Horror-Tober V: Psychology and Eternity in Hereditary

Written by Alexander Greco

October 16, 2020

This article took on a pretty nihilistic tone (which I inevitably started to really lean into). Now, I personally have learned to live with and accept the infinite absurdity of reality, and have pretty much become de-sensitized to it. If you’re not one for the deep, dark depths of Nihilism, then feel free to set this down, and go on living with the unconscious-but-still-existent sensation that something’s not quite right about the way reality works and your entire life is a lie.

If your psyche has taken enough Defense Against the Dark Arts classes to whether such things, then, by all means, carry on.

Can a Bad Movie Be Good?

If you don’t know this yet, the A24 film company has consistently put out some fantastic movies.

Some of the more notable ones include Ex Machina, The Lighthouse and Midsommar. However, they’ve also put out a number of other unique and well-made films out over the years, including Under the Skin, Room, The Witch, Room, It Comes At Night, Under the Silver Lake and Lady Bird.

A24 is also the company responsible for Hereditary.

Hereditary is pretty far down my lists of favorite horror movies, favorite indie horror movies, and even my favorite A24 horror movies.

Hereditary is pretty cringey from start to finish, and, for the most part, I don’t mean this in a good way. The characters feel unnatural throughout much of the film (but everything feels a little unnatural). The behaviors many of the characters exhibit are off-putting, but an interesting kind of off-putting, just an unlikeable kind of off-putting. As much as I like Steve Graham—the cookie-cutter stereotype of an off-the-boat-but-still-assimilated Irish Father—he’s a bit too flat and static for me, and lacks too much depth.

How to not make friends.

In addition, so many of the “scary” parts of the film made me laugh (with the electric-pole scene being one big exception (for this, I had to stifle my laugh for the sake of the surrounding audience)). More than just the “scary parts”, most of the movie made me laugh. And, goddamnit, I just couldn’t get over Peter’s crying.

Peter was easily, hands down, the cringiest part of this entire movie. It was rough.

However, there’s something special about Hereditary, and there’s many things I feel I haven’t cracked with this film (mostly because I haven’t really felt the desire to).

This isn’t necessarily a bad movie, there’s just so many surface-level elements of this movie I can barely stand, or that make me laugh when they’re not supposed to.

It’s well-filmed, kinda well-written, and the plot possesses a wicked interesting sub-structure to it with the whole grandma thing lurking in the background. There is indeed so much good to this film that I can’t say it’s a bad movie, and I do somehow enjoy watching it. The movie even seems to get even better once you watch the end of the film, which is where it seems to cement itself as something close to an art film.

Once you’ve seen the ending once, every time you watch the film afterwards, it becomes something like a puzzle. I can respect that.

It’s one of a handful of movies I’ve seen where the ending somehow redeems the rest of the film, and makes the film a better watch after the first viewing.

Today, with this analysis, I don’t want to spend too much time summarizing and explaining and analyzing and this and that. Really, I just want to explore two angles to this movie (which are really just one angle, and then looking at that one angle from two different angles). If you haven’t watched the movie, then just watch it, or read this and be moderately confused. I won’t spend much time explaining it.

In a brief analysis, I want to focus on two angles of a psychological analysis, and present it in a more general, theoretical way than as a concrete, crystalized analysis (Eraserhead kinda burnt me out a bit).

More particularly, I want to examine Hereditary based off of its very name (“hereditary”), in what can be interpreted in a quasi-Freudian, but in a more contemporary developmentally psychological angle, and then look at it in a very specific and somewhat obscure Jungian context using his conceptualization of “Aion”.

Nature vs Nurture

This is a fundamental argument in both psychology and philosophy.

Are our personalities, traits, capabilities and actions pre-determined by our genetics, or who our parents and ancestors are?

Or, are there environmental pressures that effect our development from the time we’re a fetus to the time we die?

The answer, of course, is that both are true.

However, this question can spiral into a much deeper question about Free Will.

Are we, our personalities, our behaviors, our thoughts and our actions pre-determined by our genes? Or is it possible for us to be changed by factors other than genetics, including our own conscious decisions?

The answer, of course, is “No”, there’s no Free Will.

Sorry.

Even if you grant that both Nature and Nurture play a role in development (which you should), these are both, inevitably, purely mechanistic forces acting on a mechanistic entity (you and your body).

Now, personally, I have a theory and a philosophical thought experiment I came up with to explain how humans might approximate partial Free Will (I call it “Greco’s Devil”, keeping in tradition with Laplace’s Demon), but that’s a discussion for another time.

For now, Nature vs. Nurture.

Now, there’s something interesting the writers/creators do in Hereditary. They actually play into the most nihilistic element of Nature vs Nurture, which I already mentioned a few sentences back.

“Nature” is always seen as the more mechanistic and pre-determined of the two developmental forces. To a certain degree, there are aspects of you that are inevitable, simply because of your genetics (and it’s quite a lot more than most people would enjoy hearing). In this perspective, we are like a cue ball that is hit across a pool table, with no personal say in the angle or force we are struck.

“Nurture” is often seen as the less deterministic or mechanistic of the two developmental forces. Yes, we are born with a specific set of genetics that will determine everything from our personality to the rate at which hair on our legs grow, but these are also things that can be altered by external factors, such as events that raise or lower stress, nutrition, the temperature of our environment, how much we exercise and so forth.

However, the problem with this is the same problem as the cue ball.

In the previous thought experiment, let’s imagine the cue ball was bounced around on an empty table, and never struck anything.

Now, for Nurture, let’s imagine the pool table is loaded with pool balls, and we the cue balls are struck in a random angle with a random force. Now, every time we strike a pool ball, our direction and velocity change. This doesn’t mean that our lives are no longer pre-determined, this means that the factors which pre-determined our lives were different than initially thought.

This is the great material-rationalist Nihilism of thinkers like Freud. Not only are we mechanistic robots determined by our genetics, but our entire lives are also pre-determined by how we are raised as children. Now, this discussion is far more complicated than that, and there’s of course the discussion of brain plasticity, crystalized vs fluid intelligence, the positive and negative effects of traumatic or highly emotional events, as well as the generally chaotic nature of existence, but these are all just more complicated pool table dimensions, more numerous varied pool balls and the effects that an infinite multitude of other pool games have on each other and on you.

As a brief side note, the only glimmer of hope for Free Will that I personally think we have is our imperfect ability to consciously observe our own game of pool, as well as the games of pool around us, and our imperfect ability to consciously reselect the angle and force our pool ball is struck each time. I don’t subside in a completely nihilistic framework. Anywho, discussion for another time.

How can this be brought back to Hereditary?

Well, there’s something interesting about the name.

“Hereditary” implies genetically heritable traits—Nature.

However, this isn’t really a thing in Hereditary, except perhaps as a subtext.

What is really explored in Hereditary is the family dynamics, relationships, forces, etc., which would fall under the Nurture category.

What is interesting about this is that it adds a sort of new element to the Nature vs Nurture argument (not actually new, really, but it sounds good to say it’ new). It becomes wholly nihilistic in a beautiful way—I love it.

What if Nurture were a part of our Nature?

What if the parental and ancestral forces that shaped our early development were just as inevitable as our genetic nature?

Now, I in essence already stated this, but I think Hereditary goes a step further out of the distinction between Nature and Nurture, and seems to posit that there are non-genetic, non-materially-heritable traits that will inevitably become a part of our Nature.

I love this.

Why?

Nurture is not something heritable, it has nothing to do with our genetics.

Hereditary seems to be saying that there is something that is both heritable, in the same sense as genetics, but also has nothing to do with our genetics.

And here we begin to enter a realm of Jungian archetypes, as well as some of the metaphysical implications of Jungian psychology (I told you I’m not a complete nihilist…)

Aion and Eternity

So, here, we need to discuss a concept that I don’t completely understand, but I will do my best to explain my partial knowledge of it.

Aion is a Greek-Hellenistic deity. He represents Time, but not in the sense that a deity like Chronos does. Where Chronos represents empirical time (past, present, future, as well as the segmentation of time (years, months, days, hours, seconds, etc.)), Aion represents unbounded time. Aion, in a sense, represents eternity, or things that are eternal.

This is a somewhat opaque concept, so there’s two ways I’ve thought of to explain it, one of which I’ll bring up later with Jung.

So, imagine a river, and you are standing halfway between the beginning and end of the river (this actually doesn’t matter, but fuck it). Now, the domain of Chronos would be the domain of measuring the river or measuring the relationship between positions on that river. Discussing the distance to the beginning or end of the river would be the domain of Chronos; discussing the distance between any two points along the river would be the domain of Chronos; discussing the regular segmentation or fractionation of any distance along the river would be the domain of Chronos.

Let’s say the river was infinite or eternal. Even discussing the infiniteness of the river would be the domain of Chronos.

However. Discussing the river itself would be the domain of Aion.

The quantitative observation and discussion of time and eternity is the domain of Chronos.

The qualitative observation and discussion of time and eternity is the domain of Aion.

Aion’s domain or representative domain is that of the nature of time and eternity itself, and the nature eternal things within time and eternity (one might say the shape and course of the river).

Aion is also described as the deity of “ages”, or possibly of “eras”, and, from my half-baked understanding of this portion of Jung’s thinking, Aion represents things that exist across time.

Chronos might represent the domain of being able to measure time (or the regular measurement of change across time, since time isn’t real and all), but Aion’s domain would contain the fact that we are able to measure time—a fact that has existed to some degree across much of human history.

Aion’s domain contains the immovable, eternal things that exist not in segments of time, but across time.

My second example might be a large stone that lies at the bottom of a river bed—large or massive enough that its position hypothetically is not moved by the movement of the river. Even as the transient events or changes that take place across and through the flow of time move over the rock, the rock remains in the same position. Its position and existence in space (and, possibly, it’s position and existence in time) does not move or change. It is almost like a wormhole in this sense, except it does not fold space-time through some material dimension—space-time is folded across an infinite number of segments phenomenologically.

Now, of course, Chronos rules materially and rationally, and Aion only rules from a phenomenological perspective, or from the perspective of a conscious observer, and, really, neither rule (but that’s also another discussion).

However, for the sake of this analysis, what matters is this concept of something that exists “eternally” across time.

This, in Hereditary, would be Paimon. Paimon is representative of the non-genetic hereditary traits of a family.

Paimon is the inherited evil of the family.

Eternal Evil in Hereditary

So, there may be deeper significance to “Paimon” in Hereditary than simply as an entity roughly equivalent to the Devil or Satan or whatever, but I don’t think it’s overly important—at least not for this analysis.

The lore behind Paimon is actually a bit complicated (as is most lore behind demonology) is very multifaceted and convoluted, with connections to, like, twelve other religions or cultures besides Judeo-Christianity, and with multiple interpretations from different angles, blah-blah-blah.

The key factor here seems to be that Paimon is evil, demonic, Satanic, whatever you want to call it.

So, Paimon is obviously representative of the evil within the family. It started with the deceased/“deceased” grandmother, and seemed to have rooted itself in other family members. This evil began to spread throughout the family, infecting them, much like forms of abuse or negative behavior can enter a family and psychologically infect them.

Now, there are two important things to note here.

One: near the beginning of the film, a play that I believe to be Women of Trachis by Sophocles is being discussed in Peter’s class. The main theme of their discussion seems to be the inevitable fate of Heracles’ tragic death, and whether or not Heracles’ lack of control over his own death and its inevitability makes it more or less tragic.

Two: Annie, Peter’s mother, designs miniature buildings, homes and other settings, and the opening shot implies that the Graham home is actually one of these miniature homes. This puts Annie in the position of being some sort of architect, grand designer or transcendent manipulator in the Grahams’ lives. We later discover that Annie’s mother—Peter’s grandmother—as the host for Paimon was actually the grand architect or manipulator of everything that happened in the Grahams’ lives. There are even miniature people Annie creates and puts inside her model houses.

So, we have two things here. The first, the tragic inevitability of fate. The second, the maternal manipulation of that fate.

It seems that whatever evil resides in the family, it is passed down from Annie’s side (grandmother à mother à daughter (Charlie) à son/brother (Peter)), and this fate, ordained by Paimon and Paimon’s followers, is inevitable and ultimately pre-destined. Peter was always fated to become Paimon.

Peter lived inside a reality that was preconstructed (the house constructed by his mother, where he was a small figurine she could manipulate), and he lived a life that was pre-determined.

Now, how does this connect back to the previous theme of Nurture vs Nature?

Well, with developmental psychology, there’s the idea that much of a child’s psychology is determined by how they were raised by their parents. People such as Freud might presume that this effect is quite large, and that a child is essentially fated to live with whatever personal effects the child’s upbringing cursed or blessed them with.

There’s also an idea that many are probably familiar with, the cycle of abuse, which is essentially that people who are abused by their parents will go on to be abusive parents, which will cause their children to go on being abusive parents to their children.

While Hereditary doesn’t quite go to this extreme, the parent-child relationships do at times toe the line of abuse, or at least toxic behavior and relationships.

And now, to return to the idea of Aion and eternity, Hereditary might be trying to imply that there is an eternal evil which moves through, or is moved across by, the succession of generations in this family (Paimon theoretically being a god/angel/devil/entity at least a few thousand years old).

Jung would say this “evil”, even if it were purely psychological and not some conscious, spiritual entity, was a thing in-and-of-itself—a psychological force that persisted across time.

The evil in the Graham family is not only a phenomenon of parenting, but an archetypal, psychological force that has persisted across time and existed like a parasite in the relationships of families. No genetics are inherited for this to happen, and this isn’t just an effect of Nurture.

The psychological force they call “Paimon” is an inherited, non-genetic psychological force. It is not a hereditary gene, but a hereditary psychological parasite that infects and destroys the psyches of families it infects.

Paimon is something eternal, something that does not exist in temporal isolation, but across time across the minds of those it infects. As the world spins and burns and fluctuates across decades, Paimon remains, sitting on its throne.

Conclusion

And this is what I can extract from Hereditary.

No, I’m not suggesting there’s actual demons and devils out there that eternally persist across time, but at least metaphorically there seems to be forces like it.

Of course, when you get into the nitty-gritty of developmental psychology, and psychology in general, you find that something like this is really more of a heuristic. Trauma, abuse and psychological development are all very complex topics, and they don’t happen in a cookie-cutter way. However, Hereditary use a symbol like Paimon to simplify a phenomenon like this and demonstrate how abuse, manipulation and toxicity can persist across generations.

Hereditary also asks, “What immaterial phenomena exist eternally? What evils can outlast even the mountains and forests?”

It examines the deeply Jungian idea of a psychological force existing almost individually and distinctly from the rest of an individual’s identity, and of that psychological force being a distinct phenomenon that exists and persists across time because of culture or society. And that is my two cents on Hereditary.

(Also, if you take the “p” and the “m” out of “Paimon”, you get “Aion”… Mind… Blown.)

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.