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.

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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.

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.

A Glimpse

Written by Alexander Greco

May 10, 2019

The monk walked me through the sunlit hallways of our retreat facility. It was a sprawling wooden building, something like a minimalist’s fortress-temple in the middle of the woods. My guide was a young Tibetan man around my age who’d immigrated to America, and began working at these retreats while still studying Buddhism. I got to know him a little while we talked at the orientation, several days before I went on the five-hour drive to the middle of the North Pacific forests. Now, however, there was no talking between us.

The monk walked me through the compound, silently weaving through a honeycomb of stained wood and white painted walls. I tried to keep track of our path through this building, but I quickly lost track of where I was at. Eventually, I was brought to the door of my room—the small, squarish space with one small bed, a nightstand, a clock, and a window. No lamp, no mirror, no personal bathroom—nothing.

The monk opened the door to my small bedroom for me, and I walked inside. The monk held up two fingers. I nodded. The group meditation would begin in two hours. I closed the door behind me, then turned to my room and looked around. There wasn’t much to look at. I took off my backpack, and sat down on the floor, not entirely sure what to do.

I folded my legs, and shimmied around a bit, until I felt I was in a comfortable position. Then I closed my eyes. And I sat there in silence.

I was very self-conscious of myself there. I’d only been practicing meditation for the last year. I’d never gone to a retreat like this before. The fact that I was here, sitting on the ground. It filled my mind. I was sitting still, in a building full of people I don’t know. On this hardwood floor, in the middle of the woods, in complete silence. For ten days. Somehow, this was all supposed to “work”.

My mind stretched across those ten days, watching a small fraction of infinity unfurl. For ten days, I would be that small infinity, stretching on. For ten days, I would be completely silent. For ten days, I would be completely silent, in a building in the middle of nowhere, with complete strangers, all of whom were also silent. That was my existence.

In an effort to ignore the hardwood floor,

And then I wondered about why I was even here. I was here to, what, clear my mind I suppose? I was here to solve all my problems, right? I was here to fix myself, to be a happier, more wholesome person. I was here to live a better life.

I was here to be silent, to clear my head out of all this garbage, yes, yes that was it. I was going to come here to clear all that bullshit out of my head. Erase it all—that’s what meditation is for, right? It’s for clearing all the stress out, erasing the anxieties.

Yes, that’s what I was here for. That’s what I’ll do. And so I sat. And I sat. And I sat.

Breathing, yes, listen to your breathing.

So, I inhaled, and I exhaled. I inhaled. And I exhaled.

And I listened to each breath, fighting the urge to count the breaths, or make some inner commentary on how a certain breath sounded. I listened to each breath, and I felt my body as it moved, and I felt the room around me.

And I realized for the first time since I’d driven up here that it was rather humid here. I didn’t think there was any air-conditioning here—it was all open-aired, somewhat Bohemian or New Agey—but I suppose that was supposed to be the effect. Take it all in.

Just take it all…

In…

All the humidity, all the clammy hands, and all the sticky hair. All the muscle groans and strained spine, and all the ringing ear and itching nose, and all the distant insect sounds and pollen-filled air. It was all so clear, and all so simultaneously focused, and all so simultaneously distracting, and all these distractions were all so good at making me twitch or reposition, or think, and rethink, and monitor, and worry, and wonder, and walk through thoughts I’d thought days ago, wondering always, and wondering, always, “Why?”

And why was I in this room?

Yes, yes, I know, I’d gone through the list myself. We’ve gone over this, to clear this trash from my head.

Then why aren’t you doing that? Look, you’re thinking, you’re not supposed to be thinking.

Then stop!

Hey, calm down, it’s okay. Calm down, we’re here to get rid of the stress.

Right, right, you’re right.

Big breaths.

Big breaths.

In, out.

In, out.

Clear your mind.

Yes, I’m clearing my mind.

Okay, good, good.

Clearing my mind. Clearing my mind. Clearing my mind.

And for moments, there was silence.

I listened to my breathing. I felt the sensation of my skin. And I quieted my mind from all the internal clutter.

I could feel the thoughts threaten to erupt—like a violin bow coming dangerously close to the string—but I did not think any thoughts.

Oh, but how they silently hummed, and how the tear of a squealing note almost escaped several times. How the thoughts tried to be thunk. How the long tensions threatened to erupt.

If only I could think just one thought, I thought, and maybe just pay attention to that thought. Focus, right, and don’t think about anything else? So I sat and thought, well, what one thing would I want to think?

Bills? Love life? My life goals? What I want to do next week?

What was the most important thing I could be thinking about?

Well, I could be thinking about any number of important things, and god there were so many important things to choose from—and so many important things that overlapped in ways where you couldn’t think about one without the other (and god, were those things the worst!—those nests of spiteful misfortune and bad luck, where filthy, diseased hydras lurk in swamps of modern grievance).

Car insurance, rent, scholarships, grants, loans and debt and bills and credit, and repainting the bathroom walls so it wouldn’t come out of my deposit, and my statistics class I’d be taking when the semester began, and the spot where my hair has begun to thin (I’m only barely 21 now), and did all the booze and late night cigarettes do it? Was it all the stress, compounding onto one another? And wouldn’t all that stress affect everything else I had to do? Wouldn’t the raised cortisol, the difficulty sleeping, the straining brain, and the constant drag of anxiety ruin the rest of my life? And what would my mom think? What if I don’t do well in classes? What if the last few years were simply a fluke, and it would all fall apart spectacularly in the next year? One stumbled test, and I might be reeling for the rest of the year—who knows what might happen? Who know what rock I might break my ankle on? Oh, god, a broken ankle. Imagine an actual broken ankle. What in the world would I do? Who knows what river current might drag me down while I’m still padding through this mess without a boat? And then what would I do? What would I do for money? Where would I live? How would I live? How would I pay for the necessities of survival? How would I keep my hair from thinning if this whole world simply collapsed?

What a monster. What a hydra.

No. No, I shouldn’t think of those things. I shouldn’t dare think of those things, not while I’m here—not while I’m trying to get rid of the stress.

But maybe you should meditate on those things, maybe you could discover some deep, dark secret about the meaning of life—or something.

No, that’s not how it works—you don’t focus on the negative, you don’t get distracted with thoughts, you don’t stress yourself out.

What do you do then?

You stop worrying.

But there’s so much to worry about.

That’s why you’re here, to stop worrying, so you can go back to normal life, and…

And find all the same old worries.

Yes, perhaps, but you’ll be better equipped to—

To cope with them? To deal with them? To think about them?

…yes.

What sort of plan is this?

It’s our plan, now sit and meditate. Come on, we’ve been meditating for a year now—we’ve been trying so hard—why can’t you meditate here? Why can’t you do this? Why can’t you—

We’ve been half-ass meditating. We came here to get better at meditation.

Right, right—that’s right! We came here to get better at meditation, so we could meditate better once we went back.

And look at how well we’re doing.

It’s only been [I opened my eyes and looked at the clock]—

It’s been twenty minutes. Of sitting.

It’s been twenty whole minutes? [I was still staring at the clock]

Twenty whole minutes.

But… But we’ve barely been meditating.

Yeah.

Like… No, really, we’ve barely begun.

Twenty minutes.

What will we be like in 10 days?

What will we be like in another twenty minutes?

I was in fact silent now.

My brain sort of stopped. I felt a small amount of panic. A somber, frantic sort of remorse.

I’d already fucked up, hadn’t I?

I’d fucked up from birth, I was sure of that now.

This life had been one long tunnel of fuck-ups leading to this fuck up, I’d realized that.

I was born into the mouths of the hydra. At the hospital, they must have been smiling in wait between my mother’s legs.

Two heads bit onto my feet and pulled me out. All the others wrapped around my body, and they’ve been constricting just tightly enough that I’ve been gasping for air, but I can’t do anything to stop them.

And now, you can’t even sit down to meditate.

Well, give it a try, I told myself, we have ten days to figure this out—we’ve only been here twenty minutes—

Half an hour.

—and we’ve been practicing for a year—

Half ass practicing.

Ten minutes passed by? [I looked back at the clock]

Yupp.

How? What happened?

You were thinking.

But… but I wasn’t even thinking about anything that mattered. Why… What am I doing?

The hydra squeezed until my spine cracked. A numbing, irritating, cold, hot sensation rose from my pelvis. I could feel it spread like wings near my kidneys, and a hellish winter breath billowed up my throat and into my head. My eyes watered from the chill and the burn, and the gripping, grasping, constricting pressure of a thousand worries. I couldn’t keep the rain from raining.

It won’t leave me alone, will it? There’s no escape.

No, maybe there’s not. But we’re here now. We’re right here, in this room, sitting on a stranger’s floor in a stranger’s forest. So, try.

And, so, I did.

I sat. I closed my eyes. And I didn’t think.

For a long time, I could still feel the great beast engulfing me in its gnashing, burning, frigid pressure. Its teeth lazily tore at my body like a pack of wild dogs. The furnace in its belly burnt my eyes, and the rain wouldn’t stop raining. But I just sat there, and let myself feel it.

I felt my body. I felt myself resting on the ground. I felt my chest rising and falling, rising and falling. And I felt the world smothering me in its infinite coils.

And then I felt the air against my skin. I watched the light hitting my closed eyelids. I mapped the movements of quiet sounds.

I sat there, feeling the world, feeling myself, feeling whatever my mind thought I should feel. And I sat there for second after second, minute after minute, feeling and watching and waiting, and giving in to the world I felt. Perhaps, I thought, if I did this long enough, I might feel the Earth spinning in the void. If I watched myself long enough, I might watch myself sleep in the soil. If I listened long enough, I might hear the sound of nothing.

And suddenly, I felt the coils no longer.

I was silent.

And all I saw was black. All I saw were the back of my eyelids cutting the sunlight of the rest of the cosmos off from my pupils, severing the beams of oceans of photons. All I saw was the flesh of the back of my eyelid, staring back at me.

And I decided to embrace the silence—that’s all I could do really—and fill myself with it, and feel myself in it, and watch myself feeling it.

But there was still nothing.

Only silence.

Perhaps a calm.

But not a happy calm.

Not a victorious calm.

Not an enlightened calm.

Just less blustery winds.

And I still wasn’t sure what I was doing there.

But I embraced that.

And, nonetheless, I sat.

And sat.

And sat.

And stared at my eyelids.

And then I tried something different.

I decided to focus on the darkness inside my eyes. I tried to focus on the silence in my ears. I tried to focus on the emptiness in my head.

All my attention of the world around me waned, and my awareness of the world inside my head blossomed. Slowly, the reality in my head eclipsed the reality outside my head. Slowly. Slowly. Slowly the moon crossed over the Sun.

And there was only the silence, the dark, and the emptiness, with fringe coronas of an external reality.

Everything was still. Everything was empty. Everything was nothing.

Silence.

Pure, pure silence.

And then, there was a humming.

A ringing.

A keening.

A crashing.

A baying.

A billowing.

A howling storm inside a vast empty cavern—a numb, midnight-blue, frigid hellfire of silence.

And then it went quiet. And there was nothing there.

Nothing…

And then…

I saw something.

Eyes. Staring at me.

I opened my own eyes. There was just the room around me. Nothing more.

I closed my eyes again. And I was in the void of my head. And there I saw the eyes again.

Violet and indigo, and ultraviolet and gamma-ray eyes. They were glowing eyes in the dark, staring into mine, beaming into the holes in my skull like two supernovas focused at my retina—beaming a crashing river of thoughts into my head. It was so much information, all streaming into my thoughts, or perhaps it was my thoughts streaming into my thoughts, wreathing in quilts of the color spectrum that danced and hummed and shook and shattered.

It was the Truth. I don’t know how I knew; I don’t know what told me so, I don’t know why I believed it, I don’t know what caused me to believe it, but I knew it to be so.

I saw the Truth staring at me with indigo and ultraviolet eyes. I saw myself staring back at me. I saw my self in and of myself. I saw my eyes looking into my eyes. Between my eyes and my eyes, between the black holes staring into our black holes, where all the light disappeared into our retina, was an infinite space. Between my self and I was an infinite mirror, an infinite, lightless pit, and an infinite, empty space. There, in the space between our eyes. That was the Truth.

Something greater than myself, something greater that I was a part of, rose in the space between our eyes. It was a vast thing, a voluminous thing, a cascading and rampant thing. It was the hydra, but it was something more. It was a machine that grew between my self and I like wildfires and swarms of ants—a machine made of letters and numbers, and the crawling insects that formed the shifting architecture carried grammatical nuts and bolts, and division rods, and axles of integration, and the wildfires carried seeds of trees in screaming hands of industrial decorum. My skull bulged at its limits—squeezing diamonds of quilted thought, pushing at the cage around my brain—as I witnessed the mechanisms of gods and daemons and artificers of cosmic muse, and of the architecture that remains ignorantly omniscient and blindly omnipotent.

For a moment, only the briefest moment, I was my self, and I was the universe staring back at its self through an astronaut’s suit of carbon, iron, calcium, oxygen, lipids, proteins, and strings of chemical archives.

And then I opened my eyes.

And I was in my room again.

There was a knock on the door.

It was time to go meditate with the others.

What Do We Know (2.0)

By Alexander Greco

April 22, 2019

What is real? What’s just fantasy?

What is fact? What’s just theory?

What is true? What’s just fabrication?

What do we know about the world we live in, the people we live with, and the person we are?

Light comes in through the cornea, and is refracted into your pupil, then through a hard lens, where the light is focused into the retina. Our retinas capture this constant bombardment of trillions of light-waves/particles, and process this light with millions of special nerves called rods and cones. These rods and cones convert light stimuli, which are picked up by the optic nerve, and sent to the brain.

Your brain processes the optic signals with the limbic system first, where our brain scans for threats or rewarding opportunities. The limbic system first “communicates” with the Automatic Nervous System, which governs our fear response, our fight-or-flight instinct, and our sexual attraction instincts. If there’s an immediate threat, such as a snake on the ground, or a potentially rewarding opportunity, such as a person you find attractive, your brain and body begin responding before you know what you’re looking at.

Finally, the processed light-signals are sent to our neo-cortex, where we consciously “see” the light.

Similarly-complex sensory systems detect what we smell, what we hear, what we feel and what we taste, and this is the foundation of how we understand the world around us.

These senses alone are nowhere near what you need to actually understand what’s happening around us. Humans have an incredibly weak sense of smell, we can only detect a narrow range of light waves, our easily-damaged ears can only hear a certain range of sound, and we only see so far, or so close, with limited clarity. The parts of our brain that process these signals can misfire, or misunderstand what it’s looking at (optical illusions).

In addition, our senses alone don’t tell us how a thing works.

We only began to understand gravity in 1687 with Newton, then with Einstein in the 20th century, and we still don’t fully understand how it works.

In fact, we don’t understand how most of the universe works.

27% of the universe is made of Dark Matter, which constitutes 85% of the total mass in the universe. 68% is Dark Energy.[1] That’s 95% of the universe that we don’t understand. All the stars, planets, black holes, comets, asteroids and space debris make up only 5% of the universe.

But let’s go smaller.

The universe is much so much bigger than what we experience normally, we at least know what’s happening on Earth.

Do we?

As a species, we’ve all but mastered mechanical, electrical, optical, thermodynamic and nuclear physics… To a degree.

We now know vast amounts about of biology, evolution and genetics… Relatively speaking.

We have a deep and accurate understanding of psychology… In some ways.

And we’re more informed about the world around us than ever before…

Except we’ve learned enough to see how little we actually know.

We now know enough about quantum mechanics to know that the subatomic world is bizarre and nonsensical, and often violates “laws” of nature, such as the Law of Conservation.[2]

Not only does it violate the Law of Conservation, but quantum mechanics is incompatible with Einstein’s Relativity, and has led to decades of scientists trying to reconcile the two.[3] Decades later, we still haven’t reconciled the two.

Do we at least understand how people work? Why we are the way we are? Why we act the way we act? How we’ve come to be who we are?

Well… Yes and no…

To a certain degree, we understand how humans work. We understand what our bodies are made of, how our muscles, bones, cardiovascular system and so forth work, and how our nervous system works.

We understand that genetics and the environment affect our physical and psychological development.

We understand that genetics, our brain, past experiences, learned behaviors, hormones, psychological states, emotional health, and physical health all play roles in our behaviors and decisions.

We understand how evolution has shaped and changed us over billions of years into modern humans, and how epigenetic adaptations on the individual level.

We have a pretty solid, foundational understanding of how the human body works, but this foundational understanding has shown us the vast amounts of our genetics, biology, physiology, and psychology that we don’t know.

Let’s take something as simple as hair. We have hair follicles in our skin. They grow using nutrients from our body, and they grow according to chemical signals from our nerves.

However, everything is also controlled by our genes. Everything from the follicles, to the structure of each hair, to how fast each hair grows, is coded by genes. And, there can be multiple genes that code for the same thing. You can have multiple genes controlling the color, length and coarseness of your hair, or one gene that codes for several different traits. These genes can be turned on or off, they can perform different functions based on the hormones in your body, and they can also code other genes.

However, genes are only one part of the equation, and things like your diet or how often you exercise can affect individual traits. Everything in the body is interconnected, and it’s highly

We’re only just beginning to know the ins-and-outs of our body.

There are still mysteries to evolution, unanswered questions, and long-debated ideas.

There are still mysteries about genetics, how genes work, and how genes affect our anatomy and psychology.

And there are still mysteries about the brain. We’re still trying to understand all the ins-and-outs of brain function, of how we think and process information, and why we behave the way we do.

Consciousness is a perfect example. We still don’t even know what consciousness is, or if consciousness is real or an illusion. We don’t know why we’re conscious, or what causes consciousness. Yet, consciousness is one of the most important aspects of being a human.

But what about the basic world around us. What do we even know about something as simple as a desk-lamp?

It’s an object that “stands” on our desk. It has a “lightbulb” you can put in or take out. You can “turn it on” to make light come out of the lightbulb.

But how does it stand without falling? How is it constructed? What materials does it made of?

What even is a lightbulb? How does it work? Why does it work the way it works? What is it made of? Is it incandescent? Is it an LED bulb? How does an LED work?

Yes, you can take the time to answer all these questions, even down to what metals and gases are used inside a bulb, and the reasons why they are used, but can you do that for everything? And can you do that for everything all the time?

What is the desk made of? How is it constructed? What materials? Why does it even work?

What about a flash drive? Or headphones? Or your computer?

Why are we able to look out a window and see what’s outside? Why does one flower look prettier than another flower? Why are the walls of a room painted the color they are, and, for that matter, how does paint even work?

Yes, we can stop and explain everything around us, but how often do we do that? How much do we actually know, from one person to the next, about the fundamental objects of daily life? How much do we take for granted when we walk out the door, or even when we wake up in our bed?

Jordan Peterson has a great explanation of this. A car is a thing-that-gets-us-from-one-place-to-the-next, until it stops working. As soon as it stops working, it becomes a chaotic-object-of-anxiety-and-ignorance—a terrifying monster made of valves, wires, pipes, pulleys and gears. But as soon as the car gets fixed, it transforms back into a thing-that-gets-us-from-one-place-to-the-next.

Even more basic than basic objects around us, do we even know what’s going on half the time?

What’s happening on the other side of the four walls around you? What’s happening next door? What’s happening down the street? What’s happening in the next town over? What’s going on in your state, or your country, or the rest of the world?

Unfortunately, we barely even know what’s happening outside our front doors.

When we do see something happening, how much do we actually know about it?

If we see two strangers arguing, do you have any clue what it might be about?

What’s going on in those people’s heads?

What’s going on in anyone’s head, for that matter?

A friend of mine explained something called a “black box” in computer programming. A black box is a piece of code where you can see what information goes in and what information goes out, but you can’t see what happens inside that code. For example, you input X into the black box, and the black box outputs Y, but you don’t know why the black box took in X and put out Y.

Humans are a lot like this.

As I’ve already mentioned, we’re complicated motherfuckers. We barely know why we do the things we do, let alone why other people do the things we do. We barely even know basic information about people and their lives.

What was someone’s upbringing like? How did their parenting, their early experiences, their education, their environment, and so forth affect their personality? What’s their health like? What matters to that person? What does that person go home to each day? What goes on in that person’s head?

Even things like what a person ate on a given day, how much they slept, or the state of their gut bacteria on a given day can alter their personality.

So how much do you know about the person you’re talking to?

How much do you really know, and how much do you make up, or assume?

How often do we make assumptions about people we know? How often do we make assumptions about who they are, what kind of person they are, and the reasons why they behave how they behave?

How often do we project an easy-to-understand, cookie-cutter identity to a person? How often do we then treat them as if they were a cookie-cutter person, instead of treating them as the complex, dynamic human they really are?

The problem is, we can’t do this for everyone.

We can’t take the time to deeply understand each and every individual we come in contact with. We have to make assumptions about them.

At the very best, we have to make educated guesses about a person, but even these guesses can be way off the mark.

Let’s take it a step further.

How do we know how we know things?

How can we be sure we know what we know?

How can we be sure we know anything?

It seems almost stupid to ask (“You just know, you know?”), but it’s really hard to pinpoint how we can be sure of what we know.

Even asking, “What does it mean to ‘know’ something?” is a rabbit hole in and of itself.

We only know what our brain tells us to know. We only know this because our brain tells us we know this. Our brain can be wrong, our brain is forgetful, and our brain is biased. Our brain can be lazy, tired, confused, misguided, and deliberately irrational.

Beyond that, how sure can we even be about the things we “really” know.

There’s a thought experiment about a brain in a jar (which may or may not have originated with HP Lovecraft’s “The Whisperer in the Darkness”).

Let’s say you’re a brain in a jar, with all these wires hooked up to your brain. These wires send signals telling you what you see, what your body looks like, what you’re doing, and what emotions you have. As far as you know, you’re a person walking around in the world, doing your thing, but in reality, you’re a brain in a jar.

This sounds sci-fi-ish (it’s one of the ideas behind The Matrix), but there’s legitimate speculation in the scientific community about Simulation Theory. Simulation Theory states that we may be in a reality simulated by a computer-like technology, or some higher form of technology that transcends our knowledge of physics. We could be living in a computer-fabricated universe, dictated by lines of 6th-dimensional computer code.

We are reaching an age where our technology and our computing power will be so powerful that we ourselves might be able to create our own simulated realities. We already have virtual reality goggles, we can already create computer-generated realities and interact with these realities (video games), and people like Elon Musk are already creating technologies that can directly link our brains to computers.

What’s to say a civilization before us, or a civilization “above” us, or an indescribable entity in some multi-dimensional tangent of our own reality, hasn’t already created technology that can simulate a universe?

What’s to say some civilization hasn’t created our universe in one of their computers, and has made a simulation that is so sophisticated it replicated consciousness and physics? (Except it starts to fuck up in black holes)

We kinda don’t know.

Many great minds have pondered, many great minds have searched for answers, and many great minds still haven’t figured it out.

We simply don’t know. We don’t know a lot.

We know some things. We know coffee makes people (not all) hyper. We know some people shouldn’t eat gluten (actually, probably no one should eat it, but it’s whatever). We know monkeys and humans both get weirded out by direct eye contact.

We know the Earth spins, and we basically know why, but we don’t really know why gravity works, and we’re still arguing about how gravity works.

We know humans only live for a short amount of time, and then we die, but we know this is controlled by genes and our biology, and we’re starting to be able to control our genes and our biology, but we know enough about genetic editing to know we maybe shouldn’t fuck with our genes until we really, “really”, really know how our genes work.

We know enough to know we don’t know much.

We know enough to know the world is a crazy god-damn place. We know enough to know humans are crazy motherfuckers. We know enough to know the universe is stranger than fiction.

And beyond that, we don’t really know.

Which can be scary to think about. It can be terrifying to know that our world may not be what it seems. It can keep you up at night, thinking about all the people around you that you barely understand. It can be anxiety provoking to think about what will or won’t happen tomorrow, or in the next week, or in the next year, or what will or won’t happen before you die.

But it’s also kind of fantastic that we don’t know.

How boring would it be if we knew everything?

Einstein isn’t one of the greatest historical figures ever because he knew exactly how the universe worked. Einstein went down in history because he explored the unknown, even to his death. He relished in the things he didn’t know, in the things he couldn’t explain, and devoted his life to uncovering the secrets of the universe.

We don’t like spoilers because we want to find out the end of movie for ourselves.

We don’t like people telling us what to do or how to do it because we want to figure it out on our own.

We don’t like learning about the same thing over and over again, because it doesn’t get us anywhere.

It’s okay not to know things. It’s okay if there’s a little bit of fantasy in our reality. It’s okay if life is more theory than fact. It’s okay if we have to fabricate a few details along the way (so long as we can un-fabricate them at some point).

It’s okay, because what we don’t know is far more interesting than what we do know.

We don’t know where this ride’s gonna take us, and that’s half the fun.


[1] https://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/focus-area/what-is-dark-energy

[2] https://www.physlink.com/education/askexperts/ae605.cfm

[3] http://m.nautil.us/issue/29/scaling/will-quantum-mechanics-swallow-relativity

Pillars of Flesh

Jason stared at the corkboard above his desk. One of the flashcards he’d pinned to it was tilted so it leaned down on the right and up on the left. He held the cared against the corkboard, pulled the pin out, then inserted the pin a smidge further to the left. When he let go of the card, the right side swung down even further, and the left side tilted up even higher.

That’s not how that’s supposed to work, he thought to himself.

He repeated the process, holding the card against the corkboard, pulling the pin out and putting the pin back in even further to the left. The right side dropped even further, and the left side moved even higher. Jason stared at the flashcard. What first seemed like an easily-corrected oddity to him now seemed utterly wrong.

Jason sat there staring at the board, almost terrified to try fixing it again, but, eventually he mustered up the resolve. He held down the card, pulled the pin out, then pushed it into the top-left corner of the card. When the right end swung straight down, Jason jumped out of his chair and backed away from the desk.

Something was wrong. Not the normal, fixable sort of wrong. It was as if some rule that governed reality had been broken.

Jason scanned the room. Something about the windows seemed strange. Jason’s bed appeared to be standing on solid ground, but it might fall to the ceiling at any moment. Then Jason turned to look at his bookshelf.

When Jason looked at his bookshelf, a wave of horror overtook him. He couldn’t read any of the titles on the book bindings. They were all just shapes and lines—squiggles and sharp angles that should have been in English, but they could’ve been in any language now. They were titles he should have known, titles he should have been able to remember without reading them, but he couldn’t tell what any of the books were.

There was a knock on the door. Jason whipped around, almost yelping at the sudden sound, but then he was relieved. It was probably one of his parents, and they’d be able to help him. Jason walked to the door and opened it.

Jason looked where a face should be, but there wasn’t a face. Jason didn’t know what was there. He only saw an arrangement of shapes and colors—curves and colors and shapes and patterns—and Jason couldn’t understand what he was looking at.

Then the arrangement of shapes and colors began making sounds, but it was all nonsense. As far as Jason could tell, all the sounds he heard were disjointed scrapes, hums, clicks and hisses—some absurdist symphony of strange mutterings.

Jason’s mind reeled trying to make sense of what was happening. Something Jason couldn’t begin understanding was at his door, making noise at him. Panicked confusion galloped through Jason’s head. He slammed the door, locked it and stepped away from it. The thing on the other side started making even louder noises. Their pitch warped and churned into a tumbling of dissonant emotions.

Jason ran across the room to his desk. He opened one of the drawers and pulled out small, foam ear-plugs he used when he studied, twisted them, and pushed them into his ears. They expanded, filled his ears, and soon Jason couldn’t hear the sounds coming from the other side of the door. Jason then went to his bathroom, closing and locking the door behind him. He sat down on the floor and tried to calm himself down. What’s going on? he wondered. What’s happening?

Nothing made sense. Nothing, not a single thing around him. He looked around his bathroom, and only knew what the cabinets, the shower, the toilet and the sink were after he stared at them and pieced together what the shapes and colors meant. That thing is square and brown, with a small, white sphere on one side. It must be a cabinet. And that thing there is… That thing is…

Jason was now looking at the mirror, only the mirror wasn’t a mirror. It was a whole different dimension of the room he was sitting in that had exploded into the wall. It took Jason minutes to understand what he was looking at. Once he finally understood that it was a mirror—though only logically, he had no intuitive grasp of what he saw—he stood up and looked at it.

In the mirror, Jason saw another arrangement of colors and forms—like the one he’d seen on the other side of the door—except this one moved when he moved, blinked when he blinked, stared where he stared. It’s me, he thought. I know I’m looking at my own reflection, but… I can’t see myself. Then, Jason noticed a fork of red streaming down the arrangement. He moved a hand to his face—which also moved in the mirror—and touched the red.

Jason looked down. It took a moment to realize the segmented pink-white-red-tan pillars of flesh emerging from the warped square of similar, wrinkle-carved flesh was his own hand. He noticed there was red on these pillars of flesh now. What was it doing there? It came from his face, hadn’t it? Why was there red streaming down his face?