an analysis can still be done without major spoilers.

Until Asuka is introduced, and even somewhat afterwards, Rei is Shinji’s primary romantic interest. However, she has very little outward personality, she considers herself to be replaceable, and she barely communicates with others.

Because of this, I believe Rei represents something like a basic or fundamental understanding of women for Shinji, almost like an empty canvas.

She is the baseline of Shinji’s conception of “woman”, or the “sexual other”.

An interesting line of thought is looking at Neon Genesis as if Rei is the only actual woman in the show, and all the other women are actually Shinji’s projections of other personalities onto Rei. (For those of you who have watched End of Evangelion, this may ring especially true).

If Rei is like an empty canvas for Shinji’s conceptualization of “woman”, then as Shinji tries to understand Rei, he sees many different versions or modalities of Rei (Misato, Ritsuko, Asuka and so forth).

The nearly unbridgeable gap between Shinji and others is represented through the unbridgeable gap between Shinji and Rei. Deep communication and emotional connection between the two seems nearly impossible, and the projections Shinji has of other women are both personas presented by outward personality and glimpses of a deeper personality.

With Rei as the core of Shinji’s conceptualization of his source of romantic companionship and sexual attraction, the other major female characters may act as fragmented personalities of one unifiable personality.

Rei is also the primary mode of Shinji’s Anima. She is Shinji’s reason for even getting into the Eva in the first place. She is the reason Shinji confronts the horrors he is faced with, and his reason for conforming to the needs and demands of society.

And, without spoilers to really examine this, Rei is also the physical manifestation of Shinji’s deepest conflicts—remaining an individual perpetually isolated from others, but nonetheless maintaining one’s personal identity, or dissolving one’s identity and the identity of others, so as to intimately connect with others around you.

Shinji

Shinji is the Ego.

Shinji is the conscious perception of oneself. Shinji is the conceptualization of oneself. Shinji is the active, perceiving force of the psyche contending with both internal forces (Id) and external forces (Super-Ego), while also contending with the horrors of reality.

Shinji is alone as an Individual in Society and the natural world, as we all essentially are, and Shinji is alone in his own mind with the landscape of his psyche.

Shinji is a stand-in for us as individuals. Shinji is the point of consciousness upon which our brains project reality, and the point of consciousness we declare as “ourselves”. Shinji is the double mirror, an infinite feedback loop of our perceptions of self and not-self, continuously reflecting and reconceptualizing.

So much of Shinji’s character has already been reflected in the other characters or in the other characters’ relationship to Shinji, so there is much that doesn’t need to be said about him again, but it is important to hammer in this simple statement:

Shinji is symbolic of our sense of selfness.

And, as I will discuss further into the analysis, this entire show may in fact be a Psychodynamic representation of Shinji’s psyche.

Analysis of Neon Genesis Evangelion, Episodes 1 & 2

Creature Fear

Part 1

Written by Alexander Greco

June 7, 2020

Because this analysis ended up being so long, I’ve broken it up into two parts. Some of the ideas and arguments in this article will not be resolved until the next article.

If you haven’t watched Neon Genesis Evangelion, I would recommend doing so. Also, while this article and the next focus on the first two episodes, there are a few references to events in later episodes.

Introduction

Neon Genesis Evangelion has evaded any conclusive analysis due to its complexity, depth and ambivalence. However, given the proper framework through which to understand the show, the ideas Neon Genesis communicates to us become far clearer. Much of this framework can constructed from an in-depth analysis of just the first two episodes. With this analysis, we can understand Neon Genesis through a lens of psychodynamic symbolism and the thematic contexts of Violence, Pain, Fear and Individualism vs Collectivism.

We can use these to examine the characters, the narrative structure, and—quite possibly the key or cornerstone element—the setting of Neon Genesis in order to understand this impenetrable anime.

Gendo and Shinji

Neon Genesis is about many things. Primarily, it is about our relationships with other people, and how we perceive, construct or conceptualize those relationships inside our own minds—our subjective understanding of our personal relationships.

The nature of these relationships may be that of friendship, that of duty, that of transaction, that of recognition-seeking, that of sexual attraction and so forth, but they are all forces acting upon us—forces of the Id and Super-Ego (sexuality, survival and society) acting upon the Ego.

However, these relationships are not necessarily shown explicitly through the interactions of the characters, and the tensions between characters may often be manifested in the major physical conflicts of the show through Angels and Eva’s

The Ego in Neon Genesis Evangelion is represented with Shinji. Shinji as the protagonist is the character we are supposed to relate to the most, the character we are supposed to invest in the most, and the character whom the entire story revolves around. Shinji (as many protagonists are) is a stand-in for our conscious sense of self, and Neon Genesis shows the subjective psychodynamics of this conscious sense of self relating to the world around us.

It shows us our relationship to society (Shinji and Gendo). It shows us our relationship to those we become close to (Shinji and Misato). It shows us our relationship to those we become romantically attracted to (Shinji and Rei).

This last one is arguably the most important. This romantic attraction, as I will show later, is the most powerful of these varying psychic/subjective forces. Attraction, love, sexuality is what drives us forward, into the harsh reality around us, to confront the horrors of the world (the Angels).

Eva Unit 01 Tearing open Sachiel’s AT Field

Violence is a physical tool in Neon Genesis. We see this with the angel penetrating into the inner sanctums of Tokyo-3 and penetrating the body of Eva Unit 01, and Eva Unit 01 tearing down the Absolute Terror (AT) Field down around the Angel and tearing open the Angel’s body with its hands.

Violence is also a psychological tool. It is the violence necessary to confront reality, to penetrate into the world, and the violence necessary to become closer to someone, to slowly tear down the boundaries between you and the other. It is finally the violence of sex, the ultimate state of vulnerability between two people.

And, of course, violence in all its forms causes pain, physical and psychological. We are at all times vulnerable to violence, vulnerable to assaults from others, vulnerable to intimacy, and vulnerable to the pain caused by closeness to others. This is Schopenhauer’s Hedgehog Dilemma.

Neon Genesis is about the individual and the collective.

Evangelion, or Eva, Unit 01

We are all singular beings, and yet we are all pieces of something much larger. Very few humans could survive long without other humans, especially in the current organization of modern society. We are all individuals, but we are all individuals exist as one larger super-organism. As stated in Fullmetal Alchemist, “One is all, all is one.”

Humanity is made of many individuals, but humanity operates as a collective. Angels, by contrast, operate as individuals. Angels, you could say, operate as “hyper-individuals”. Though their motivations may align with the other angels’ motivations, each Angel operates autonomously, and are capable of waging one-man wars against the human collective.

Eva’s are the human response to the Angels’ hyper-individuality with their own hyper-individual constructions, but this necessarily requires the Eva’s to still be under the dominion of the broader collective, and the singular Eva’s would not be possible without this broader collective.

Finally, on a deeper examination, the setting of Neon Genesis reveals to us that we are not witnessing physical events when we watch Neon Genesis Evangelion, but we are actually witnessing internal, psychological or subjective events.

The Geofront and NERV Headquarters

Neon Genesis Evangelion is a symbolic representation of the inner struggles, machinations and battles of the psyche, as experienced by the conscious Ego—Shinji.

In Neon Genesis, we witness the psychic theater of the unconscious, and the ambivalent, complex nature of Neon Genesis is the same as the ambivalent, complex nature of our own psyche.

Episode 1

Sachiel in battle with Tokyo-3’s military

Neon Genesis begins with the Sachiel, the first Angel, swimming through a ruined city flooded by the ocean. Hundreds of military tanks are lined up in near-perfect order along a highway overlooking the ocean. We see the ocean erupt in the distance with the emergence of Sachiel.

Next, we are shown an abandoned city, abandoned, presumably, because everyone has been evacuated. One of the only the only people left in the city is Misato, who is driving through empty streets searching for Shinji to bring him back to NERV headquarters.

Shinji is standing at an inoperable pay phone, wondering if he’ll be able to find Misato. Shinji catches a brief glimpse—a hallucination, most likely—of Rei. The ground and surrounding buildings shake, and Rei is gone. Shinji turns to see helicopters retreating into the city, followed by the towering, impossibly large Sachiel, relentlessly invading Tokyo-3.

We briefly get our first look inside NERV and are introduced to Shinji’s father, Gendo Ikari.

Next, Misato saves Shinji from an explosion caused by the Angel, Shinji gets in the car with Misato, and she begins driving him to NERV headquarters.

The detonation of the N2 Mine

At the same time, the military has exhausted most of their resources in combating the Angel, with little to no effect, so they resort to a weapon referred to as an N2 mine. Although this N2 mine is roughly equivalent in power to a nuclear bomb, even the detonation of an N2 mine can do little more than briefly slow the progress of the Angel.

Because of this Ikari, the director of NERV, is given command over defeating the Angel. His intention is to use the Eva Unit 01 to combat the Angel.

Shinji and Misato, who were nearly killed by the detonation of the N2 mine, flip Misato’s car back over before continuing on to NERV headquarters.

The two of them reach NERV headquarters, descending in a car-elevator deep underground. Here, it is revealed that NERV headquarters belongs to Shinji’s father, Gendo. Though Shinji doesn’t know what his father does, he comments that his father’s work is important to the safety of the human race. As the two descend further, we learn about the tension between Shinji and his father, and their somewhat troubled past.

They go far enough underground to enter the Geofront. The Geofront is an underground city which is designed as both a fortress to defend against the Angels, and a fortress to house the Angel, Lillith. It is depicted as a vast cavern with a city hanging from the ceiling and a pyramid conjoined to an inverted pyramid, with everything cast in a golden, heavenly light.

Shinji meeting Eva Unit 01 for the first time

Far, far underground now, in the depths of the pyramid housing NERV headquarters, Shinji and Misato encounter Ritsuko, who finally takes Shinji and Misato to Eva Unit 01—the first time we are fully introduced to the Evangelions, which are referred to as mankind’s last hope.

Far above the Eva Unit 01, Shinji’s father, Gendo, calls down to Shinji from an observation deck overlooking Shinji, Misato, Ritsuko and the Eva. Gendo tells them they are moving out. They will use Unit 01 to combat Sachiel. Shinji, who has never seen or even knew about Unit 01 until this moment, will pilot the Eva to battle the Angel.

Misato and Ritsuko argue about this, until Misato finally concedes that Shinji must pilot the Eva to save humanity. Shinji refuses. He is hurt that he would be asked to do such a thing—hurt that he is being pressured to perform a task so terrifying and harrowing as this—and he is hurt that this is the only reason his father even wanted to see him. Gendo doesn’t seem to care about Shinji except as a tool to be used.

When Shinji insists that he will not pilot the Eva—when the tool refuses to perform its task—Gendo coldly ignores Shinji and calls for Rei, another Eva pilot, to be brought to Unit 01 so she can battle the Angel. Misato and Ritsuko turn their backs on Shinji, and Shinji, now essentially abandoned because of his refusal, thinks to himself “I knew it, I’m not needed after all.”

Rei, who is badly wounded, is wheeled in on a gurney to Unit 01. She struggles to get out of the gurney, obviously in much pain. As Sachiel continues its assault on the aboveground city over NERV headquarters, parts of the building begin to collapse.

Shinji and Rei

Unit 01, which has been completely motionless until now, reaches out to save Shinji from falling debris. Shinji holds the struggling, wounded Rei, and pulls back his hand to her blood on his fingers. Shinji, seeing this, repeats to himself, “I mustn’t run away”, and finally agrees to pilot the Eva.

After Shinji enters the cockpit and the Eva is prepared, Shinji and Unit 01 are sent aboveground to the surface of Tokyo-3 to confront the Angel. Here, episode 1 ends.

Breakdown of Episode 1

A lot of information has been packed into just this first episode, and this episode is evidence of the genius of Hideaki Anno’s brilliant writing. In just over 20 minutes, we’ve learned an enormous amount of information, and we can’t help but want to see what happens next. However, this means that there is a large volume of information that must be parsed apart in order to dissect this episode, but this concentration of information is reduced if we focus on our psychoanalytic and thematic framework of understanding Neon Genesis.

The opening shots, showing us the ruined, flooded city, the Angel, Sachiel, and the array of military tanks awaiting the Angel can be viewed as a number of things, but, overall, it is representative of our threat-response.

The Second Impact caused by the Angel Adam, which wiped out half the Earth’s population before the current events of Neon Genesis

The ruined city is our past. It is our past society which has been destroyed by the Second Impact, an event which humanity is still recovering from. It is symbolic of previous generations and eras of humanity which once flourished, but fell to the wayside because they could not adapt. They are also the past generations that we have built our new society upon. While the ancient, classical, medieval and pre-modern societies of our history are either extinct or no longer exist as they once did, they have provided the foundation by which we’ve built our modern society, just as Tokyo-3 has been built nearly on top of this former city.

Though our new society has adapted to the threats we once faced, we now must face a new threat—albeit a threat that has likely adapted from the threats of our past.

The ocean that has flooded the ruined city is representative of both the unknown, and the dangers which emerge from the unknown, and of the unconscious—large, deep bodies of water being symbolic of the murky, lightless depths of our own psyche.

Sachiel is a new threat to our society, as humanity has never had conflicts with Angels in this manner, but it is a threat that has evolved from the calamity of the Second Impact.

The military that has been sent to combat the Angel and the evacuated city of Tokyo-3 are both symbolic of our cognitive threat responses.

When humans perceive a threat, when they go into fight or flight mode, their empathy, their sociability and their rationality are all shut off, and they rely on their instincts or their learned defense mechanisms. When the Angel emerges from the ocean (either the external unknown or the internal unconscious), the civilians of Tokyo-3 evacuate (our prefrontal conscious minds evacuating) and the military is mobilized to combat the threat (our survival instincts and our defense mechanisms).

However, our conventional threat-response mechanisms are incapable of responding to this novel threat (conventional weapons, even our most powerful conventional weapons, doing nothing to combat the Angel).

Because of this, humanity must adapt, but how can we adapt to this?

To defeat a monster, one become a monster.

Misato saving Shinji

Shinji is brought to NERV (German for “nerve”) by Misato. While it has been argued by some that Rei is Shinji’s Anima—a Jungian term describing the feminine aspect of the male psyche, and a psycho-spiritual guide of the Unconscious—Misato is at the very least another aspect or manifestation of Shinji’s Anima. Misato as a character at the very least functions as Jiminy Cricket functioned in Pinocchio—as our moral compass. Shown in Shinji’s relationship with Misato, our relationship to our own moral compasses is not an easy one. There are conflicts, misunderstandings and personality clashes between us and the voice telling us who we should be.

Ritsuko (left), Misato (right) and Shinji (center)

We then meet Ritsuko, who is the scientific, logical and introverted foil to the intuitive, emotional and extroverted Misato. Misato’s character here deepens in contrast to Ritsuko, and the two can be seen as representative of the left-brain/right-brain lateralization of the brain. Nonetheless, the two of them can both be seen as different manifestations or incarnations of Shinji’s Anima, and the act in conjunction as Shinji’s moral compass.

Recipient of the 1995 “Dad of the Year” Award

The two guide Shinji deeper and deeper into NERV headquarters. NERV HQ is highly symbolic of the brain and the psyche (Nerv being German for “nerve”, and the underground architecture being symbolic of the underground architecture of the brain).

Shinji is tasked by his father Gendo to pilot the Evangelion to defeat the Angel.

Shinji is the Ego—the conscious perceiver.

Gendo is the Super-Ego—society, symbolized by God the Father (recall Gendo speaking to Shinji from on high).

The Evangelion is the monster we must become. Eva Unit 01 is, in essence, a giant suit of biomechanical armor (defense-mechanism) and a living weapon (a monster).

Unit 01 “Berserk Mode”

Shinji—as everyone is—has been tasked by society to confront the threat that society is faced with. The new generations of humanity must step forward to confront the problems that the older generations of society could not overcome, and possibly the problems the older generations have caused.

The Evangelion is the suit of armor we must all wear as we confront the world and its horrors. It’s the brave face we must wear, the armor of conviction, duty and love. The Evangelion is the person we must become in order to save society.

What is important to note here is that Shinji did not pilot the Eva until he met Rei. He refused to obey his father. He refused to obey Ritsuko. He refused to obey Misato. But he willingly volunteered to pilot the Eva when he met Rei.

This is Rei, and this image is impossible to explain without spoilers. Just watch the show.

Shinji here retains his individuality by conforming to society’s standards and needs, but only because he aligns his own values and desires with society’s. By helping society attain their goals, Shinji achieves his own goals.

If Rei is Shinji’s Anima (Rei meaning “spirit” or “ghost” in Japanese, among other things) then Shinji decides to pilot the Eva out of his own, deeper sense of morality and psychic individuality—which supersedes that of society’s. He is not acting out of duty to the collective—Shinji is acting out of duty to his own psyche: to his own spirit.


This concludes part 1 of the analysis. In part 2, I will discuss episode two, delve deeper into the characters, the Angel and Eva, and the setting, then bring the ideas together to reinforce my broader analysis of Neon Genesis.

Man vs God Incarnate: An Analysis of Shin Gojira

Written by Alexander Greco

May 17, 2020

“Shin Gojira” is one of the most terrifying movies I have watched in the last few years, and is easily the best Godzilla movie made so far—yes, still better than anything Hollywood has produced. Written and directed by Hideaki Anno—creator of Neon Genesis Evangelion—Shin Gojira is a retelling of the classic Godzilla story, but it is also a contemporary remastering of the story. Rather than producing the over-the-top monster-mash America is intent on making, Hideaki kept the movie simple, honing in on all the minute details that brought out the horror of Godzilla, as well as crafting a compelling, meaningful and an archetypically mythological narrative relevant to modern society.

The horror of Shin Gojira came from several things.

First of all, the cinematography was spectacular. Every shot of Godzilla makes you feel small, vulnerable, weak and hopeless. The first full shots of Godzilla show Godzilla in the semi-distant background with a large number of humans in the foreground. Despite Godzilla’s distance and the people’s nearness, Godzilla’s size visually dominates the shot. Then, in later shots, we either see Godzilla towering in the far-distance, appearing surreally large in the distant background as people seem insect-like in the foreground, or we see Godzilla from nearer shots, where a small portion of Godzilla’s body fills the screen. This doesn’t even touch on elements such as the sound or lighting, musical score and the pacing of the scenes, which all were masterfully accomplished.

Godzilla’s design was easily the most innovative iteration yet, though far from the most “pleasing” design. What made this version of Godzilla horrific was the realism of it and the blind violence of Godzilla’s behavior. The CGI did have it’s moments of “cut-the-shit”, it wasn’t perfect, but Hideaki Anno seemed to be asking with this movie, “What would it actually be like if Godzilla attacked Tokyo?” The Godzilla that answered Hideaki’s call achieved a shocking verisimilitude. Godzilla evolves through three forms. The first is an amphibious, fish-like juvenile form, where Godzilla walks hunched over, almost flat to the ground. It has wide-open, vacant eyes, like a shark or barracuda, a relaxed, slack jaw, revealing dozens of ragged teeth, and it stomps around awkwardly, almost like a monstrous child.

Godzilla here looks natural, like a monster that might actually crawl out of the primeval depths of the Pacific. Godzilla then evolves into a more dinosaur-like form, though it still appears as a sort of horrific, half-developed proto-monster. Godzilla’s second form looks almost like a grotesque, half-formed embryo, still growing to maturity. And yet, despite this embryonic appearance, Godzilla is still far larger and more powerful than any other organism on the planet. Godzilla is already a super-organism, and it’s not even fully developed.

And then, there is the tall, obsidian tower that emerges from the Pacific—the final form of Godzilla—and the terror of this Godzilla’s form is the sheer hopelessness of trying to confront such an impossibly large creature. Godzilla here is a tower of half-hardened, half-molten flesh—it barely resembles a natural organism—instead resembling some abomination of biology—yet the same verisimilitude is maintained. The movie doesn’t feel like a giant monster movie. It feels like a film depicting the actual outcomes of a super-organism walking into a major city.

You watch a realistic, god-like monster walk through buildings, topple apartments with families still inside, crash through crowded cityscapes and fill the streets of Tokyo with fire.

Possibly what is most disturbing is that Godzilla behaved without thought, without remorse, without any real awareness. Godzilla never behaved like an antagonist. There was never any malice or intentional aggression in Godzilla’s behavior, except when it was defending itself against the Japanese military in the latter half of the movie. Godzilla acts almost blindly, as if it is has no awareness to the destruction and mass death all around it. Godzilla’s only motive is survival: seeking sustenance, exploratory behavior, reacting to negative stimuli.

Godzilla’s first form flops around awkwardly. Its eyes bulge manically. It haphazardly bores a line through the city by toppling every building it passes. It has no clear motivation, no specific goal, no real awareness—not even much of an awareness of itself—except survival. All Godzilla actually does for the first half of the movie is walk through the city. That’s all.

All of this culminates in a supreme sense of uselessness. What do you do? How do you react? Is there any way of regaining control of the crumbling situation?

By the mid-point of the movie, it feels like there’s nowhere you can actually run or hide from Godzilla. Where can you go that won’t be destroyed? How far could you run before Godzilla catches up to you? What could you do to stop Godzilla? There’s nowhere you can go, no speed you could run, and nothing you can do. At no point do you feel safe. At no point do you feel secure. At no point do you feel calm. There is only a frantic fear, and a crushing hopelessness.

And yet, by the end of this story, we witness heroism in the face of this absurd horror that harkens back to ancient mythology.

At the heart of this movie are three major conflicts. Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Society, and Man vs. God; in other words: the protective/oppressive collective of Society, the negative aspect of nature—cancerous, violent, perfectly amoral and indifferent—and “God” being the enveloping/isolating reality of the universe we live in. These conflicts translate into three major themes of the movie:

  • Man’s eternal struggle for survival
  • Man’s eternal struggle against the conformity of culture
  • Man’s existential struggle with reality, the cosmos, and their relationship to the infinite

Literally explained, the primary conflicts of the movie are:

  • The physical survival of Tokyo and the citizens of Tokyo
  • The conflicts between politicians, scientists, journalists, the military and everyday people, and the relationships between different countries (Tokyo/Japan, and America, China, Russia, France, etc.)
  • The individual faced with the insignificance of their existence and the futility of their efforts

I will explain all three of these conflicts in the remainder of this article.

First, before I start digging at the deeper ethos of the story, we should come to an understanding of the mythological and archetypal symbols prevalent in Shin Gojira.

Shin Gojira, at the core of its narrative-structure, is an archetypal Hero Myth. More specifically, it is an archetypal Dragon-Slayer myth. A Dragon-Slayer myth can be explained as follows:

There is a “Kingdom” or a “Society” which is under attack from some external threat.

This external threat is always an archetypal “Monster”, some horrible and powerful creature, which often cannot be defeated by mundane ways.

A Hero must go out to defeat the Monster that is terrorizing their community.

The Hero confronts and slays the Monster, which typically results in marriage, wealth and social promotion.

These myths are prevalent throughout cultures across history, even back to the Epic of Gilgamesh, and they portray a universal struggle of humanity: confronting the horrors of reality.

Often, the Monster of the Dragon-Slayer myth is in some way connected to an archetypally feminine force, such as a Goddess of Fertility, Creation, or Nature. Nature is typically represented as feminine, and throughout many ancient myths, the “Monsters” are children or descendants of a creator/mother-goddess (Tiamat, Gaia, Izanami, and so forth).

This is the archetype of the Great Mother, both a nurturing giver of life and a devouring destroyer of life. Another way of thinking of the Great Mother is as the mythological representation of Nature. The Great Mother is the beauty and the creation of Nature, and the Great Mother is the horror and the destruction of Nature.

Opposite Nature or the Great Mother is Society or God the Father.

In many Hero Myths, including Dragon-Slayer myths, there is a “King” figure. The King and the Kingdom are the forces that protect individuals within society, but are also the forces that oppress individuals in society. Archetypically—that is, as a narrative symbol—the King and the Kingdom are essentially the same thing. The King is the representative­, the figurehead and the grand decision-maker of the Kingdom, and so the King and Kingdom are one (this is almost literally true in Totalitarian states such as Soviet Russia, North Korea and Nazi Germany). In this sense, the King is symbolic of Society.

Oftentimes the problem presented by Nature—the Monster or Dragon—accounts for only half of the problem that is facing a society. One half is the Monster itself. The other half is the failure of the Society—the failure of the King—to overcome the problems they are facing. This is why many kings in a Dragon-Slayer myth are often old, debilitated, dying, or in some other way incapable of confronting the horror on their doorstep.

To take this up to the same level of abstraction as the Great Mother, the archetypical masculine divine entity would be God the Father. As the Great Mother is representative of Nature, so God the Father is representative of Society. As the Great Mother has both negative and positive aspects, so does God the Father as tyranny and protection.

The third piece of the puzzle is the Hero. The Hero is that which confronts Nature in order to save Society. This process involves overcoming the horrors of Nature and revitalizing a broken and decaying Society.

This mythological narrative can be elaborated from our simple Dragon-Slayer myth as follows:

Nature poses threats to Society.

That Society is aging, corrupt or incompetent, and so the threat posed by Nature becomes a Monster—a threat so bad that it terrorizes the people of a Society.

The Hero must come not only to confront the problem posed by Nature, but re-order or revitalize the failing society. This necessarily means the Hero must grow in a variety of ways and collect resources to defeat the Monster. These resources can be:

  • Special Knowledge
  • Weapons
  • Magical Abilities
  • Allies
  • Personal Development/Growth

The Hero is typically rewarded for their efforts and their sacrifices, which usually entails monetary, social and sexual rewards.

To sum this up:

It is the task of the Hero to return Order and Health to Society by becoming more powerful than the failing King, and defending Society from a Monster by incorporating the knowledge and resources of Nature and Chaos. In other words, it is the task of a Hero to save a Kingdom by usurping a King, and use acquired powers, weapons and knowledge (often attained from delving into the “Land of Chaos”, the “Underworld”, or into the “Unknown”) to defeat the Monster or Dragon. This typically results in the Hero attaining nobility or godhood, marrying a princess or virgin, and/or living the peaceful, simple life they wanted all along.

Shin Gojira begins with an anomalous event—a rupture or small earthquake in the ocean just outside the city—which the political leaders think is a perfectly natural event, and give little heed to it. Godzilla then emerges from the ocean, and the government and emergency response teams are ill-equipped to deal with Godzilla. Godzilla easily tears through Tokyo, and the immense amount of red-tape and legal regulations keep the government from effectively responding to Godzilla (even though it is well within their ability to do so at this stage of the movie).

Godzilla evolves into a much larger form, then returns to the ocean. When Godzilla returns from the ocean once more, Godzilla is far larger than before, and is nearly impervious to most small-scale weaponry, even artillery rounds. US bombers fly over Tokyo and begin dropping large bombs on Godzilla, which has some effect on the Monster, but then Godzilla destroys the bombers and wreaks havoc on the city before going to sleep in the middle of Tokyo.

From the very beginning of the movie, Rando Yaguchi—the protagonist—has been in conflict with the other politicians. He believed Godzilla was a creature and not a natural event far before anyone else did. He attempted to prepare for the potential oncoming catastrophe of Godzilla far before anyone else did. He also had a much clearer idea of how to respond to the threat of Godzilla than anyone else did. Yaguchi was ready to confront Godzilla and had the right mindset for confronting Godzilla, but his attempts at doing so were thwarted by the majority of fellow politicians.

However, Yaguchi is then given charge of task force designed to respond to the threat of Godzilla. Yaguchi is essentially in charge of dealing with the threat of Godzilla (though this authority is relatively surface-level until the end of the movie). After dealing with the catastrophic defeat at the midpoint of the movie, then dealing with several major stumbling blocks leading up to the climax (such as the threat of nuclear missiles from the US), Yaguchi rallies his task force together and defeats Godzilla. They do this by studying Godzilla until they understand Godzilla’s mysterious biology and find a chemical compound they can administer to Godzilla to incapacitate the Monster.

In the end, Yaguchi is hailed as the savior of Tokyo, he develops a potential romantic with an American politician, and it is implied that Yaguchi has a high chance of becoming the next Prime Minister of Japan.

I will simplify this and reconnect it to the archetypal Dragon-Slayer narrative.

Shin Gojira is about Godzilla attacking Tokyo. Godzilla is a reptilian Monster (Dragon) capable of evolving to adapt to threats (evolution, the province of Mother Nature). Godzilla emerges from the ocean (the lair of Leviathans and the territory of the Great Mother, as I’ll soon discuss).

Tokyo is the Kingdom or the Society that is being attacked by Godzilla, though you could say that Japan in general is under attack. The ultimate responsibility for confronting Godzilla falls onto the shoulders of the Prime Minister (the “King” of Japan), but the Prime Minister and his cabinet of politicians are broadly incompetent and their ability to confront Godzilla is hindered by bureaucracy.

Yaguchi, the Hero of Japan, confronts and defeats Godzilla by uniting the disparate forces of Science, Technology, the Military and the Government. They create a chemical compound (magic power or magic potion), and weaponize this chemical (the long, extended arms of cranes used to administer the chemical paralleling the phallic swords of knights) in order to defeat Godzilla.

For his troubles, Yaguchi is commended as a national Hero, given political favor, and gets to flirt with the American Princess, Kayoco Anne Patterson.

As an interesting side-note, Yaguchi’s plan to poison Godzilla is called the “Yashiori Strategy”, which is an allusion to the Japanese Yamatano Orochi legend. In the legend, an eight-headed dragon-like monster named Yamatano Orochi is terrorizing a countryside. The Hero, Susanoo, defeats the eight-headed dragon-creature by poisoning it with Yashiori no Sake, a legendary sake that incapacitates the Monster.

Yaguchi returns Order to Society by becoming more powerful than the failing King, and Defends Society from a Monster by incorporating the knowledge and resources of Science (magic), Outsider Intellectuals (allies and wise wizards) and Impromptu Methods of defeating Godzilla (magical weapons).

While this covers the surface-level narrative-structure of Godzilla, the symbolism and narrative structure of Godzilla can be delved into even deeper, especially when compared to other mythological narratives. This will deepen the meaningfulness of the first conflict, Man vs. Nature.

The name “Godzilla” or “Gojira” was originally a mix of the Japanese words for “gorilla” and “whale”. The name was intended to illustrate Godzilla’s violent, primal nature, its vast size and power, and evokes parallels both the Behemoth (land monster) and the Leviathan (sea monster) of the Hebrew myths. In a sense, this is saying that Godzilla is a hyper-monster, a super-monster. However, in Shin Gojira, the name Gojira is translated as “God Incarnate”. This means that “Gojira” is a double entendre meaning both “gorilla and whale” and “God Incarnate”.

The title “Shin Gojira” is often translated into “Godzilla Resurgence”, however, the literal translation of “Shin Gojira” is “New Godzilla”, and the alternate translations are “True Godzilla” and “God Godzilla”.

Godzilla has been referred to throughout the movie franchise as the King of the Monsters, and here, with these name and title translations, this motif has been revitalized in Shin Gojira.

“Shin Gojira” ends of being an octuple entendre, a combination of New, True and God, and Gorilla + Whale and God Incarnate. These meanings can be simplified if one wishes to into “The New True God of Monsters made Incarnate”.

This name is significant, because it hearkens back to not just the archetypal or symbolic Monster or Dragon, but to the ultimate Monster, the ultimate Dragon, or the Divine Incarnation of Monsters itself: the God of Monsters.

Analytically, a God is not necessarily a literal being, but the ultimate archetype of a concept. Thor, God of Thunder, (a warrior archetype) embodies the violent, wild, powerful, and fleeting fury of a thunderstorm. Dionysus, the God of Wine and Revelry, (an archetype of psychological states) embodies the spectrums of biological influence and intoxication—from manic ecstasy, to violent insanity. Isis, Goddess of Motherhood, Nature and Magic, (an archetype of a queen) embodies love and love’s ability to overcome death or destruction, as well as the esoteric knowledge, such as Science.

Godzilla, God of Monsters, is a draconic archetype who embodies the indifferent cruelty of nature, evolution, survival, and primal instinct. Godzilla symbolizes the “Red Queen”, the concept that nature is forever one-upping itself through evolution. Godzilla embodies the ferocious necessity of animals to survive a cruel world by becoming crueler than its environment. Godzilla also embodies the instinctual thread that runs through each and every human psyche—the motivation to survive reality.

There are many mythological stories that encapsulate this archetypal motif—Thor and Jormungandr, Zeus and Typhon, Krishna and Kaliya, and Ra and Apep—but I think the best comparison can be made with one of the oldest—if not the oldest—Dragon-Slayer myths that we know of:

The story of Marduk and Tiamat.

In Sumerian myth, the God Marduk becomes the King of Gods by defeating Tiamat. Tiamat is a Sumerian Sea Serpent Goddess, and a Goddess of Nature and Creation. Tiamat is a dragon-like monster which emerged from the sea or ocean (the Ocean being symbolic of chaos, nature and the potential of life), and Tiamat is a monster that spawns other monsters. Tiamat is also the ruler of the Sumerian Gods, and is essentially oppressing the mortals of the world during this myth (Nature oppressing Man).

Marduk is the son of Enki, another God of Creation and Water, as well as a God of Intelligence, Crafts, Magic and Mischief. Marduk is gifted with many eyes, which allow him to see all around him, and possesses several boons or powers, as well as various instruments and weapons. None of the other Sumerian Gods are able to defeat Tiamat, though they try, so Marduk uses his powers, weapons and his many eyes to defeat Tiamat, and then become the King of Gods.

Godzilla emerges from the Ocean and wreaks havoc on Tokyo. The current government is incapable of defeating Godzilla. The protagonist, Yaguchi, rises to the occasion, and uses science, technology and the military (secret knowledge, magical tools and powerful weapons) to defeat the Monster.

However, Godzilla has another layer. In the story, Godzilla is created, in part, because of mankind’s arrogance. This additional layer comprises the conflict of Man vs. Society.

In previous Godzilla stories, Godzilla is created from atomic missiles, which symbolized the vast destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. However, in Shin Gojira, Godzilla is created from nuclear waste left in the Pacific by Americans (fuckin’ Americans, man, always dickin’ around with existential threats to humanity).

Hideaki Anno has also mentioned in interviews that Godzilla is meant partially to represent the Fukushima incident. The Fukushima incident was caused by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. When the earthquake was picked up by sensors at the plant, the active reactors shut down. The electrical supply to the reactors at the plant failed, but emergency generators were used to help supply coolant to the reactors. However, as the plant was flooded by the tsunami, these generators failed as well. This led to three nuclear meltdowns, three hydrogen explosions and radioactive contamination from various reactor units. Much of this was paralleled in the destruction in Shin Gojira.

In this way, Godzilla is not only symbolic of the direct destruction by nuclear technology, but the destruction caused by the misuse of modern technology–and, you could say, the destruction caused by human arrogance. Humanity believes it to be in control of its environment–in control of the natural world–but that appearance of control vanishes rapidly in the face of most natural disasters.

Godzilla is a creation of nature, a beast of survival and evolution, but it is created only because of the arrogance of man. This is where the narrative of Shin Gojira becomes not only a conflict of Man vs. Nature, but a conflict of Man vs. Society.

Here, I can tie Godzilla to another famous myth:

The story of Perseus and the Cetus (bastardized into the Norse “Kraken” in Clash of the Titans).

In Greek myth, Perseus defends the city of Ætheopia from the sea monster, Cetus, which was sent to attack Ætheopia by Poseidon, God of the Sea.

Interestingly, Cetus is the etymological root of Cetacean, which is the classification of whale species—which is one half of the name Gojira.

However, the Cetus wasn’t sent arbitrarily. The Cetus was sent to Ætheopia by the gods as a punishment for the mortals’ arrogance (the queen of Ætheopia wouldn’t stop flexing). Perseus is the son of Zeus, King of the Greek Gods, who uses Pegasus as a steed, and Medusa’s head as a weapon, which turns the Cetus into stone. Perseus then returns to the now-saved society to marry Andromeda.

In Shin Gojira, Godzilla is created when a surviving prehistoric animal comes into contact with nuclear waste, and mutates into a giant monster. So, Godzilla is simultaneously a spawn of nature (literally a monster that was born and developed in the ocean), and a consequence of man’s arrogance (man’s immature use of nuclear technology).

Yaguchi is the protégé of a successful politician, who defeats Godzilla using a mix of military equipment (drones, bombs, and so forth), and his “Yashiori” poison to turn Godzilla to stone. After this, Yaguchi becomes a potential candidate for the future Prime Minister of Japan.

Godzilla is the vengeance of Nature—Nature revolting at the hubris of Man and Society. Yaguchi is the Hero who must overcome both Nature and Society to save his Kingdom. While Godzilla is seen as the primary threat, the incompetence, arrogance and decay of Society may actually be the larger threat posed to humanity.

Beyond this, Godzilla not only represents the havoc that can be unleashed by Nature onto Man, but Godzilla also represents the havoc humans can unleash on each other by the improper use of Nature. When Godzilla cannot be defeated by normal human weaponry, America threatens to nuke Tokyo. Really, it’s difficult to say which is worse: Godzilla continuing its assault on the city, or America unleashing an atomic inferno on the city. In some sense, you could almost see the two as being one in the same. Godzilla is the threat of Nature biting back at humanity because of Man’s arrogance, and Godzilla is also the threat of Man turning on Man and unleashing the horrors of Nature on each other.

Shin Gojira is almost a perfect reflection of several mythological tropes. However, these mythological tropes are actually a reflection of reality, and Shin Gojira acts as an intermediary between mythology and reality. In other words, Shin Gojira uses the structure and symbolism of mythological narratives to communicate concerns about the reality of humanity.

Humanity is comprised of fragile beings, faced with the near-insurmountable task of surviving in this universe. We make this already insurmountable task even more difficult by allowing human hubris, vice and ignorance to further disrupt our lives. We live in constant peril, despite the façade of modern security and decadence, and quite possibly worsen this peril with modern security and decadence.

We push the boundaries of science, technology, and society at our own risk. Though we are surrounded on all sides by natural disasters, predatory beasts, starvation, disease, and harsh environments, we only serve to compound these great horrors by introducing war, pollutants, and dangerous technologies (such as nuclear technology) to Earth’s environment.

Reality doesn’t care about your feelings. Reality doesn’t care about your suffering. Reality doesn’t care if our follies are only accidents and misunderstandings.

Reality—Nature—simply happens, with or without your approval.

Godzilla is the perfect Scientific/Materialist symbol for Nature. Godzilla is indifferent to the suffering of humans.

Godzilla might have an IQ of approximately 12, yet it is still higher up the food chain than humans.

It has no real form of emotion (other than, possibly, pain, aggression, and curiosity), no form of empathy, communication or rationality (other than reptilian survival), and has no sense of morality.

Godzilla doesn’t eat, doesn’t dream, and doesn’t have sex—instead, Godzilla evolves/mutates itself spontaneously, or reproduces asexually (as we see at the end of Shin Gojira).

Godzilla is the ultimate organism.

It is a self-contained nuclear reactor, which can evolve as needed in order to survive. It can unleash a storm of annihilation, and it can weather the bombardment of Man’s weapons. Godzilla, just like Nature, cares little for Man, and can only just barely be survived by Man. Not only this, Godzilla at its fiercest might be just as terrifying as Mankind at its fiercest. The horrors unleased by Godzilla—razing the city with its atomic breath—pale in comparison to what Man can do when unleashing their arsenal of atomic weapons.

And yet, beneath the horrors of Nature and the tyranny of Society, there is the deepest conflict of Shin Gojira:

Man vs. God

What would you do if you met a god?

What would a god even be like?

If we take the Judeo-Christian explanation of God:

God is omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient. God is everything that existed, exists or will exist, everything that can occur in existence, and the knowledge of all that has been, all that is, all that will be and all that hasn’t, isn’t, and won’t. God is everything that can be imagined, perceived and understood, and all that cannot be imagined, perceived and understood.

What would that be like?

What would it be like to confront all that is reality?

What would you do?

In HP Lovecraft, one of the ultimate “evils” of the universe is an entity named Azathoth, which is also described as the “Blind Idiot God”. Yet, despite this name, Azathoth is considered to be omnipotent. Similarly, Godzilla appears to be both unthinking and unfeeling (though there are trace amounts of primal rationality), and at the same time, Godzilla is nearly omnipotent, like a God.

Godzilla is a symbol of the blind force of nature, which overwhelms humanity. Godzilla is the indifferent violence of the universe (manifest in hurricanes, volcanoes, and supernovas). Godzilla is the pinnacle of nature (the ultimate predator, the ultimate survivor, the ultimate organism). And Godzilla is the folly of Man’s hubris.

The horror of Godzilla is the horror of reality; the horror of the natural universe we must survive.

Godzilla is the manifestation—the incarnation—of all the problems that beset us on a daily basis, and all the potential problems we could face in our lives, ranging from the insignificant (a minor natural disaster) to the wholly catastrophic (the nuclear eradication of an entire city). And yet, even the most catastrophic events we imagine are still insignificant in the grand scheme of the Cosmos.

Shin Gojira is a story about a single terrible event that happened on one small island, in the vast ocean of a small, blue rock. Shin Gojira is about a single, small God walking into the midst of a single, huge City. Shin Gojira is about how insignificant a single person is when confronted with one, small God of Nature, Vengeance and Annihilation.

It took a team of dozens, hundreds of political officials, thousands of civil servants, and several thousands of soldiers to finally subdue Godzilla after a couple weeks or so. Godzilla led a one-man siege on Tokyo. Even Yaguchi says that Godzilla is a far superior species to humans, and Kayoco says, “Gojira, truly a God Incarnate.”

Godzilla is not dead. America has not left the planet to reside somewhere else. Tokyo is in irradiated ruins. The Japanese government has been disemboweled. Thousands are now dead. The battle is not over, it’s never been over, and it will never end.

And yet, Shin Gojira is, in the final analysis, a story about humanity ultimately triumphing over this absurd, terrible, maddening force that looms over us at all times.

Shin Gojira is a story about how humanity refuses to be defeated by even the most terrible threats that face us, and how the collective efforts of unique, empowered individuals can overcome the tragedies of reality.

In the end, this is an existential story of humankind standing in the presence of a God, the realization of the insignificance of our small, petty lives, and the realization of our potential to rise to greater heights and overcome the terrors that befall us.

Godzilla is the asteroid heading toward our planet. Godzilla is the nuclear reactor that goes into meltdown. Godzilla is the pollution of our oceans. Godzilla is our ignorance of the world we live in. Godzilla is the indifference of the Cosmos.

And we are the small species that dare disturb that Cosmos.

Taking Hold of the Flame: An Analyisis of “The Lighthouse”

Written by Alexander Greco

May 11, 2019

Williem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson in director Robert Eggers THE LIGHTHOUSE. Credit : A24 Pictures

Max and Robert Egger’s 2019 “The Lighthouse” is a surreal dark comedy horror film, reminiscent of “Eraserhead”, “Dead Man” and “The Wickerman”. Set in the late 1800’s on a small, isolated island, “The Lighthouse” portrays the slow descent into madness of Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) and Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) with a subtle, well-balanced mix of gritty realism and dream-like paranoia. The film is both disturbing and fascinating, bewildering audiences and critics with its near-schizophrenic plot, bizarre and bipolar dialogues and the stark, dream-like imagery presented in Ephraim’s growing insanity. However, despite the tangled web of absurdity, ambiguous symbolism and distorted reality, the film is highly intentional in its events and imagery, and “The Lighthouse” yields great depths of meaning once the layers of its web have been dissected.

The first problem with understanding this movie is the immense intentionality in every shot. Many scenes in “The Lighthouse” might take an hour or more to decompose, especially in relationship or in context to every other scene in the film. Despite this, I will try to summarize the movie as briefly as I can without losing important cohesiveness. The second problem is this problem of density and complexity. There’s honestly too much in this movie to discuss without writing at least another 2-3 analyses of the same length as this one. However, I intend to only follow one thread of analysis here (a long and at times winding thread, but one thread nonetheless).

“The Lighthouse” begins with the arrival of Ephraim and Tom to the mid-ocean lighthouse they will be manning for the next four weeks, the two of them entirely isolated from society for a month. Tom, the senior lighthouse-keeper, makes it clear to Ephraim, the new junior, that the duty of maintaining the actual lighthouse will solely be Tom’s responsibility, and the manual labor (shoveling coal for the foghorn, cleaning and maintaining the house, purifying the cistern and so forth) will be left entirely to Ephraim. Tom wavers between being intensely critical of Ephraim and tyrannically domineering; and being warm, friendly and jovial with Ephraim, usually during their dinner.

Shortly into the film, we witness the beginning of both characters’ insanity. Tom stands in front of the Lighthouse at night and removes all of his clothes, speaking to the lighthouse lamp affectionately. Then, Ephraim goes out to the ocean shore and sees wooden logs floating in the water, before seeing a dead body in the water. Ephraim walks into the water until he is fully submerged, then sees a mermaid or siren swimming in the water, screeching at him.

Over dinner, Tom tells Ephraim about his time as a ship captain and how he solved a mutiny by giving his sailors liquor until they made it to land. After telling Ephraim how his former junior-keeper went mad and died, Tom tells Ephraim he shouldn’t kill seagulls because its bad luck, and Tom later explains seabirds are the souls of dead sailors. In the next scene, Ephraim masturbates in the supply shed to a small, ivory trinket shaped like a mermaid he found in the beginning of the film.

Leading up to the midpoint of the film, we begin to see the intensification of a master-slave relationship between Tom and Ephraim, with Tom repeatedly calling Ephraim a dog and treating him as subhuman, juxtaposed with a much friendlier relationship between the two.

Ephraim goes to the top of the lighthouse one night, where he hears Tom muttering to himself. White slime drips from the metal grate above Ephraim, where Tom is standing, and Ephraim then sees a tentacle slithering across the metal-grate above. Ephraim eventually kills a seagull, which has been continually harassing him, and this action causes the wind to change direction. A storm rolls in just before the two are to be relieved of their duties at the end of their four-week stay. They find themselves marooned on the island, and either Tom’s or Ephraim’s sense of time begins to slip.

At the midpoint, Tom gives one of the greatest monologues in cinema-history as he curses Ephraim in the name of Neptune for a whole two minutes (as a side note, Willem Dafoe won at least 8 awards for his performance in this film, and was nominated for at least 17 others). As the two keepers remain stranded on the island, they steadily drink more and more alcohol, Ephraim continues furiously masturbating in his spare time and reality slips into a strange back-and-forth state of hallucination, paranoia and glimpses of sanity. Ephraim reveals that his name is actually Thomas Howard and that he let his former foreman, Ephraim Winslow, drown to death before taking his foreman’s name (you will probably forget this detail, but, nonetheless, try to remember it for the very end). Ephraim (or Tommy) tries to leave the island, but Tom chases him down with an axe and destroys the island’s only lifeboat. After calming down, Tom tells Ephraim that they’ve run out of alcohol, so the two begin drinking lamp oil (likely to be kerosene).

The storm, which has been raging for weeks, days or months now, finally ends after flooding the island and the lighthouse, all but ruining the home they’ve been staying in. Ephraim wakes up and finds Tom’s logbook and finds that Tom has been writing highly critical notes about Ephraim, even going so far as to say Ephraim should be fired from the job without being paid. Ephraim attacks Tom, and the two begin grappling, punching and strangling each other. After a hallucinatory moment where Ephraim sees Tom as his former foreman, the siren he’s been fantasizing about and masturbating to and as the sea-god Neptune himself, Ephraim nearly beats Tom to death.

Stopping himself before killing Tom, Ephraim stands over Tom and begins commanding Tom to bark like a dog. Ephraim then leads Tom out of the building on a leash to a hole they previously dug in front of the Lighthouse. Ephraim begins burying Tom, while Tom gives another masterful dialogue about “Protean forms”, “Promethean plunder”, “divine graces” and “the fiddler’s green”. Once Tom is presumably dead, Ephraim steals the key to the lighthouse, but, once inside the building, Tom returns with an axe and strikes Ephraim with it. Ephraim takes the axe, kills Tom and proceeds to the top of the lighthouse.

Ephraim reaches into the lighthouse lamp, presumably reaching into the lamp-flame, and begins laughing and screaming as the light engulfs him, then falls down the stairs to the bottom of the lighthouse. The movie ends with Ephraim laying naked across a rock formation alongside the ocean. Seagulls have shit on his body, and they are now devouring the innards of a still-living Ephraim. And that’s the movie.

There are a few other notable details to mention here. There is a foghorn on the island, which can be heard in the background throughout the movie, as well as a ticking clock which is likewise heard throughout the movie. There are a number of Christian and Greco-Roman allusions throughout the movie, as well as allusions to maritime folklore. In addition, there are quite a few phallic symbols throughout the movie, as well as a large (like, dinner-platter-sized) mermaid vagina. However, I probably won’t be able to get into all the various symbols and their potential meanings.

To begin understanding the movie’s deeper meanings, we need to understand the relationship between Ephraim and Tom, Ephraim and the mermaid, the lighthouse itself and Ephraim’s character. What we find here are the psychoanalytic dynamics of the Ego (Ephraim), the Super-Ego (Tom), the Id and the Anima (the mermaid/siren), and the Self or the Godhead (the lighthouse). Ephraim is the individual struggling against the forces of the Super-Ego/Authority/Society and the Id/Sexuality/Material-Satiation in order to find freedom and independence, as well as to reunite with the Self or the Godhead, symbolic of the power and freedom of true individuality.
How do we pull such a lofty meaning from such a bizarre movie?

At its core, “The Lighthouse” is a mythological psychodrama. The movie is about an individual struggling with God the Father and the Sirens of instinct and sexuality. It is about an individual struggling with the oppressive demands and absurd behaviors of society, as well as struggling with one’s own nature—an individual struggling against these forces in order to maintain their individuality.

Ephraim is the Everyman, a term describing an ordinary, non-spectacular character whom the audience can sympathize with because of their mundanity. Ephraim, despite moments of fluctuating insanity, is mostly level-headed throughout the movie, and most of his actions or reactions seem sane compared to Tom’s. Ephraim is relatable—he’s the average person working a shitty job with an overbearing boss—and he reflects many of the ideas and hopes that most people share. Not only does Ephraim share these hopes with the audience, but Tom frequently reminds Ephraim of the mundanity of these hopes.

Ephraim remains pretty quiet throughout the first act of the movie, to which Tom tells him he’s not special in that regard. At one point, Ephraim tells Tom about his plans to build a house somewhere, so he can be free of others’ demands. Tom replies to this with, “Same old boring story, eh?” Midway through the third act, Ephraim begins telling Tom of his troubled past, and Tom tells him, “Yer guilty conscience is ever as tiresome-boring as any guilty conscience.” Then, near the end of the film, Tom begins telling Ephraim how unspectacular he is, saying things like:

“Come to this rock playin’ the tough. Ye make me laugh with yer false grum.”

“Ye pretended to mystery with yer false quietudes, but there ain’t no mystery.”

“Ye’re an open book. A picture, says I.”

“And by God and by Golly, you’ll do it smilin’, lad, ’cause you’ll like it. You’ll like ’cause I says you will!”

Not only is Ephraim subjected to inglorious manual labor by Tom throughout the movie; not only is Ephraim constantly criticized throughout the movie, culminating in Tom’s logbook full of Ephraim’s many supposed infractions; and not only is Ephraim led to disaster by many of Tom’s actions (such as the insistence on constantly getting drunk (which Ephraim is later blamed for)), but Ephraim is then told he isn’t even special in any way, and his existence as an individual is denigrated to a final extreme

Tom calls Ephraim, “A painted actress, screaming in the footlights, a bitch what wants to be coveted for nothin’ but the silver spoon what should have been yours.” Ephraim begins crying here, for which Tom mocks him. As this scene escalates, Tom begins calling Ephraim a dog over and over again.

“Thomas [Ephraim], ye’re a dog! A filthy dog! A dog!”

All Ephraim wants is a life free of servitude and domination. He tells Tom at one point, “I ain’t never intended to be no housewife or slave.” And yet, despite his dreams of freedom, he seeks that freedom through servitude, by taking a job to save up money. Anyone and everyone can sympathize with the desire to be free, the necessity of working for this freedom and the eventual boot on our necks that weighs heavier and heavier with each passing day. Perhaps there is nothing special with Ephraim, as he is just like everyone else, but it’s that normalcy that makes him such an empathetic individual, and why his role as the Everyman plays such an integral role in the meaning of this story.

Connecting this back to the Ego, all of us, in our immediate, conscious sense of reality, are confronted on the psychic level by the injunctions of the Super-Ego (society, law and order, Tom, God the Father) and the needs of the Id (survival, sexuality, the Siren, Mother Nature). Among the injunctions of the Ego, however, is that we accomplish this in a manner that will maintain our dignity and ensure our freedom and independence. Survival, security and self-dignity are three of the deepest desires of every human, and they all stack like weights on the shoulders of the Ego: that which consciously perceives and consciously decides.

There is a Camusian element of absurdity in this movie. Ephraim took the job as lighthouse keeper out of sheer arbitrariness. It paid well, that was it. Tom treats Ephraim like dogshit for no real reason, other than the fact he has the authority to, and then randomly starts treating him warmly at various moments.

At the end of the film, Ephraim is judged by Tom both verbally and in his logbook, and that judgement is almost entirely arbitrary. Some of the things Ephraim did were reprehensible. Some of the things Ephraim did weren’t. Some of the things Ephraim is judged for have no evidence to back them. Some of the things Ephraim were judged for were influenced by Tom himself. And that’s fucking life.

These events have parallels to one of the greatest works of absurdist art, Albert Camus’ novel, “The Stranger”, in which the protagonist’s mother dies one day, and he feels indifferent about this (death just happens, and why should we act one way or another about it). The protagonist’s neighbor is a volatile human, who careens between abuse and friendliness. A woman randomly begins having sex with the protagonist, then wants to know if he’ll marry her. He tells her it wouldn’t make any difference to him, and later tells her that marriage wasn’t special and he would have married any woman. In a half-awake daze, the protagonist is walking on the beach and runs into a man he knows nothing about, except that he has a feud with the protagonist’s friend, and so the protagonist kills this man for no real reason.

In the end, the protagonist is brought to court for killing this man and is found guilty essentially because he doesn’t feel one way or another about things. The primary evidence used against him is the fact he felt indifferent about his mother’s death. Things simply are the way they are, and the protagonist simply acts the way he acts out of his own detached volition. Because the protagonist does not wish to play the same games as everyone, carry the same sense of morality and imbue things with the same emotional weight as everyone else, he is sentenced to death, he is hated and he is, essentially, declared evil. The protagonist finally accepts his fate and accepts the absurdity of life.

“As if that blind rage had washed me clean, rid me of hope; for the first time, in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world. Finding it so much like myself—so like a brother, really—I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again. For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate.”

I would argue that meaningfulness—true meaningfulness—can be found in life, but there is indeed an enormous degree of arbitrariness to reality. We’re just born one day, in a certain period of history, which has its own set of rules and customs we’re told to abide by. We’re told to be a certain person, to act a certain way and to feel certain emotions for given events, and we’re told not to question any of it. We’re called a villain for questioning or going against the status quo. We’re judged for things that are out of our control, or that have no real impact on life. There are seemingly arbitrary standards and traditions by which we’re judged, and then there’s entirely novel arbitrariness by which we’re judged (things that aren’t even a part of broadly accepted standards), and then there’s false or fabricated claims about us by which we’re judged.

This is the weight foisted upon Ephraim, the weight of arbitrary judgement, and this is the weight foisted upon the Everyman, the proxy of the collective individual or collective Ego. This is the weight carried by everyone living within a society. This is the guilt and condemnation which degrades: the arbitrary tyranny: the absurd, laughable, comically bizarre oppression of culture. And yet, that’s just life. Camus’ protagonist in “The Stranger” becomes what Camus called an Absurd Hero. The Absurd Hero is the individual who does not shy away from or seek to destroy the absurd reality around them, but rather accepts the empty arbitrariness of life and continues to live their life as an individual: continues to affirm life as being good and worthy, without the dishonesty of dogma, ideology or personal delusion. Shy of eradicating life, or at least eradicating your own life, one must learn to live heroically amidst absurdity, to remain free, individualized and dignified amidst our bizarre world because there is no escape from the necessary evil that is society, which is the Super-Ego, which is Tom.

“What?”

Tom is the nagging, oppressive and at times nonsensical voice of the Super-Ego within Ephraim’s mind. Tom is the smiling, friendly face of society, which barks commands at us, and condemns our actions with spite and fury. Tom is society keeping Ephraim from achieving individuality by flooding his life with menial tasks, deprecating the value of the individual and forbidding Ephraim from witnessing the divine, and Tom is the same society which asks Ephraim to be as a friend: to love Tom, to forgive and overlook Tom’s flaws (of which, as we see at the end of the movie, Tom seems completely blind to).

Tom is what pushes Ephraim to insanity, and then denounces Ephraim as a madman. And yet, Tom is also what guides and protects Ephraim. There is an ambiguity in the nature of Tom and Ephraim’s relationship, just as there is an ambiguity in the nature of the Ego and Super-Ego’s relationship. The Super-Ego is typically represented in mythology as God the Father, or as some other variant of the masculine-authority archetype, which is simultaneously protective and wise, and oppressive and tyrannical.
It is culture and society which protect us from the ravages of nature, and it is culture and society which tyrannize us with unyielding dictates. It is culture and society which rewards us meaningful work, and it is culture and society which enslave us with meaningless tasks. It is culture and society which gives us the wisdom of tradition, and it is culture and society which fascistically conforms individuals with this tradition.

In “The Lighthouse”, we quite clearly witness this paradoxical relationship between Ephraim and Tom, the Son and the Father, the Individual and the Society, the Ego and the Super-Ego. Tom teaches and guides Ephraim. He tells Ephraim when he’s doing something wrong or foolish. We see this in the concrete form when Ephraim carries the drum of oil up the lighthouse stairs rather than fill the small pail with oil, and we see this in the absurd form when Tom superstitiously warns Ephraim of the dangers of killing seabirds, which he later explains are the souls of dead sailors. There’s an ambiguity even in this superstitious tradition, since Ephraim’s act of killing the seagull that’s been harassing him is implicated as the cause of the storm which maroons them on the island.

Tom is also a part of what protects Ephraim from the terrors of nature. Tom cooks food to feed Ephraim, keeping him from starving; Tom gives orders to Ephraim to maintain the house they live in, thus protecting them from the cold and the rain; and Tom gives Ephraim advice that helps him stay alive and healthy. The island is a lone territory of protection from the chaos of the ocean (the suffocating depths, the dehydrating waters, the monsters of the sea), and the lighthouse itself is a mechanism of security: a light in the dark which keeps sailors from crashing their ships in the night.

Yet, Tom is also the highly critical or judgmental aspect of society and the oppressive or tyrannical aspect of society. Tom is constantly criticizing Ephraim, telling him how poorly he’s performing his tasks, even at one point asking Ephraim if he’s a “dullard”. Tom not only criticizes Ephraim’s work, but also criticizes Ephraim as a person, essentially calling him boringly normal and morally reprehensible throughout the film.

Beyond just the criticism, Tom is constantly giving Ephraim orders and loading him up with manual labor, while Tom’s sole responsibility (beyond making sure Ephraim is performing his tasks) is to man the lighthouse lamp, which is the most glorious and honorable of tasks. Tom gives Ephraim all the shit jobs, while Tom gets to perform the single easiest and most respectable job. Even then, Tom does his one job poorly and strangely. While manning the lighthouse lamp at night, Tom drinks and, presumably, masturbates (though we’re not shown Defoe’s jerk sessions as explicitly as we’re shown Pattinson’s). Tom orders Ephraim around and judges him for all his faults, while declaring himself to be the unfaultable and supreme authority of the island.

And, just to hammer it home, that’s life.

You can’t live with society, and you can’t live without it.

So where does Ephraim’s heroism come in this story? It comes in his insanity, as it does with every individual striving for freedom within society.

It comes, initially, from his repeated visions of the mermaid and her siren’s call. I’ve come to believe the mermaid is symbolic of three things.

The mermaid is Ephraim’s Id, represented as his sexual desires (the siren’s call). The mermaid is Ephraim’s Anima, which, in Jungian psychology, is the feminine, psychic force in men, which guides the Ego into the depths of the psyche. The mermaid is also Ephraim’s Shadow, or at least that which guides Ephraim to his Shadow. In Jungian terminology, the Shadow is the repressed part of the psyche, oftentimes synonymous with the Id, though not necessarily. The Shadow is the parts of our personality that we bury or repress, such as sexuality, aggression and even self-importance or self-love. Though the Shadow contains many negative aspects of our personality, those aspects of our personality might be what save us from the problems of our lives. Holding back the contents of the Shadow holds back the individual’s potential for actualization, or from becoming the free, independent, dignified individual we all hope we can become.

The mermaid in Ephraim’s hallucinations is repeatedly coupled with the image of Ephraim’s previous foreman, whom Ephraim effectively murdered by letting him drown. Throughout the movie, Ephraim is repressing three things: his sexuality, through nearly constant masturbation, his aggression, the same aggression that let Ephraim dispassionately watch his foreman die, and his desire to see the lighthouse lamp. The ultimate repression is the latter, repressing the desire to climb to the top of the lighthouse. The lighthouse is a phallic symbol of divine power, which is roughly parallel to Ephraim’s inner divine power, which is roughly akin to the Libido. The lighthouse can also be seen as a symbol of social power, as in the social hierarchies of society, or as moral authority, the light being the highest moral good.

Though I argue the lighthouse to be a symbol of psychological hierarchy, I would also argue the lighthouse is symbolic of all three of these at once, and that these representations may in fact be synonymous with each other at a certain level of analysis.

Ephraim represses this divine power, the psychic energy of the Libido, through masturbation, and, by repressing his aggression, represses his ability to overthrow Tom, the Super-Ego, which is also denying him his divine power. Throughout the movie, Ephraim masturbates to a small, ivory trinket carved in the shape of a mermaid. He’s not actually having sex, he’s not actually incorporating the repressed portions of his psyche; he’s fantasizing about the act and arbitrarily giving himself pleasure and release from the repressed Libido. He’s worshipping a false idol, he’s worshipping a fetish, and he’s silencing the siren’s call by sexual release, rather than actually uniting himself with those repressed forces (the divine or psychic marriage).

Ephraim is keeping himself from attaining his desires by shutting down and repressing those desires with short-term gratification. Ephraim wants to be a free human being, that is his ultimate desire. He wants to have power—not power over others, but power over himself: not the power of authority, but the power of individuality. However, rather than fulfilling that desire, Ephraim spends most of the movie bending to the will of Tom, the Super-Ego, or, in other words, bending to the will of society. At the end of the movie, Ephraim fulfills this desire by first destroying the mermaid trinket, the object of false sexual desire, and then by killing Tom, the judgmental and tyrannical force of society. It’s at this point that Ephraim finally ascends to the top of the lighthouse and finally witnesses the glory of the fire within the lighthouse lamp.

What is the lighthouse, and what is this divine power within its lamp? The lighthouse symbolizes a number of things. It is that which protects sailors from death as they sail through the horrors of the night. It is that which is most high upon Ephraim and Tom’s little rock, as well as that which shines most brightly. It is the most valued and coveted thing upon the island, and it is the most important thing on the island (it’s literally the only reason they’re there). The lighthouse is also a phallic symbol (among many), as previously mentioned, and an analog in some ways to Ephraim’s sexual frustrations. He is denied actual sexual release, and he is denied access to the top of the lighthouse.

I mentioned earlier that the lighthouse is the Self or the Godhead, which it is, to a certain degree. It is the source of divine power within ourselves. It is the axis mundi, source of all life-renewing energy: the world navel.
As Joseph Campbell explains in “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”:

“The torrent pours forth from an invisible source, the point of entry being the center of the symbolic circle of the universe, the Immovable Spot of the Buddha legend, around which the world may be said to revolve… The tree of life, i.e., the universe itself, grows from this point. It is rooted in the supporting darkness; the golden sun bird birches on its peak…Or the figure may be that of a cosmic mountain, with the city of gods, like a lotus of light, upon its summit…”

The lighthouse is the axis mundi, with the bright, burning spirit or entity of light at its top (sunbird/phoenix, city of gods, lotus of light, etc.), and it is from the lighthouse that Ephraim discovers reinvigorating, life-giving energies.

However, there is more to the lighthouse than simply this. What is interesting about this Axis Mundi or Godhead (this source of divine energy and the divine “Self”), is that it is manmade. The center of Ephraim and Tom’s universe is a manmade construction, and it is designed to keep sailors safe amidst the ocean’s turmoils. In some sense, this is showing that the new source of rebirth comes from the humanity’s creations, or their ability to create, alter the world around us and constantly innovate.

The new source of divine energy comes not from our ability to confront the natural world and its horrors, or from society and its oppression, but from our ability to create, a traditionally divine ability in itself, and through our creations, alter nature and alter society. Originally, creation was seen as the province gods, and then, in the West, the cosmos was seen as crafted by Jehovah or Yahweh, the Judeo-Christian God. Now, the divine power of creation is a human power.

Now, there’s another piece here, you may have already noticed it, and this is the Greek story of the Titan, Prometheus. There are many details and variations to the myth, but the central story is that Prometheus stole fire from the Greek gods and gave it to humans. As punishment, Prometheus was chained to rocks, and everyday his liver was eaten by an eagle. This almost directly parallels the ending of “The Lighthouse”, in which Ephraim “steals the fire” from the lighthouse lamp and is then seen lying naked across oceanside rocks, his insides being eaten by seagulls.

To add to this, one of the details of the broader Prometheus myth is that Prometheus is seen as a hero in a Greek Deluge or Flood myth. The son of Prometheus, Deucalion, builds a boat with the help of his Titan father, and Deucalion and his wife survive a massive flood brought on by the wrath of Zeus. Just before the climax of the story, there is a similar flood in “The Lighthouse”. During their night of drinking lamp oil/kerosene, the unending storm that has been assaulting Tom and Ephraim floods the lighthouse and ruins the interior.

There are two things to parse apart here: Prometheus and the Deluge, or the Flood.

Beginning with the Deluge, because it occurs first in “The Lighthouse”, the Great Flood represents the Flood of Chaos. In mythology, from Greek mythology to Judeo-Christian myth, the Flood is typically a punishment on humanity because of their hubris or their sins. Why is a society of sinners punished with a flood? Because they were too arrogant to prevent or prepare for a flood. The floodwaters represent the accumulation of Chaos, disorder or poor behavior, accumulating over time until the water level, or the Chaos level, is too high to stop.

If a society, a group of people or even a single individual do not take the time to deal with all the small annoyances of their lives, or all the small problems they know they should fix (internally or externally), those problems begin to accumulate until your life is flooded with them. Maybe there’s a leak in your roof, and you do nothing about it. Maybe there’s some damage to the electrical circuits in your house, and you put off having it repaired. Maybe you feel like you should buy home insurance, and you never do.

Maybe that leaky roof keeps getting worse: the wood rots and more water gets into your house every day. Maybe the state of the wiring in your home continues to deteriorate, and maybe it does so without your knowledge because you don’t think it will ever be a problem. Maybe one day, a huge storm rolls over the city you live in, and your roof does nothing to keep your house dry. The water comes into the attic, maybe it drenches your floors, maybe it interferes with the damaged electrical circuits, and maybe the day after the storm, you’re left with a water-damaged house, ruined furniture and no electricity, and there’s nothing you can do about it because you don’t have home insurance. That’s the Deluge.

It doesn’t have to actually involve water, it might involve parking tickets, or it might involve bill collectors, or it might involve that skin rash you’ve been hiding for three months, hoping it’ll magically go away, or it might involve the steady and growing supply of alcohol you’ve been consuming for ten years, or it might involve anything in your life that you know you should have fixed, prevented or prepared for, but didn’t.

In “The Lighthouse”, the Deluge begins with Ephraim killing the seagull, thus bringing on the near-unending storm as a result. Once Tom and Ephraim are thoroughly marooned on the island, they begin drinking copious amounts of alcohol, which results in them acting irrationally, damaging parts of the house and not performing their tasks as well as they should be. In the end, the storm floods the lighthouse and ruins the interior of the first floor, but the question here is:

Was it the storm’s fault? Or was it their fault?

The other part of this is the Promethean mytheme of stealing the fire.
If Prometheus stole the fire of the Olympic gods, and Ephraim’s tragic character arc is a parallel to Prometheus’s, then what fire does Ephraim steal?

Here, I come back to the Self and Ephraim’s desire to unify with his inner, “divine” Self.

Ephraim has two core desires within “The Lighthouse”. One is to become a free, independent individual, and the other is to gain access to the lighthouse lamp. The desire to become free and independent aligns with the Jungian notion of Individuation or Actualization, in which an individual unifies the disparate portions of their psyche or personality (their Ego, their Super-Ego and their Id, for simplicity), in order to become the greatest version of themselves: in order to become a complete, unified individual. Once they become this complete, unified version of themselves, they are capable of actualizing their fullest potential. They become a person who is fully equipped to seek out and satisfy their deepest desires.

Another description of the Jungian process of Individuation and Actualization is unifying oneself with the deeper Self, the True Self. There are the superficial, extrinsic and animalistic parts of one’s personality: the Persona—the mask we wear for society—the Ego, the Super-Ego and the Id. Then there is the deeper part of one’s personality: The Self. The Self is our true identity, the unified whole of our fragmented personality, where our most pressing desires and profound personal capabilities reside.

It is this Self, this deeper source of individuality and personal power, which Ephraim is seeking throughout the movie, both as his desire for freedom and his desire for the lighthouse lamp.

In this sense, the Self, the divine spark of the Godhead, is what Ephraim is stealing and giving to humanity. The cure for a sickly, stagnant or corrupt society—symbolized by Tom—does not come from a collective—the cure for society isn’t society. The cure for society is the individual capable and willing to transgress society. Ephraim’s theft of the divine flame—of the inner Self—is punished in the form of laying naked across rocks and being eaten alive by seagulls, which is a reflection of the actual punishment such an accomplishment might engender. Much of the writing of Friedrich Nietzsche centered around the notion of the Ubermensch or the Superman, a hypothetical individual Nietzsche posited as not only being able to overcome the horrors of nature and the shackles of society, but also capable of overcoming themselves and their own flaws—an individual capable of personal greatness. However, this Superman is an individual who is misunderstood by broader society, sometimes envied, oftentimes villainized, and, in many cases, abused by society.

Ephraim achieves Individuation and Actualization, then returns this divine spark of freedom and personal power to society—symbolized by him falling back down the lighthouse, or falling back to Earth—but then is punished for the very same act. Ephraim steals the fire of the lighthouse, returns to society, and then is consumed by the souls of dead sailors. Not only is he consumed by the souls of the dead sailors, but he was never saved by living sailors—no one came to rescue him from his isolated island.

In this sense, Ephraim becomes like the lighthouse. He becomes the beacon of light keeping sailors across life’s ocean from death. However, twisting the meaning of Ephraim’s punishment a bit, he, like the lighthouse, becomes a stationary object, neglected by the very people he has saved. Not only is he neglected, but he is also abused by those he couldn’t save—the sailors who weren’t saved by the lighthouse. This could be guilt, these could be parasites of society, or these birds could be metaphoric critics eating Ephraim alive.
The lighthouse is revered, and yet it is also an object used as a lifeless tool by the society that reveres it. Ephraim saves society, so to speak, by his actions, but then is left for dead and eaten alive by that society. No deed goes unpunished.

Now, despite the dissections of these symbols, the meaning of the story still hasn’t fully been articulated.

“The Lighthouse” is a movie about an individual attempting to maintain their individuality within the confines of the Id and the Super-Ego, but, moreover, attempting to transcend those confines in order to save that society. Ephraim and his story are offered up to us like a sacrificial lamb to feast upon. The lighthouse is a construction of individuals, and this construction is a gift to society, a gift which is both revered and abused. Similarly, we in our own lives can become individuated and actualized human beings, which in turn makes us beacons of light that save our society from death at sea. This in turn makes us something like sacrifices to the society we are trying to save.

Now, there’s an interesting dynamic to this all. The individual attempting to save society—the individual stealing the fire from the gods—must first transcend or overcome society in order to then save society. This exact structure can be found in the Christ myth.

Christ is born on Earth as a normal human. Christ led a revolutionary movement in his society, rebelling against the authorities of that society, as well as challenging the traditions and social norms of that society. Christ was then crucified for his rebellion and revolution. And yet, there is an even deeper sub-structure to this.

It is interesting to note that this film takes place in the late 1800’s, which was around the same time Nietzsche made his famous declaration, “God is Dead”.

“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”
In order for Ephraim to ascend the lighthouse and steal its fire, he first had to kill Tom.

As I mentioned before, the Super-Ego is often symbolized mythologically as God the Father, or as the Benevolent or Tyrannical King. Society, as well as the fatherly-authority god, are both derivatives of the Super-Ego—the standards, traditions and practices of society which both protect and oppress us. Ephraim killed Tom, the analogue of Society, the Super-Ego and God the Father. It was only through this act that Ephraim was able to attain wholeness and individuality, but this was not necessarily a happy act. Through killing Tom, through killing God, Ephraim’s world fell apart, and he was punished for it.

Christ, by challenging society, by challenging the Jewish high priests and by challenging the governors of the Roman Empire, was in fact challenging God himself.

To dig deeper into this, and to dig deeper into what the Death of Christ ultimately means, I’ll now come to the work of the contemporary Hegelian philosopher, Slavoj Zizek. Nietzsche believed that Christianity, by holding Truth to be its highest virtue, was inevitably a self-extinguishing religion. It was Christianity’s insistence on Truth which led to the Age of Enlightenment, which led to Nietzsche’s claim that “God is dead”. In a similar vein, Slavoj Zizek has made claims that Christianity is in fact an atheistic religion.

In Slavoj’s words:

“I think that this [the story of Job] is maybe an incredible ethical revolution because this is already the first step out of this traditional pagan view where justice means you should be at your own place, do your particular duty, and so on and so on, you know, this withdrawal, which then I think culminates in the death of Christ.

“What dies on the cross? … As Hegel says, what dies on the cross is God of beyond himself. It’s precisely God as that transcendent power which somehow secretly pulls the strings. This is, I think, the secret of Christianity… This God abdicates. I think that something tremendous happens in Christianity because remember, after the death of Christ, we don’t get back to the father. What we get is Holy Spirit… So, for me, again, this is a tremendously important message of freedom.

“Again, as my beloved Chesterton said… in all other religions, you have atheists, people who don’t believe in God, but Chesterton‘s reading of those famous ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani?’ (‘Father, why have you forsaken me?’) is that only in Christianity, and for him this is crucial, God himself becomes for a moment an atheist.”

To sum up what Slavoj is saying, though eroding much of the subtleties here, at Christ’s death, Christ looks up to the sky and asks, “Father, why have you forsaken me?” Here, Christ, being a manifestation of God himself, is God realizing the truth of his own non-existence.

The revolution of Christ was not the continuation of a religion, but the annihilation of a religion, albeit a slow annihilation, and, to this day, not a complete annihilation (which might be evidence of the psychological vitality of the Christian myth). Christ: the Logos, the Word of God, the Truth made Flesh—Christ is what killed God.

The resurrection of Christ is not the resurrection of the flesh, but the resurrection of the spirit. Christ as spirit—Christ as the spirit of the Logos—paradoxically could only be kept alive by the Death of Christ as flesh, or by the Death of God by science and the Enlightenment. And now, this concept of the Spirit, decoupled from God as flesh and God as Divine Authority, lives on with us as the Logos, or rational thought and truthful speech.

Just as God died because of what Christianity valued most highly—the Logos, or the Truth—Tom, the analogue of God, died because of what he valued most highly, the lighthouse, or the Divine Self. It was Ephraim, the analogue of Christ, who killed Tom and sacrificed himself for the betterment of society. Just as Christ was the Logos, or Truth, made flesh, and it was Truth which murdered God; Ephraim was the Self, or Individuality, made flesh, and it was Individuality which murdered Society.

Just as Christ saved society and saved God by killing both society and God with Truth, Ephraim saves society and saves the fire of Individuality by killing Tom and both murdering and sacrificing himself to society with Individualism. In both stories, the murders are in fact suicides. God the Father, the manifestation of society and the Super-Ego, the manifestation of the crowds at Judaea, sends Christ as a sacrifice to die at the cross, and, in doing so, sends himself to die at the cross. Christ, the manifestation of the Logos, kills God, thus killing himself. Ephraim’s real name is Thomas. This means that Thomas killed Tom, and, in doing so, Tommy essentially sacrificed himself.

Just as Catholics consume the body and blood of Christ, an act of ingesting the divine Logos, the seagulls now consume the body and blood of Ephraim, an act of ingesting the divine Self. Christ will become resurrected as the Holy Spirit, the dove, and Ephraim will be resurrected as the soul of a dead sailor, a seagull.

Eat up, seabirds.