The Analysis that Became a Rant or The Little Article that Could
It might have been the pot, it might have been the acid, or it might have been the mushrooms, but I remember at some point in my nebulous collection of psychedelic adventures, zombies finally made sense. I figured them out.
I don’t like the word “zombie” though. “Living dead” is getting better—it’s a nice oxymoron. “Walking dead” though… they got it right with that name.
See, “Zombie” is too abstract—it’s not connected with anything tangible, it’s just a funny sounding name that we associate with mindless, autonomic bodies brought back to life.
“Living dead” is better because it hits closer to home. We have deeper associations with the words “living” and “dead”—they mean more to us than “zombie” ever will. But, there’s something wrong with the name.
“Walking dead” on the other hand hits it out of the park. It just nails it. Why?
It does the same thing that “living dead” does—it anchors the name and the idea of the creature into something more tangible than “zombie”—but then “living dead” goes wrong with the “living” part, because we instinctually know that part of the name is a cheap gimmick.
It’s clever, for sure, but we know the zombies aren’t “living”. “Living” for us as humans is something natural. We associate it with “the lights being on”, with a “soul” in the body, maybe even a ghost in the shell (wink, wink). And so, we look at the dead body moving on its own, and we know that it’s not “dead” in the normal sense, but we also know it’s definitely not “living” in any sense.
But, “walking dead”, that name works. You don’t have to think about walking at all in order to do it. You can literally walk in your sleep, it’s so easy and mindless to do. Walking is just your body moving in a pre-programmed way and it literally takes no effort at all—just try thinking about how you actually walk, I’ll bet you don’t even know how walking works.
“Walking dead” implies something that’s just robotic, mechanical, thoughtless or instinctual. It basically calls zombies objects capable of moving (and eating, of course). There’s nothing there. The body moves, but it moves like silt moves in a riverbed, or how snow falls from tree limbs or rocks fall down slopes—there is no thought: it’s purely mechanical.
That term, “walking dead”, removes any sense of agency, animacy, life or consciousness from the zombies: they’re corpses that move; they’re objects that walk.
But, what does this mean symbolically?
What are the walking dead?
They’re mindless people-shaped objects that incessantly consume anything and everything around them.
They’re the hungry, unthinking corpses that stalk the few conscious survivors of the undeath plague in herds.
They’re the masses of thoughtless, mechanical animals made of rotting flesh and decayed nerves.
They’re the shambling costumer, the bottomless, indebted consumer, the TV mind-slaves; they’re the drones, the sellouts, the zealous recruiters of self-dissolution; they’re the frenzied finger-pointers, the inquisitors refusing to look in the mirror, the self-anointed priests of popular opinions.
They’re the walking dead: they’re programmed, they lack self-reflection, they lack the ability to judge their own actions or beliefs, and they lack an understanding of where they’re beliefs and behaviors even stemmed from—more importantly, they even lack a desire to understand.
This idea—this symbol—reflects so succinctly the collective behavior of “the masses”. It’s the idea of herds of people who lack self-reflection or any deeper level of consciousness (perhaps the lack consciousness altogether) and who act on basic instinct and primordial, emotional drives.
So what is the point of the zombie or zombie survival flick?
I began this article with a quote from one of the greatest unknown lyricists, Mark Lenover. Here’s a quote from one of the greatest known lyricists:
“Run desire, run, sexual being Run him like a blade to and through the heart No conscience, one motive Cater to the hollow”
“Screaming feed me, here Fill me up, again And temporarily pacify this hungering”
Maynard James Keenan & Billy Howerdel, “The Hollow”
The zombie narrative reflects humanity’s social reality in that a vast majority of the population is turned “off”—the lights aren’t on, no one’s home, some thoughtless machine is pulling levers behind the scenes—while a small minority of people are survivors.
Perhaps the plague, virus, disease, etc. is society itself—the pressure of millions of people-shaped objects wanting to turn you into one of them—wanting to consume you and degrade you to their mindless level. Perhaps it’s culture, or a specific kind of culture which infects people, or maybe it’s a natural symptom of a society.
So, what about the survivors? Who are they?
What do they represent?
They’re the people fighting to survive the thrall of society or culture—the people who fall prey and become another walking dead are those who give in to apathy, lethargy or self-destruction; or they fall prey to some trauma—physical, social or psychological; or they are overwhelmed by the herd and succumb to the swarming mob of people-shaped meat-objects.
And why do the walking dead wish to feast on other humans? Specifically, the flesh of humans who are still alive? Why are they unable to or have no desire to sustain themselves off dead or undead human flesh?
Because people have no desire to kill and consume other people who are already a part of the herd: we have no desire to transform people who are already transformed, and nothing can be gained from consuming what we already are.
The people who survive the gauntlet of society and culture become targets for zealous conformists and mindless consumers. People don’t “consume” products created by people similar to them, people from the same socio-economic class as them, or people from that they’ve conformed to/with—the people who create the things we consume aren’t like the pepole consuming their goods.
The people who remain original, the people who remain conscious, the people who remain alive and passionate: these are the people the masses wish to feast on.
The herds of walking dead feast on Disney, Walmart, Amazon and others—and while the living may still use these companies, they do not “feast” on them, they are not consumers in the same sense.
The “herd-minded” consumer consumes to blindly satiate an instinctual hunger; the living, thinking individuals understand their actions, and they “consume” to fulfill a conscious, understood necessity, or to aid in assisting some goal.
So there are two elements to this: a hatred of life—an anti-life (an unlife)—driving people-shaped objects to destroy life; and then there is an absolute desire to consume that life. It is a hunger or desire to obtain something, which results in the destruction of the desired thing.
And the emotional kicker to this all is the endless nihilism and suffering of hope.
Those who survive remain conscious, remain thinking, calculating, rationalizing agents—they remain alive—and yet their life is infinitely more difficult because of this. They remain alive and conscious only to be conscious for their own unending peril, pain and hardship. So why continue? Why go on?
Why go on—why struggle so hard against the smothering night and the bitter cold—when one can just let go, become a part of the herd?
Why struggle against something that seems so inevitable? Why wage an impossible war? Why stand against the ocean of mindless walkers?
What is it that is so important about life that people are capable of weathering the most violent storms in order to maintain life—to keep the fire lit, and to carry and pass the torch into the lightless chaos of tomorrow?
The possibility of something better and the hope for a cure: the hope for an end to the infinite dark.
This is what ever zombie narrative inevitably teases us with, and this is what life teases us with: what if, one day, we could end all this pain?
What if, one day, we could cure the walking dead, restore humanity and restore a society into one that loves life and living? What if we could cure the disease of anti-life and mindless consumption?
That’s what keeps us watching, and that’s what keeps the fire lit.
“And these words changing nothing as your body remains And there’s no room in this Hell, there’s no room in the next And our memories defeat us, and I’ll end this duress But does anyone notice? But does anyone care? And if I had the guts to put this to your head But does anything matter if you’re already dead? And should I be shocked now, by the last thing you said? Before I pull this trigger, your eyes vacant and stained And in saying you loved me made things harder, at best And these words changing nothing as your body remains And there’s no room in this Hell, there’s no room in the next But does anyone notice there’s a corpse in this bed?”
My Chemical Romance, “Early Sunsets Over Monroeville”
Conclusion: Episode/Issue #1 of The Walking Dead
A good story reflects reality.
A good symbol reflects a deeper, more complex truth about reality that a literal description cannot.
Zombies, living dead, walking dead: a society moving in herds, which no longer cares for life nor its continuation, and seeks its annihilation and assimilation through mindless consumption.
The Survivors: the ones who rage against the herds of people-shaped objects.
A good narrative speaks in a language of symbols, characters, events and associations.
In the first issue of The Walking Dead comic series and in the first episode of the show, the protagonist, Rick Grimes—a protector and upholder of law, and thereby a protector and upholder of culture and society—is shot and put into a coma. He wakes up in a hospital to find the world in shambles.
He is weak and barely alive. The previously orderly, clean and sensible world he lived in has become a ruined hellscape, devoid of life. He finds that society has been overrun by the Walking Dead, and then finds that a small number of people are still alive.
He then begins protecting these people, these individuals, and upholding life itself.
Rick himself “dies” and returns to life—he goes to the abyss, the place of chaos and darkness, common mythological trope—and returns to the “overworld” or the “normal” world.
Here, we can take a literal interpretation of the story: he wakes up after an actual zombie apocalypse.
Or, we can take a symbolic interpretation of the story: he wakes up to see the world for what it really is.
He wakes up and realizes his own weakness and vulnerability; he wakes up and realizes how important life and consciousness really are; he wakes up and devotes his life to protecting and leading people, not dictates of society.
Perhaps Rick didn’t wake up and see a transformed reality; perhaps Rick woke up transformed and saw reality.
This article took on a pretty nihilistic tone (which I inevitably started to really lean into). Now, I personally have learned to live with and accept the infinite absurdity of reality, and have pretty much become de-sensitized to it. If you’re not one for the deep, dark depths of Nihilism, then feel free to set this down, and go on living with the unconscious-but-still-existent sensation that something’s not quite right about the way reality works and your entire life is a lie.
If your psyche has taken enough Defense Against the Dark Arts classes to whether such things, then, by all means, carry on.
Can a Bad Movie Be Good?
If you don’t know this yet, the A24 film company has consistently put out some fantastic movies.
Some of the more notable ones include Ex Machina, The Lighthouse and Midsommar. However, they’ve also put out a number of other unique and well-made films out over the years, including Under the Skin, Room, The Witch, Room, It Comes At Night, Under the Silver Lake and Lady Bird.
A24 is also the company responsible for Hereditary.
Hereditary is pretty far down my lists of favorite horror movies, favorite indie horror movies, and even my favorite A24 horror movies.
Hereditary is pretty cringey from start to finish, and, for the most part, I don’t mean this in a good way. The characters feel unnatural throughout much of the film (but everything feels a little unnatural). The behaviors many of the characters exhibit are off-putting, but an interesting kind of off-putting, just an unlikeable kind of off-putting. As much as I like Steve Graham—the cookie-cutter stereotype of an off-the-boat-but-still-assimilated Irish Father—he’s a bit too flat and static for me, and lacks too much depth.
In addition, so many of the “scary” parts of the film made me laugh (with the electric-pole scene being one big exception (for this, I had to stifle my laugh for the sake of the surrounding audience)). More than just the “scary parts”, most of the movie made me laugh. And, goddamnit, I just couldn’t get over Peter’s crying.
Peter was easily, hands down, the cringiest part of this entire movie. It was rough.
However, there’s something special about Hereditary, and there’s many things I feel I haven’t cracked with this film (mostly because I haven’t really felt the desire to).
This isn’t necessarily a bad movie, there’s just so many surface-level elements of this movie I can barely stand, or that make me laugh when they’re not supposed to.
It’s well-filmed, kinda well-written, and the plot possesses a wicked interesting sub-structure to it with the whole grandma thing lurking in the background. There is indeed so much good to this film that I can’t say it’s a bad movie, and I do somehow enjoy watching it. The movie even seems to get even better once you watch the end of the film, which is where it seems to cement itself as something close to an art film.
Once you’ve seen the ending once, every time you watch the film afterwards, it becomes something like a puzzle. I can respect that.
It’s one of a handful of movies I’ve seen where the ending somehow redeems the rest of the film, and makes the film a better watch after the first viewing.
Today, with this analysis, I don’t want to spend too much time summarizing and explaining and analyzing and this and that. Really, I just want to explore two angles to this movie (which are really just one angle, and then looking at that one angle from two different angles). If you haven’t watched the movie, then just watch it, or read this and be moderately confused. I won’t spend much time explaining it.
In a brief analysis, I want to focus on two angles of a psychological analysis, and present it in a more general, theoretical way than as a concrete, crystalized analysis (Eraserhead kinda burnt me out a bit).
More particularly, I want to examine Hereditary based off of its very name (“hereditary”), in what can be interpreted in a quasi-Freudian, but in a more contemporary developmentally psychological angle, and then look at it in a very specific and somewhat obscure Jungian context using his conceptualization of “Aion”.
Nature vs Nurture
This is a fundamental argument in both psychology and philosophy.
Are our personalities, traits, capabilities and actions pre-determined by our genetics, or who our parents and ancestors are?
Or, are there environmental pressures that effect our development from the time we’re a fetus to the time we die?
The answer, of course, is that both are true.
However, this question can spiral into a much deeper question about Free Will.
Are we, our personalities, our behaviors, our thoughts and our actions pre-determined by our genes? Or is it possible for us to be changed by factors other than genetics, including our own conscious decisions?
The answer, of course, is “No”, there’s no Free Will.
Even if you grant that both Nature and Nurture play a role in development (which you should), these are both, inevitably, purely mechanistic forces acting on a mechanistic entity (you and your body).
Now, personally, I have a theory and a philosophical thought experiment I came up with to explain how humans mightapproximatepartial Free Will (I call it “Greco’s Devil”, keeping in tradition with Laplace’s Demon), but that’s a discussion for another time.
For now, Nature vs. Nurture.
Now, there’s something interesting the writers/creators do in Hereditary. They actually play into the most nihilistic element of Nature vs Nurture, which I already mentioned a few sentences back.
“Nature” is always seen as the more mechanistic and pre-determined of the two developmental forces. To a certain degree, there are aspects of you that are inevitable, simply because of your genetics (and it’s quite a lot more than most people would enjoy hearing). In this perspective, we are like a cue ball that is hit across a pool table, with no personal say in the angle or force we are struck.
“Nurture” is often seen as the less deterministic or mechanistic of the two developmental forces. Yes, we are born with a specific set of genetics that will determine everything from our personality to the rate at which hair on our legs grow, but these are also things that can be altered by external factors, such as events that raise or lower stress, nutrition, the temperature of our environment, how much we exercise and so forth.
However, the problem with this is the same problem as the cue ball.
In the previous thought experiment, let’s imagine the cue ball was bounced around on an empty table, and never struck anything.
Now, for Nurture, let’s imagine the pool table is loaded with pool balls, and we the cue balls are struck in a random angle with a random force. Now, every time we strike a pool ball, our direction and velocity change. This doesn’t mean that our lives are no longer pre-determined, this means that the factors which pre-determined our lives were different than initially thought.
This is the great material-rationalist Nihilism of thinkers like Freud. Not only are we mechanistic robots determined by our genetics, but our entire lives are also pre-determined by how we are raised as children. Now, this discussion is far more complicated than that, and there’s of course the discussion of brain plasticity, crystalized vs fluid intelligence, the positive and negative effects of traumatic or highly emotional events, as well as the generally chaotic nature of existence, but these are all just more complicated pool table dimensions, more numerous varied pool balls and the effects that an infinite multitude of other pool games have on each other and on you.
As a brief side note, the only glimmer of hope for Free Will that I personally think we have is our imperfect ability to consciously observe our own game of pool, as well as the games of pool around us, and our imperfect ability to consciously reselect the angle and force our pool ball is struck each time. I don’t subside in a completely nihilistic framework. Anywho, discussion for another time.
How can this be brought back to Hereditary?
Well, there’s something interesting about the name.
However, this isn’t really a thing in Hereditary, except perhaps as a subtext.
What is really explored in Hereditary is the family dynamics, relationships, forces, etc., which would fall under the Nurture category.
What is interesting about this is that it adds a sort of new element to the Nature vs Nurture argument (not actually new, really, but it sounds good to say it’ new). It becomes wholly nihilistic in a beautiful way—I love it.
What if Nurture were a part of our Nature?
What if the parental and ancestral forces that shaped our early development were just as inevitable as our genetic nature?
Now, I in essence already stated this, but I think Hereditary goes a step further out of the distinction between Nature and Nurture, and seems to posit that there are non-genetic, non-materially-heritable traits that will inevitably become a part of our Nature.
I love this.
Nurture is not something heritable, it has nothing to do with our genetics.
Hereditary seems to be saying that there is something that is both heritable, in the same sense as genetics, but also has nothing to do with our genetics.
And here we begin to enter a realm of Jungian archetypes, as well as some of the metaphysical implications of Jungian psychology (I told you I’m not a complete nihilist…)
Aion and Eternity
So, here, we need to discuss a concept that I don’t completely understand, but I will do my best to explain my partial knowledge of it.
Aion is a Greek-Hellenistic deity. He represents Time, but not in the sense that a deity like Chronos does. Where Chronos represents empirical time (past, present, future, as well as the segmentation of time (years, months, days, hours, seconds, etc.)), Aion represents unbounded time. Aion, in a sense, represents eternity, or things that are eternal.
This is a somewhat opaque concept, so there’s two ways I’ve thought of to explain it, one of which I’ll bring up later with Jung.
So, imagine a river, and you are standing halfway between the beginning and end of the river (this actually doesn’t matter, but fuck it). Now, the domain of Chronos would be the domain of measuring the river or measuring the relationship between positions on that river. Discussing the distance to the beginning or end of the river would be the domain of Chronos; discussing the distance between any two points along the river would be the domain of Chronos; discussing the regular segmentation or fractionation of any distance along the river would be the domain of Chronos.
Let’s say the river was infinite or eternal. Even discussing the infiniteness of the river would be the domain of Chronos.
However. Discussing the river itself would be the domain of Aion.
The quantitative observation and discussion of time and eternity is the domain of Chronos.
The qualitative observation and discussion of time and eternity is the domain of Aion.
Aion’s domain or representative domain is that of the nature of time and eternity itself, and the nature eternal things within time and eternity (one might say the shape and course of the river).
Aion is also described as the deity of “ages”, or possibly of “eras”, and, from my half-baked understanding of this portion of Jung’s thinking, Aion represents things that exist across time.
Chronos might represent the domain of being able to measure time (or the regular measurement of change across time, since time isn’t real and all), but Aion’s domain would contain the fact that we are able to measure time—a fact that has existed to some degree across much of human history.
Aion’s domain contains the immovable, eternal things that exist not in segments of time, but across time.
My second example might be a large stone that lies at the bottom of a river bed—large or massive enough that its position hypothetically is not moved by the movement of the river. Even as the transient events or changes that take place across and through the flow of time move over the rock, the rock remains in the same position. Its position and existence in space (and, possibly, it’s position and existence in time) does not move or change. It is almost like a wormhole in this sense, except it does not fold space-time through some material dimension—space-time is folded across an infinite number of segments phenomenologically.
Now, of course, Chronos rules materially and rationally, and Aion only rules from a phenomenological perspective, or from the perspective of a conscious observer, and, really, neither rule (but that’s also another discussion).
However, for the sake of this analysis, what matters is this concept of something that exists “eternally” across time.
This, in Hereditary, would be Paimon. Paimon is representative of the non-genetic hereditary traits of a family.
Paimon is the inherited evil of the family.
Eternal Evil in Hereditary
So, there may be deeper significance to “Paimon” in Hereditary than simply as an entity roughly equivalent to the Devil or Satan or whatever, but I don’t think it’s overly important—at least not for this analysis.
The lore behind Paimon is actually a bit complicated (as is most lore behind demonology) is very multifaceted and convoluted, with connections to, like, twelve other religions or cultures besides Judeo-Christianity, and with multiple interpretations from different angles, blah-blah-blah.
The key factor here seems to be that Paimon is evil, demonic, Satanic, whatever you want to call it.
So, Paimon is obviously representative of the evil within the family. It started with the deceased/“deceased” grandmother, and seemed to have rooted itself in other family members. This evil began to spread throughout the family, infecting them, much like forms of abuse or negative behavior can enter a family and psychologically infect them.
Now, there are two important things to note here.
One: near the beginning of the film, a play that I believe to be Women of Trachis by Sophocles is being discussed in Peter’s class. The main theme of their discussion seems to be the inevitable fate of Heracles’ tragic death, and whether or not Heracles’ lack of control over his own death and its inevitability makes it more or less tragic.
Two: Annie, Peter’s mother, designs miniature buildings, homes and other settings, and the opening shot implies that the Graham home is actually one of these miniature homes. This puts Annie in the position of being some sort of architect, grand designer or transcendent manipulator in the Grahams’ lives. We later discover that Annie’s mother—Peter’s grandmother—as the host for Paimon was actually the grand architect or manipulator of everything that happened in the Grahams’ lives. There are even miniature people Annie creates and puts inside her model houses.
So, we have two things here. The first, the tragic inevitability of fate. The second, the maternal manipulation of that fate.
It seems that whatever evil resides in the family, it is passed down from Annie’s side (grandmother à mother à daughter (Charlie) à son/brother (Peter)), and this fate, ordained by Paimon and Paimon’s followers, is inevitable and ultimately pre-destined. Peter was always fated to become Paimon.
Peter lived inside a reality that was preconstructed (the house constructed by his mother, where he was a small figurine she could manipulate), and he lived a life that was pre-determined.
Now, how does this connect back to the previous theme of Nurture vs Nature?
Well, with developmental psychology, there’s the idea that much of a child’s psychology is determined by how they were raised by their parents. People such as Freud might presume that this effect is quite large, and that a child is essentially fated to live with whatever personal effects the child’s upbringing cursed or blessed them with.
There’s also an idea that many are probably familiar with, the cycle of abuse, which is essentially that people who are abused by their parents will go on to be abusive parents, which will cause their children to go on being abusive parents to their children.
While Hereditary doesn’t quite go to this extreme, the parent-child relationships do at times toe the line of abuse, or at least toxic behavior and relationships.
And now, to return to the idea of Aion and eternity, Hereditary might be trying to imply that there is an eternal evil which moves through, or is moved across by, the succession of generations in this family (Paimon theoretically being a god/angel/devil/entity at least a few thousand years old).
Jung would say this “evil”, even if it were purely psychological and not some conscious, spiritual entity, was a thing in-and-of-itself—a psychological force that persisted across time.
The evil in the Graham family is not only a phenomenon of parenting, but an archetypal, psychological force that has persisted across time and existed like a parasite in the relationships of families. No genetics are inherited for this to happen, and this isn’t just an effect of Nurture.
The psychological force they call “Paimon” is an inherited, non-genetic psychological force. It is not a hereditary gene, but a hereditary psychological parasite that infects and destroys the psyches of families it infects.
Paimon is something eternal, something that does not exist in temporal isolation, but across time across the minds of those it infects. As the world spins and burns and fluctuates across decades, Paimon remains, sitting on its throne.
And this is what I can extract from Hereditary.
No, I’m not suggesting there’s actual demons and devils out there that eternally persist across time, but at least metaphorically there seems to be forces like it.
Of course, when you get into the nitty-gritty of developmental psychology, and psychology in general, you find that something like this is really more of a heuristic. Trauma, abuse and psychological development are all very complex topics, and they don’t happen in a cookie-cutter way. However, Hereditary use a symbol like Paimon to simplify a phenomenon like this and demonstrate how abuse, manipulation and toxicity can persist across generations.
Hereditary also asks, “What immaterial phenomena exist eternally? What evils can outlast even the mountains and forests?”
It examines the deeply Jungian idea of a psychological force existing almost individually and distinctly from the rest of an individual’s identity, and of that psychological force being a distinct phenomenon that exists and persists across time because of culture or society. And that is my two cents on Hereditary.
(Also, if you take the “p” and the “m” out of “Paimon”, you get “Aion”… Mind… Blown.)
This is the final article analyzing Eraserhead (for now…), and because of how long this analysis took, I think I’m not going to do the articles on witches and werewolves, though I may see if there’s any topics in the future I’d rather swap in witches or werewolves for.
If you haven’t read the previous articles on Eraserhead, I’d recommend reading those before this article. However, this article does summarize much of what I discussed in the previous analyses. If you don’t mind a bit of a lack of context or as much depth in explanation, feel free to read this without reading the others.
Layer 2: Synthesis and Generalization of Patterns and Themes
There’s a lot to go over here. A lot information to try and bring together. And I don’t want to spend too much time wrapping this up.
So, let’s start by trying to crystallize some key themes and patterns from across the film.
First, there is the man with the levers at the beginning of the film. Henry seems to be a disassociated observer, passively watching and allowing events to occur before him while Fate or God, or even Henry’s own unconscious mechanisms, are in control of reality. At the same time, Fate or God or Henry’s unconscious is portrayed as this grotesque sort of figure.
Perhaps the entity pulling the levers of Fate has aged into a monstrous being, or perhaps always ways.
Combine this with the setting and atmosphere of the film.
Modern and industrial cityscapes, devoid of most life other than humans walking around. The movie has a constant eeriness too it, and a constant tension. There are few, if any, moments throughout the film that don’t possess some tension or conflict, or else something unsettling, uncomfortable or disturbing.
Henry passively exists within and observes a reality which cold and disassociated from life and living, but which there is also no control over one’s fate. Henry passively watches himself act in this barren, dispassionate world without any effort of intervention.
And, it seems, so does everyone else. Everyone in this film, from Henry to Gathy, seem to behave caricaturistically and almost mechanically. They behave in absurd and strange ways, yet this seems to be the typical mode of being in this world.
Everything feels at least awkward or slightly uncomfortable. Even when Henry is alone, there are very few moments that don’t at least feel awkward. Our protagonist is a bit of a strange individual. He’s not very fit, he has a bit of a stoop, he walks awkwardly, his expressions are wonky, and he speaks rather awkwardly as well.
All of the people he interacts with likewise have many strange idiosyncrasies—no one seems normal, yet, at the same time, every somehow seems natural.
What I see here are a bunch of individuals with their own oddities and idiosyncrasies, attempting to co-exist in an incredibly strange and somewhat cold world. Everyone is sort of trying to cope with life and trying to survive, and they all become these strange characters attempting to exist with one another.
So, we have a theme of modernity and we have a theme of strange social interactions. The cold alienation of modernity, and the disassociation of modern socialization.
Everyone is just a listless, arbitrary entity acting out of their pre-ordained mechanical manner, and everyone passively exists in a cold, lifeless world.
How are they able to exist in this world emotionally or psychologically without going insane? Well, many of the characters do seem to act insane, but so do people in real life, and yet society manages to keep going?
They find a meaning to go on through comfort, intimacy and I suppose responsibility—all three of which form a sort of interwoven monolith around libido and sexuality.
Henry has a job to have an apartment and possessions, which acts as a place to invite women he’s attracted to—Mary then Gathy. Then, Mary has a child, and now Henry must take care of Mary and the child. Comfort through sex, as well as intimacy through sex and a romantic relationship, and then responsibility through their job (with its connections to other elements of life) and through raising a child.
There is something like a façade placed over the bleak world Henry lives in—his idealization of reality—so long as he can have some level(s) of comfort, intimacy and responsibility.
However, all these things become complicated. Mary lives with Henry, but their relationship seems less than romantic, and she seems to be refusing sexual intimacy with Henry. Henry is attracted to Gathy, which prompts an affair, but then Gathy refuses Henry because he is a father. Henry is a father, but being a father seems to be the locus of so much of his frustration.
So, his idealization of reality does not match reality itself. This is why I think there are two key projections Henry makes in the film.
He projects the warmth and comfort of his idealized reality (which we might say used to be sex with Mary without thought of consequence) onto the Radiator Girl. The girl herself is an imaginary person with a partially fake and mask-like face, and she is always presented in a positive manner. I think this projection of an idealized life or reality is made especially apparent in the Radiator Girl’s song about Heaven.
She is Henry’s desire to return to a simpler life—an innocent state of being.
The second projection is the child itself. Is the grotesqueness of the child reality itself? Is that how the child actually appears? Or is this just a projection onto the child?
Is the child truly that deformed? Is that simply how it appears in the eyes of its Boomer parents? (Just kidding, Boomers).
Let’s see how well we can paint this picture:
They live in a cold, alienating world devoid of life, and that seems to be commonplace for them. Sexuality is something strange, frightening, uncomfortable and omnipresent, as it is also a source of warmth, comfort and intimacy. Socialization with others seems to be difficult and bizarre. How does one create meaningful meaningfulness between themselves and others in a meaningless void? Every character seems so fragmented and disconnected from each other, they can’t seem to come to terms on a more personal level.
The only way to happily live in this world might be to idealize it and to live life for the few things that bring one warmth (such as sex, which might also be one of the only ways to be truly intimate with someone in this world as well).
However, the child created through that sex tears down the idealized simulation of reality that has been laid over the world’s ugliness (as children do), and frustrates their efforts at sanity, happiness and intimacy. If we can grant my theory that the child’s grotesque nature is being projected onto it, then we can see the child as a symbolic locus of frustration, fear and disgust for all those connected to it.
Mary’s father never even mentions the child, but Mary’s child also seems far more disassociated from reality and its consequences than the other characters—in the sense that he barely seems to be conscious in a meaningful way, and is just sort of a personality machine inside a human skin suit. Perhaps he either refuses to acknowledge it, or accepts the child in a flat, affectless manner (juxtaposed to the bombastic and smiling personality he mechanically possesses).
Mary’s mother seems to accept the child, but only if Henry agrees to marry Mary and help take care of the two of them. Considering the mother’s sexual actions and behavior, she may even welcome the child’s existence.
Henry seems in the beginning to accept the child and its grotesque appearance, but it might be a safe assumption that he does it for the intimacy he believes it will afford him with Mary, as well as the sense of responsibility and meaning it might provide him. However, he then loses this intimacy with Mary, as well as with Gathy, because of the child’s existence. Now, the child truly becomes a source of his frustration.
Henry, already living in a cold, barren, alienating world, becomes so disconnected and so frustrated that he does the unthinkable—he kills his child. He destroys life in order to maintain his idealized state of being. This may even be the state of modernity in general. Modernity may be choking out and destroying life in order to maintain its idealized state—which is the state he returns to in the end of the film.
Not only this, he defies fate, or the man pulling the levers, and annihilates or destroys the planetoid womb. He defies the natural order of things in order to return to an idealized life.
Now, there are two routes to go about examining this. The first, a more literal and more critical view of Henry and his actions, and the second, a more symbolically cathartic one.
The first route, Henry is not only abdicating his responsibility as a father—more than that, committing infanticide—he is perpetuating the barren reality he lives in and idealizes. Rather than live with the frustrating reality brought upon by his child, he is seeking to destroy that reality in order to return to a place of warmth, ignorance and bliss (the murky white fluid he and Gathy descend into may be a precursor to the place of blinding white light at the end).
Now, to flip this in one simple maneuver. What if what Henry kills in the end is not his child, but the projection he creates of his child? What if Henry’s problem was not that the child was a destructive force on the nature of his life, but that Henry’s idealized perception of life was never fully updated to include his child in it? Of course, Lynch being a Boomer, this may be a bit of a stretch, but, for me, it fits the movie itself.
And what of the eraserhead sequence? Perhaps Henry needed to erase his prior reality and his prior identity in order to find that higher, ideal state again.
He had to defy the natural order of things—in fact, he had to annihilate it. He had to annihilate his identity. He had to annihilate his reality. He had to annihilate the negative projection of his child. All this, and now he can recreate a more idealized reality that included a more positive projection of his child.
Of course, there’s still a catch to this.
It is both impossible and unhealthy to permanently try to exist in an idealized state, or a projection of an idealized state. However, it is also unhealthy (though much more possible) to exist in the non-idealized state of perpetual detachment and alienation that is the material reality.
We have models of reality projected onto actual reality, which are not reality themselves, but which need to be continually updated as we receive new information about reality.
The introduction of a child into Henry’s life was a major disruption to its previously idealized state. The ensuing psychosis is Henry’s mind attempting to cope with this disruption.
However, the disruption was so great, Henry was forced to annihilate his previous identity, his previous way of life, and his previous idealization of reality: eraserhead.
Layer 3: Broad Universals
So how can all of this be taken back to an examination of real life?
I don’t, how much more of an accurate representation of reality do you want than Eraserhead?
We live on a rock in space. We live in a social reality that is at all times fragmented and disassociated. We are all random people who come from random backgrounds attempting to associate with similarly random people who likewise come from random backgrounds.
No one’s really given the rules of engagement except in half-ass regurgitations of “passed-down wisdom” from our parents—we have to learn it on our own. We’re all just animals trying to figure out how to be humans on a rock in the middle of space.
And so, we all seem crazy or weird or arbitrary or downright insane to one another. If you examine someone close enough, the persona either you or they attempted to create will crumble, and beneath it, you will see that person for the strange, scared, dumb, blind, ignorant and absolutely insane person they really are—and that’s everyone, everyone is like this.
And so, half of Eraserhead is this. Half of Eraserhead is contending with this strange social mechanism we are all apart of that requires us to behave under certain terms of engagement, and yet we are all also individuals carved naturally and artificially by our own hands, the hands of others and by our circumstances.
The other half similarly follows this line of thought—idealization. Except, rather than the social idealizations and the idealization we have of the nature of reality, it’s a sort of internalized idealization.
It’s the moth drawn toward a bright light, or someone cold searching for warmth.
It’s the things we do to make ourselves feel okay with life, and the distances we’ll go to achieve this “okayness”. It’s the stories we tell ourselves—which aren’t necessarily explicit within Eraserhead, but I’d argue are certainly implicit to the narrative.
And, in the end, it’s what we do as a reaction to the inevitable discovery that life is not okay, life is not the idealized mask we put upon it, and that life is a bizarre, absurd, meaningless mess that we were left to fend against and contend with.
That’s the catharsis at the end of the movie:
How do we contend with the inevitability of reality?
How do we contend with the actuality of things and the actuality of their existence, consequences and effects?
How do we live with the experience of pulling back the veil and staring into sheer absurdity, sheer arbitrariness and sheer meaninglessness?
How do we put the pieces back together once our vision of reality has begun to crumble?
To conclude, I kind of want to give a meta-analysis of this analysis, since this was such big fucking analysis of a 90 minute film.
Perhaps I’m making much ado about nothing with Eraserhead. A lot of these conclusions may be a bit far-fetched from the information we’re given in the film.
However, what I’m trying to do is convert the images, symbols and characters in the film into something like a meaningful language, and then convert the events or causality, the emotions and the context of the movie into something like grammar, rhetoric and articulation; and then I want to see what comes out on the other side.
The process of this is to examine much of the film literally, for what is literally happening. This, in a sense, abstracts it (though this might not be how one normally things of “abstraction”). Here’s an abstraction:
Take an apple (apple as an object, not as the word). Red is an abstraction of an apple. Fruit is an abstraction of an apple. Food is an abstraction of an apple.
These are abstract categorizations or abstract descriptions of the apple.
So, you abstract from a film and it’s contents, then examine the abstractions.
We examine the film (you can examine anything like this, really) literally and abstract meaningful information from it, then analyze that meaningful information and look for patters. How do you know if that analysis works?
Well, you test it or compare it along multiple levels or dimensions of meaning.
You can test it against itself: I say Henry develops a growing resentment for his child, or that his child is a source of resentment.
Is this completely unfounded? Or does it have a basis in the reality of the movie?
Well, the child is arguably the reason why Mary doesn’t want to have sex with Henry, as well as more obviously the reason Gathy doesn’t want to have sex with Henry, and Henry kills his child in the end, shortly after he sees Gathy with another man.
Seems sound. Seems logical.
Is the appearance of the child a projection? Well, this one is more of a thought tool, more of an assumption that can help aid an argument, but it circumstantially fits with much of the rest of the film.
Is Henry’s final moment with the Radiator Girl a moment of catharsis with his psychological manifestation of an ideal reality? Well, this one gets more complicated as you have to explain many other things, particularly the Radiator Girl and her relationship to Henry. However, if we assume the Radiator Girl to be associated with warmth (radiator), sexual attraction (all other women in the movie being related in some way to sex or sexuality), an idealized mask (the girl possessing fake cheeks that might accentuate her looks), then it seems likely.
So, these are examples of testing your analysis against the thing you are analyzing, but the problem here is that the analysis becomes a closed system. X = Y if Y = Z; Z = Y if X = Z. It can become to self-referential to be completely accurate.
So, you need to examine your own examination. Whatever you are analyzing creates its own reality (a movie creates its own, self-contained universe), and you must make sure you are analyzing that with minimized bias. You must make sure that even your unbiased analysis is at least founded in logic, or at least founded in the logic of the self-contained reality.
Then, you must break out of the self-contained reality of the creation you are examining, and compare the analysis to reality. Why? Because, inevitably, the creation is either a science or engineering experiment in art (in which case, one is not analyzing the meaning of that film), or the creation is a reflection of reality, whether material, social or psychological.
So, one’s analysis must inevitably lead back to the actuality of reality.
Does this analysis do all of this? I don’t know, but I do think so.
There can be many interpretations of something, true, especially with a David Lynch film. However, given the information we do have in the film, given the recurrent themes or meaningful patterns, and given some of the assumed quasi-universal meaning underlying much of the images, characters, symbols, etc. in the film, I think this analysis fits.
I do think this is close to approximating a quasi-objectively correct analysis of the film (if you squint and cross your eyes).
Part of the problem with such an analysis though, especially with such a movie, is that the movie is already incredibly abstract, and an analysis like this, in part, abstracts it even further.
The movie itself constructs a reality, and, in the case of most David Lynch films, these realities are incredibly abstract. A David Lynch film reminds me in many ways of the “Layers of Irony” memes, where Meme-Man inevitably spirals into a pocket dimension of hyper-ironic complexity.
We have a film that is an abstraction of reality already, which is constructed of abstractions, which communicates meaning in abstractions. That’s a typical David Lynch film. Analyzing it is like trying to add another layer of abstraction across all abstractions, so the initial cubed abstraction (abstract x abstract x abstract = abstract^3) becomes a tesseracted abstraction (abstract^4).
And that’s what it’s like trying to analyze a Lynch film. And that’s why this analysis hit ~10,000 words and still feels incomplete.
And of course, this can never be fully objective, and any interpretation can vary quite a lot from person to person, even if they’re looking at similar themes.
Hopefully though, this provides a solid analysis for you to understand Eraserhead as I understand it, and hopefully this also provides a solid method of analysis for you to analyze other works of art, music, film and so forth.
I wanted this to be a two-parter, but goddamnit, this movie’s just too good. However, to be perfectly honest, I wrote a ton today, and there came a time my brain was just too fried. So, a third article will be written to tidily wrap this all up.
This article finishes the surface-level analysis, and next article will synthesize the analysis from the first two parts and delve into some of the themes a bit deeper.
With out further ado, here’s Part 2, leaving off right where Part 1 ended.
Living Together / Raising the Child
This part of the movie is relatively short.
First, we see Mary trying to take care of the new child—which is nothing short of a grotesque monster, but we’re forced to empathize with it because it’s a baby—and she is having an incredibly difficult time with it. The baby fusses, the baby cries, the baby refuses to eat and so forth.
Henry comes back from work, secretly checks his mail and opens up a box with some sort of dried organic thing inside of it (it looks like a small, dried worm or leech). Henry comes back inside, sees Mary and the Baby, the lies on the bed. Mary asks if there’s any mail, Henry tells her there wasn’t, and then Henry briefly gazes into the radiator.
There’re a few obvious things to talk about here. Mary is incredibly exasperated by living with the baby. The baby itself doesn’t make living with it hard.
It’s physical appearance is not something it can help, but it nonetheless rounds up any parents’ nightmares about how their child might be born: it seems to be deformed, it is wrapped in bandages, and it seems its body would not be able to function properly otherwise, and, on top of this, it incessantly cries and wails.
The baby here is something extremely grotesque—on the high end of parents’ fears of how their baby might come out—and yet the two parents must try to love the baby (ironically, Henry, until the very end, seems to be better at this than Mary). It’s a locus of problems, insecurities, frustrations and an entire network of psychological issues.
It’s all the worries, doubts and regrets we have about pregnancy, childbirth, childcare and children themselves all rolled into one.
The dried slug-creature comes into play later, so there’s not too much to discuss here other than wondering why Henry is hiding it. I think the dried slug might be Henry’s sexuality, which he is now hiding from Mary, and this will be developed a bit throughout the analysis.
The radiator likewise comes back later in the movie, and I think this radiator might be a sort of source of warmth in the cold, with the contents we later see in the radiator being the more symbolic or psychological sources of warmth.
That night, Henry first places the dried worm (which now seems less-than-dry) into a small cabinet hanging on the wall. He then seems to make a sexual advance on Mary, which she promptly denies and the two try to get some sleep. The baby continues crying. Henry manages to sleep, but Mary cannot. She eventually begins yelling at the baby to shut up before trying to go back to sleep again.
The baby will not stop crying, and Mary still cannot sleep, so she eventually decides to leave for her parents’ house so she can try to get some sleep. She leaves Henry with the baby, telling him he’d better look after it.
After this, there are a few notable events. The baby gets sick, which is a disgusting sight to see, though Henry seems to take care of the baby relatively well. Then, Henry tries to leave the apartment, but every time he does, the baby begins crying to he returns. Henry lays in bed to sleep, and his radiator begins emitting light and sound.
Some major notes for this are, of course, the return and rejuvenation of the worm, which makes an appearance just before Henry tries to have sex with Mary again. Mary refusing might either be Mary’s general frustration at the situation, or it might be Mary’s realization that it was sex that led to all of her current problems and frustrations. She may be both weary of sex and may be resentful towards Henry for doing this to her.
Henry’s ensuing issues with the baby might be the first signs of his own resentment towards the baby, though so far he seems to be doing a better job at parenting than Mary. However, this frustration seems to be a little more evident in the moment when he’s trying to leave the apartment.
Here, we have the first of two hallucinations/dreams/visions of the girl in the radiator.
She has exaggerated cheeks, a constant smile and an innocent look to her. Perhaps she is meant to be child-like in some way, or perhaps she is meant to be like an innocent version of Mary before they had their child, and is a sexually idealized woman. There have been some theories that this girl is in fact Henry’s subconscious.
Though I haven’t seen it, the argument could also be made that this girl is Henry’s Anima (a Jungian term).
I won’t go down that line of thought too much, though my own line of thought may be precisely this.
I think the girl is sort of a projection of a sexualized woman. She is innocent, though potentially in a somewhat seductive way, she is young, she is happy, and she is associated with the warmth provided by the radiator. Also, and this is a big “also”, the cheeks she has are almost like a mask, and while their “purpose” might be to accentuate her looks, her innocence or her attractiveness, they are a bit grotesque.
So, in a way, this idealized mask that the girl wears mirrors the possibility that she is an idealized projection of Henry’s attraction.
The woman is also dancing across a stage in the radiator, and the strange sperm-fetuses we saw in the dream sequence at the beginning of the film begin falling from above her onto the stage. At first she dances around them, but then she steps on them and squashes them.
This might be the woman acting like a spermicide, or even committing infanticide. All of Henry’s problems, including his potential sexual frustration and Mary’s frustration/resentment/cold shoulder, stem from their child. So, Henry’s idealized female-figure would be one that either: cannot get pregnant; kills sperm; or kills fetuses.
Affair with the Girl Across the Hall
After this, it appears that Mary is back and is sleeping in the bed with Henry again. She is constantly moving around, making biting noises and taking up much of the bed. Henry finds another one of the sperm-fetus-creatures in the bed, presumably coming from out of Mary’s vagina, and pulls it out of her. After throwing these against the wall, the light in thee room dims, then a single light illuminates the cabinet with the worm in it.
The cabinet opens, and the worm seems fully rejuvenated now and begins moving around, making small noises. It moves into the dark, then we see it moving across a rocky landscape (possibly the rocky landscape from the beginning of the movie). The worm begins moving in and out of several holes, growing larger each time and its squeals growing deeper in pitch, until it emerges as a large worm with a gaping mouth.
Next we see Henry sitting alone in the apartment through a large hole in the wall (similar to the hole in the roof of the house at the beginning dream sequence). The Girl Across the Hall (who I will now start to call “Gathy” [Girl Across the Hall = GATH = Gathy]) comes into the apartment. She has a seductive, almost predatory, expression and body language.
Henry silences the baby while talking to Gathy, and the two eventually start having sex in Henry’s bed, which now has a large, hot-tub size pool of white, murky water in it. The two are having sex in this pool of whitish fluid, and Gathy sees the baby across the room and seems frightened by it.
The two continue to have sex, then slowly sink into the murky pool until they have completely disappeared. We briefly see Gathy staring into the dark, though we’re not sure what she’s staring at, and then we see the giant rock floating through space. I would wager that she is seeing the strange infant, and the giant rock might be the womb the baby came from. Gathy may right now be realizing that Henry created the grotesque monster through sex, and that she just had sex with Henry (more on this later).
Henry having sex with Gathy is him attempting to return to the life he had before the child, sex without care or perceived consequence. The pool of whitish fluid obviously has a biological vibe to it, and likely refers to sperm. However, it may also be a return to the womb, or a return to innocence—a return to an opaque place that consumes one in warmth, ignorance and bliss.
If it’s not obvious, the worm does seem to be associated with sex and a mix of libido and sexual frustration. The sperm-fetuses Henry pulls out of Mary may be his disgust at Mary, aided by his growing resentment of the child and Mary’s own behavior in bed. Henry might be realizing or acknowledging, as the other characters seem to have, that sex with Mary resulted in something grotesque he resents.
Girl in the Radiator, Eraserhead and Infanticide
At this point in the film, we’ve really lost all hold on reality, and Lynch provides us with a roller coaster of visions and dreams and surreal events. I will try to analyze each sequence here as we go, since there is quite a lot.
Girl in the Radiato
Immediately after Gathy is staring into the dark and we see the rock hurtling through the void, we see the Radiator Girl again. She begins singing:
“In heaven, everything is fine
“In heaven, everything is fine
“In heaven, everything is fine
“You’ve got your good things, and I’ve got mine
“In heaven, everything is fine
“In heaven, everything is fine
“In heaven, everything is fine
“You’ve got your good things, and you’ve got mine
“In heaven, everything is fine.”
This, I took as possessing a dichotomy to it’s meaning, but overall, it’s about an idealization of life and a comforting narrative about the nature of reality.
First, “In heaven, everything is fine” is a comforting phrase repeated like a prayer, chant or mantra. It is the desire and hope that everything will turn out okay in the end, or that there is something better to be found, achieved or accessed—it’s a sort of escapism and belief that the grass is greener on the other side.
Then, there’s the line, “You’ve got your good things, and I’ve got mine”. This line indicates a separation of individuals and possessions. Possibly a divorce, or possibly just a state of two people living individually and distinctly from each other, but still co-existing in a positive state.
Then, there’s the line, “You’ve got your good things, and I’ve got mine”. This line sort of contradicts the other line and seems to indicate a union of individuals and possessions. This might be a marriage, or simply two people living peacefully and happily together.
It also reflects an idealization of Henry’s life before and after Mary had their child. Henry previously may have previously idealized his relationship with Mary as having no consequences, and their entire relationship was sort of built atop a more hedonic relationship of sexuality.
After this, once Mary had the baby, Henry may have idealized his new relationship with Mary as being a happy, unified relationship—the nuclear family—where mother, father and child live happily together.
The idealized yet grotesquely-masked Radiator Girl sings this to Henry, presenting both halves of his life in an idealized way.
After this, Henry steps onstage with the Radiator Girl and a series of events happens in sort of rapid-fire succession (or as close to rapid-fire as Eraserhead can get at x1 speed). I will also say, parts of this analysis really feel like they go off in the deep end for me, but I think it all at least makes sense (and it’s a David Lynch film, I can think whatever I want about it).
Henry interacts with the girl onstage, then, after a couple flashes of light, she disappears. We briefly see a vision of the man pulling the levers from the beginning of the movie, the sperm fetuses littering the floor are swept away by the wind, and finally a dead tree emerging from a tarp-covered pile is rolled onstage.
Henry retreats behind a small barricade, then his head falls off and bounces onstage. From the hole where his neck is, the head of the child emerges, screaming and wailing, until Henry’s head falls through a pool of blood or dark fluid onstage. It falls into the industrial cityscape Henry had been traversing earlier in the film.
A small boy picks up the head and takes it to a shop. The boy is taken to a man in the back room who is operating a strange machine, and the man operating the machine drills a hole into Henry’s head and produces a stick of, presumably, brain matter. He puts the stick into the machine, and uses the stick to create eraserheads for pencils (get it?).
The boy is paid for his efforts, and some eraser dust is flung off of the man’s table before Henry wakes up.
There’s a lot here that happens in a short amount of time, so I’ll try to go through this relatively quickly.
Henry confronts his idealized projection of a woman, and she disappears. We briefly see the man pulling the levers—the idealized projection vanishing and briefly being erased with the entity in control of fate, reality, the universe, or maybe just Henry’s own thoughts and actions.
The sperm is blown away, possibly sanitizing the stage or blowing away Henry’s fears, and then the tree is wheeled onstage. The tree has no leaves—it is lifeless—and it grows from a plastic hill that is disassociated from the rest of the earth/ground (it is on a mobile vehicle rather than being planted on the ground).
This may be the lifelessness present in a society which has uprooted itself from a natural way of living, the barrenness of such a life, or perhaps Henry’s own desire for lifelessness or fruitlessness in the world (his desire for a barren, sanitized love-life free of the consequences of children).
Henry’s head falling off and being replaced with the child’s head is a few things. Henry has died, either physically or metaphorically. His identity is destroyed, he’s nothing more than a headless, mindless body, and either his identity or his mind has been replaced with the baby. This could be that Henry’s new identity is that of a father, and all other identity is now gone (even the identity that seeks sexual comfort). It also harkens back to the idea of a succession of generations.
Henry helped create a child of the next generation, and now his life is subordinate to the new generation’s life (which will eventually take Henry’s place in society/life once the baby has matured).
Now, the part where Henry’s head is taken away and sold to make erasers.
This part, despite being what the movie is named after, really took a while to make sense to me, but I think I’ve got it.
The three men at the shop are like three aspects of modern society, especially in the economic sense.
There is the storefront clerk, the shop owner/manager/boss, and the expert or professional working in the back room. We have the service/servant class, we have the professional or craftsman class, and then we have the managerial or ruling class. All three form a sort trifecta representing the needs, expectations or pressures of society, as manifested through business and the economy.
The boy could be Henry’s son, or it could be a child-like Henry himself, selling his head (selling his identity or his cognitive ability and attention) to the ruling/managerial class. Henry is sold, and his brain is turned into something that erases. What is being erased here?
Well, Henry is being erased (his identity and his mind), but also Henry’s brain is being used to erase mistakes people make, or erase things people don’t want anymore after they’ve created it with a pencil (a pencil being a phallic object).
So, there’s a few things happening here at once. Henry’s identity and thoughts are being sold to a manifestation of society. Henry himself is being erased. This means the child that brought Henry’s head/identity/thoughts to this place is in part responsible for Henry’s erasure. But also, Henry is turned into something that erases. He erases mistakes and other undesirable creations.
And that’s exactly what Henry does.
Sometime after Henry wakes up, he goes and knocks on Gathy’s door, with no response. When he returns, the baby begins coughing or wheezing, except it sounds almost like a mocking laugh. Then, Henry sees Gathy with another man, kissing and feeling her up. When Gathy looks at Henry, he sees the infant’s head instead of his.
This is Gathy associating sex with Henry to the creation of the infant. She identifies Henry as the father of something grotesque.
In the next scene, Henry cuts open the infant’s bandages, revealing its organs beneath. This is another “pulling of the veil”, where something idealized or hidden from the eye by outward appearances is revealed for what it truly is.
Then, Henry uses his scissors to stab the infant’s organs. This is an act of destroying the thing he created—something either perceived as or projected as being grotesque—and it is also an attack on the grotesque reality that has been revealed to him.
The baby dies, with a yolk-like fluid oozing from its body (possibly a connection to eggs), and then a foam substance begins growing out of the baby’s body, engulfing it. Then, the baby turns into something similar to the sperm-fetuses.
Henry begins seeing giant versions of the baby’s head moving around in the dark. The electricity is going insane at this point, and then the power goes out. Henry is left alone in the dark with the giant head of the baby, which then turns into the giant rock.
The giant rock explodes, revealing that it is hollow, and the dust from the explosion resembles the dust from the eraserhead. Inside the rock, we see the man with the levers again. Sparks are flying from the mechanism. This cuts to the final moment of the movie.
Henry is standing in a place of blinding, white light, and the Radiator Girl comes and embraces him. Henry here seems to be at peace.
The giant infant head, for me, is a number of things. It is like a ghost, in that it is something that comes back from the dead to haunt Henry. It is something giant, something that has grown to immeasurable proportions, something that is larger or greater than Henry. It is something that exists in the dark, which flits in and out of existence on a whim, it seems.
It is like a giant monster lurking in Henry’s unconscious (the dark), which has grown to immeasurable proportions through Henry’s actions. It could be guilt, it could be the ghost of his child haunting him for what he has done, it could be the cathartic accumulation of emotion swelling into some monstrous projection that is confronting Henry, or that Henry is confronting.
And then, the rock, if it is a womb, explodes. Is this birth? Is this re-entry into the womb? Or is this also the destruction of something that has brought Henry so much frustration and resentment?
The man with the levers is struggling to maintain control over his machine. Perhaps it is fate struggling to contend with Henry’s actions—perhaps Henry has now broken out of the pre-ordained structures of reality—or perhaps it is Henry’s mind itself struggling to contend with his own actions. The machines of either fate or decision and action-making are malfunctioning, with either God or Henry’s unconscious struggling to maintain control.
Finally, Henry is bathed in white light and an overwhelming crashing of white noise all around him. He has entered into a transcendent place or state—much like at the end of The Lighthouse—where his idealized projection of women has come to embrace him.
He has destroyed the part of his life that has caused him and Mary so much frustration and resentment, he has broken the mechanisms of fate or his programmed decisions/actions, and has reunited with his idealized perception of life (the life he wishes he could go back to after having the baby).
“And if they get me and the sun goes down into the ground
“And if they get me take this spike to my heart and
“And if they get me and the sun goes down
“And if they get me take this spike and
“You put the spike in my heart”
My Chemical Romance, “Vampires Will Never Hurt You”
As a quick forewarning, some of this analysis and the things I talk about are pretty rapid-fire and probably should be elaborated or explained more, but I wanted to shorten many of the points here. If you want to learn more about some of these things, you can check it out for yourself, or reach out to me with any questions and whatnot.
Vampires need very little introduction, but here we go.
Vampires have become something that borders on memey at this point, but vampires as a Dawkinsian meme (the immaterial, “idea-gene” or evolving idea) have a long evolutionary history—starting with folklore, developing into the classic Dracula-vampire, and then finally committing a slow suicide with a glittery stake in the 2000’s and 2010’s.
Concepts of vampires or of things similar to vampires have appeared across cultures throughout history, beginning with ancient stories such as the Indian Vetalas and Pisaca; the Babylonian/Assyrian and Hebrew Lilitu and Lilith, respectively; and a slew of Greek monsters: the Empusae, Lamia, Stirges and Gello.
Many of these creatures, as well as other similar tales throughout the world, are not strictly “vampires”, but they bear similarities to the modern concept of the vampire (nocturnal, blood-sucking/flesh-eating, demonic, undead/undying, odd rules around their behaviors). These ancient creatures in particular may have given rise to the modern “Draculian” (yes, I just made up a new word) or Gothic Vampire.
Accounts of this more modern concept of a vampire arose from the Medieval Period to the 18th Century (the century where a widespread fear of vampires began to crystallize and bloom across Europe). There were Hebrew, Norse and British accounts of undead or vampiric entities, such as revenants and draugrs, and then in the 18th century, when European populations began using the term “vampire”, vampires became the object of hysteria.
Similar in many ways to the witch-hunts that spread across Europe and North America, the notion of vampires became an object of fear, paranoia, hate and morbid scholarship. The “18th-Century Vampire Controversy” was a generation-long marathon of grave-desecration, hysteric accusations, and the tail-end of pre-modern superstitious-hysteria (though, I’d say the underlying psychological/psychic structure persists to this day).
One interesting note here is that this Vampire scare flared parallel to the Age of Enlightenment, a tangent that I probably won’t bring up much beyond this, or will simply forget to bring up, but an interesting corollary to the analysis.
Why was it that both witch-hunts and vampire-scares coincided with progressive philosophic movements?
Why is it that such ancient, superstitious cleansing-hysterias emerged in tandem to socio-cultural and cognitive leaps forward?
Why have we, at such dramatic cultural turning points such as the 60’s, 80’s and 00’s, faced similar witch-hunts and vampire-hysterias?
And why do we now, in such a strange and tumultuous politico-cultural shift of contemporary history, do we seem to be face similar superstitious hysterias?
This 18th century vampire evolved into the Bram Stoker Dracula of 1897—another curious example of society/culture/media that roughly coincided with Nietzsche’s famous proclamation, “God is Dead”.
From out of the dying light of Romanticism, Dracula—named after Vlad III, Vlad the Impaler or Vlad Dracula (I may talk about him more, I haven’t decided yet)—evolved through the 19th century into suave villains and anti-heroes (excluding Nosferatu, who was less-than-suave). After Bella Lugosi and pulp fiction, there came waves of comic book and genre-fiction renditions of vampires who all played as variations of the Gothic/Dracula vampire, peaking with thee ’92 Bram Stoker’s Dracula film before its new, contemporary variations (one might say the Post-Modern vampire).
And with this relatively brief but relatively whole history of vampires, I will examine the core psycho-symbolic meaningfulness of vampires.
I want to use this to analyze the modern depictions of vampires in an almost historic study of its evolution and bring this all in to a contemporary analysis of culture and society using this initial analysis, but I don’t think I’ll be able to do that without a hyper-extended article.
So, I may do this in the future.
For this analysis, there are three crucial “modes” of the ancient, classical and post-classical/early modern vampire narrative I wish to examine:
Vampire as Feminine Demon
Vampire as Indifferent Entity
Vampire as Masculine Aristocrat
And, for those already jumping on this “controversial analysis”, this has nothing to do with value claims about actual gender/sex, rather the mytho-narrative symbolism of these fragmented archetypes. This is all aimed at a symbolic mythological analysis, not a material, cultural or philosophical analysis of sex or gender.
Analysis of Vampires
I’ll first roughly define each of these sub-archetypes and give a mythological/historic relation/foundation to each of them, then delve into each. As a fun little note here, these three archetypes I think may still be present, at least partially, in modern culture, arts and narrative, but it’s safe to say they’ve both splintered and evolved into more sub-archetypes.
The actual “psychological archetypes” (since we’ve already entered the realm of Jung here) are most certainly still alive and well in our culture, sleeping in tombs or ruling from dark castles.
First, we have to examine vampirism at its foundation. Vampirism, roughly speaking, relates to an undead, undying or demonic/infernal force that parasitizes “normal” humanity. Vampirism relates to death, but it also relates to undeath (either something dead returning to life, or something immortal) which preys upon life.
Vampirism more particular relates to either consuming flesh or blood, and so can be seen as siphoning a life force or siphoning “what makes us ‘us’” as a source of sustenance. Vampirism also relates to the nocturnal, which is what we cannot see, what lurks in “the dark”, or what comes out in times or places of “dark”.
Vampirism is often treated in a disease-like manner. It can either kill others, or it can be spread to others who then become new nodes of Vampirism.
Vampirism also relates to immortality, but usually is more specific to the ability to consume the “life force” of others in order to maintain or continue its own life.
This can be seen in a number of ways:
– Something which we suppress, either in our own selves or in our conception of reality / Something parasitic or destructive in ourselves which we actively decide not to acknowledge, or something external to us that we do not acknowledge.
– Something we regress to, or something that the state of society, state of nature or state of being regresses to in moments or periods of weakness or “death” / Some state of behavior or being that emerges as we as individuals or we as a collective revert into a less humane state of being.
– Some eternal and recurrent force, or some “undying” force—or an aging force that maintains itself beyond death—which preys upon, parasitizes or infects the contemporary culture or youthful population.
Now, for the promised controversial analysis.
Vampire as Feminine Demon refers to the “Lilithian” vampire—the darker elements of Hecatean feminine-mythology. Really, this archetype goes down to one of the deepest roots of mythology: the feminine archetype of Mother Nature. More particularly, this relates the negative aspect of the Mother Nature archetype: Nature as cruel consumer and destroyer, as opposed to Nature as loving creator and nurturer.
Examples in Modern Culture: Antichrist (I would argue); Blair Witch Project (also arguable); Jennifer’s Body (there aren’t many great examples, guys); A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (but not really); Let the Right One In (kinda)
Vampire as Indifferent Entity is sort of an off-shoot of the Lilithian vampire. Where the Lilithian vampire may be seen as the more divine (divine meaning “of-higher-being”, not necessarily in a positive or negative sense) conscious progenitor, source or monarch of vampirism, the Indifferent Entity is more like an amoral child or creation of the source-being. This Indifferent Entity is like an animal, a more unconscious being driven by instinct, and closer to an unthinking, mechanical object than a conscious, moral agent.
Examples in Modern Culture: Stakeland, 30 Days of Night, I Am Legend
Vampire as Masculine Aristocrat is closer to the more traditional conception of vampire. This is the Draculian vampire, ranging from Nosferatu to Dracula to Edward Cullen (brace yourselves, Twilight fans, it’s only just begun). The Masculine Aristocrat vampire relates to the patriarchal sense of masculine—the twin brother of Mother Nature—as the archetype of “Father Society”. Just as the Lilithian vampire represents the negative aspect of Mother Nature, the Draculian vampire represents a negative aspect of society—the manipulative, bureaucratic, parasitic aspect of society.
Examples in Modern Culture: Bram Stokers Dracula, the Underworld series, the Twilight series (Edward’s a pedophile, accept this fact)
The first analysis will be of the “Vampire as Feminine Demon”. And here, with feminine, I will repeat:
I do not mean the modern contextual meaning of “feminine as effeminate” or “feminine as female biological sex”, or even “feminine as cultural gender”. I mean “feminine as mythological ‘Mother-archetype’” and it has nothing to do with actual sex/gender. Thank you for your time.
With this, we look at the concept of a vampire as the Hebrew Lilith, which arose from the Babylonian Lilitu. Lilith has often been associated with Satan, and in some traditions, Lilith couples with Samael, who, in some ways, can be considered as an initial conception of Satan (Samael being “Ha-Satan”, the accuser, seducer and destroyer).
However, focusing more on Lilitu, Lilitu was a Babylonian “female night demon” who consumed the blood of infants for sustenance. A similar Hebrew demon, the estries, were nocturnal predators who consumed the blood of their victims for sustenance. And then we have the Greek Lamia and Stirges, which feasted on the blood of children and adults (Lamia more particularly on children).
This historic “Lilitu” meme generalizes to a nocturnal, blood-feasting predator, which often preys on children or infants. Here, I think one concept becomes blindingly clear: the negative Mother archetype.
The Mother archetype, as previously stated, is the archetype of Mother Nature, which is both protective, nurturant and procreative, but also cruel, preying and destructive. Mother Nature is that which creates life, and mother nature is that which consumes life. These Lilitu and Lilitu-esque demons are female entities which consume the life-force of individuals, and often the life-force of children (one could say that all individuals, youthful or mature, are children).
So, this ancient proto-vampire, the Lilithian vampire, is an aspect of Mother Nature. The Lilithian vampire might have been a personification of the fear of child mortality/morbidity—the fear of predators, the fear of disease, the fear of fatal injury, the fear of one’s child suddenly going missing when they’re out of sight (in the dark).
This fear could also be seen as a Mother’s fear of her own part to play in the potential destruction of their child. This might be reflective or symbolic of two things. The first, the mother’s own incompetence or the mother’s own malevolence. Perhaps the fear manifested here is that it is the Mother’s fault through their inadequacies that their child either dies or matures into an unsuccessful or even malignant individual.
The second might be an aspect of another negative aspect of the Mother archetype: the Oedipal Mother. This is the archetypal maternal force which is overbearing, overprotective, smothering, and even manipulative and parasitic.
The Oedipal Mother (archetypically speaking, though perhaps literally speaking) keeps their children, particularly their sons, from going out into the world and exploring. They keep their sons at home, where they fulfill the role of their father (sometimes only superficially, sometimes behaviorally, sometimes to a Freudian/Oedipal extreme). This relationship is manipulative, as the mother must coerce, or at the very least be an enabler, the child/son into remaining at home and fulfilling the role of the father, in exchange for continued protection and “nurturing”. The relationship is parasitic, as the mother essentially ruins the child’s life by smothering them, keeping them from maturing and keeping them from living a fulfilled, satisfying life in order to satisfy her own needs.
These are a bit of a stretch. They fit the “vampiric mold”, though it may be difficult to prove that Lilith/Lilitu and their corollary mythological monsters are in fact symbolic of this (but it’s still fun to think about).
The next part of the analysis is the “Vampire as Indifferent Entity”. This one, I will be honest, interests me the least, so I will be quick with this one. However, these happen to be the types of vampires in three of the only good vampire flics in the last couple decades (30 Days of Night, I Am Legend, Stakeland).
These are the animalistic, zombie-like vampires—the mindless, raving, depraved animals. Now, these might be represented at times as semi-autonomous people, or at the very least may outwardly appear as being normal humans, but are far more animalistically autonomous than they are moral agents.
And I think that’s the key here: these are parasitic entities without moral agency.
But, at the same time, it could be argued that a vampire, especially the traditional Draculian concept of a vampire, is without moral agency, since they have a sort of addictive “ball-and-chain”. They cannot escape their necessity to consume blood.
And so, we might look at this Indifferent Entity as being the baseline for vampirism, or the core mode of vampirism—a revelatory vision of vampirism beneath the faux aesthetic put on vampires. At the core of both feminine and masculine modes of vampirism, there is this mindless hunger—this animal instinct to feed.
Perhaps this vision of the Indifferent Entity is the masculine/feminine modes stripped of all external pretense and power—the animal without the divine/demonic powers or omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence of nature; and the animal without the structures and powers afforded by culture and society.
It is a parasitic animal, and perhaps all animals, humans included, are these indifferent, parasitic entities, stripped of all aesthetic and power and pretense.
Finally, there is the “Vampire as Masculine Aristocrat”. This relates to, as previously mentioned, the Patriarchal Father archetype, and the negative Patriarchal archetype: the Tyrannical King. With the Father archetype, there are the positive elements or aspects: protection, order, meaningfulness, a place in society, tradition and so forth. But, there are also the negative aspects: tyranny, conformity, stagnation, immobile and unfair hierarchies, inability to adapt.
However, one aspect of the negative Patriarchal archetype I think is often overlooked is it’s parasitic and manipulative nature. Now, this might be because the elements of tyranny are often regarded in terms of brute force and reigns of fear. However, this is not a nuanced perspective on Tyranny. Some of the most disturbing aspects of tyranny are the manipulative and parasitic aspects of it.
Take for example bureaucracy. Bureaucracies are monolithic hyper-complexes of rules and regulations, filled with a five-dimensional labyrinth of legalities, jargon, hierarchies, departments, divisions, forms, contracts, signatures, waiting lists and so forth. Bureaucracies are unquestionable and impenetrable. Unless you know the infinite in’s and out’s of a bureaucracy, you are at their mercy, and you cannot battle them except on their own terms.
In order to overcome the labyrinth, you must first enter the labyrinth, and we have all committed and signed ourselves over to a bureaucracy from the moment we enter a society. From the moment we enroll in school, from the moment we become an active agent in the legal system, a rational agent in the economy, or a consumer, employee, car-owner, etc., we have entered the labyrinth of a pre-constructed bureaucracy. And at that point, you are subject to a multitude of fines, legal requirements, insurances, non-disclosures, liability forms and so on.
Perhaps this is Dracula’s castle.
And then, you are subject to the sway of society (I would recommend Camus’ The Stranger, Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, and the dystopian diad, 1984 and Brave New World in order to get a fuller scope of this).
You are under the sway of conformity, and the lure of advertisements, and the pull of envy and resentment and ego and uncertainty and the schizophrenia of modernity.
You are gaslit by everyone around you, your conceptions of reality are constantly questioned and attacked (which may be good in some circumstances), and you’re either with us or against us—with a multiplicity of reasons why (with a multitude of sub-labyrinths and Kafka-traps that trigger your determined “otherness-hood”)—and you’re an enemy because you’re not a patriot, or you’re an enemy because you are, or an enemy because you’re neutral, or you’re an enemy because you’re not, or you’re an enemy because you’re as independent and individualistic as possible, or you’re an enemy because you’re part of the herd—and then, on top of it, everyone finds every way they can to make you all of these things at once, and then in the end, who are you anyway? so just follow the herd, but be your own person, but be the person we want you to be, until we’re done with you.
And this is the psychosis of modernity, and this this is the charm and trap of Dracula.
You need a job. Go get one, and now you’re trapped.
You need an education. Go get one, and now you’re trapped.
You need to buy a thing. Go get one, and now you’re trapped.
And powers on all sides are trying to convince you of five things at once, and you succumb, and now you’re a warm, comatose body they can siphon blood off of.
And then—THEN—there is Dracula as the aging noble who seduces, entraps and parasitizes the youth (Dracula seducing the virgin into being his bride and prey). This is the key element of understanding the Draculian vampire.
The Dracula-vampire is an entity which is immortal, but it can only continue its immortality by drinking the blood of the youth.
It is a parasite which exists only to manipulate new generations in order to siphon their life-force from them. These are the decade and even centuries-old institutions which have been created by prior generations for their benefit. While these in some ways may offer some benefit for those entrapped (just as Dracula offers a home, a purpose and pleasure for his brides), the vast majority of the benefits go to the Draculian institutions.
These are colleges and student loans. These are Big Pharma and Big Oil. These are monolithic retail stores. These will soon be the monolithic social media and online retail stores. These are all the institutions created with benefits for the many and the small, but with tremendous and corrupted benefits for the few and the big.
And, no, I’m not a Marxist or a Socialist. No, no, no. But, fuck man. Some days.
A Sudden Stop and Conclusion
There’s so much more I wanted to discuss with this analysis, but the analysis is already long, and there’s so much more I have to say—so much more that I’m not sure I can comfortably articulate in a sane manner.
There may be a part 2 to this at some point, or another standalone article to discuss more of this article, but I do think that this is a good place to stop for now.
I want to say here that I think the analysis I’ve started has opened up a sort of psycho-symbolic-social-critique can of worms. These are complicated topics, and the three symbols I’ve dredged up from the concept of vampires are incredibly deep and complex symbols/ideas and parts of our society and widespread, cultural mythos.
Unfortunately, I think there’s a lot of “begging the question” in this analysis, where I’ve mentioned a lot of things that want to be brought into a sort of practical moral conversation, but would be compounding cans of worms if I did right now.
So, I will say this here as well:
This isn’t intended necessarily to make any social or moral value claims, even though it kind of did make a few. It’s intended to analyze vampires as a symbol (and this was written somewhat manically over the course of a couple days, so cut me some slack). And it’s meant to be fun.
I think this is a strong though in parts somewhat shaky analysis of the core aspects of the vampire symbol:
The relationship of vampires or proto-vampiric-entities and the negative aspects of Nature
The animalistic vampirism present in life and nature as a mechanical, unconscious agent
The now-traditional aristocratic vampirism of social institutions
But these are each complex topics, and the implications to a broader moral and social conversation become even more complex [Xander is currently still realizing the deep end of the pool he dove into was actually the Ocean].
Do I think anything bad of Nature? No! Do I think anything bad of the occult? No! Do I think anything bad of women? Only a few.
Do I think anything bad about animals? No! Do I think anything bad about the masses? That’s a loaded question. Do I think anything bad about being an unconscious, mechanical agent in a moral system? Well, yes, I do, actually.
Do I think anything bad about older people/generations? Next question. Do I think anything bad about social institutions? That’s a complicated question. Do I want to burn down all institutions? No, but I do want change.
Do I think the world governments are secretly run by Alex-Jonesian psychic-pedophile-vampires? Maybe. The jury’s out.
But, this is all beside the point.
Here’s what vampires are. Here’s what I believe them to represent. Here’s a foundation for how we can begin discussing the symbolism of said vampires.
I didn’t get to drive a stake through Twilight’s heart, but goddamn, I wanted to.
Hopefully in the future I can work out these ideas a bit more, maybe give myself more time to organize my thoughts, but for now, I’ll have to put this bad boy back in its coffin. Next up, I will analyze Eraserhead, and I think this will be a much more sober analysis. Thank you for reading, and have a spooky October.
Now, I will pivot into the second half of the analysis, the inversion of Thing as Metaphoric Object.
Analysis Part 2: Thing as Phenomenological Object
While the first half of the analysis is fun and interesting, and possesses moral/ethical/political considerations that are worth discussing (and will be discussed), this second half of the analysis is far more interesting to me.
For this, we will be examining what the Thing is to the humans.
For this, we will be examining the Thing from the perspective of humans as a metaphoric, narrative object, meaning: what is the Thing from a symbolic and psychological perspective?
But, if this is more important and more meaningful to me, why begin with the other analysis?
Because, while we are now looking at the Thing as an object, the nature of it as an object must be understood as an object capable of subjectivity.
When the humans are perceiving the Thing, they are not looking at an inanimate object, they are looking at a conscious and rational object.
However, the Thing and the contents of its subjective experience is a “black box”, a programming term that here means the contents of the Thing’s consciousness and cognition cannot be known.
In programming, a “black box” is a piece of code that has a function—there are inputs, which are then processed by whatever code exists in the black box, and then there are outputs produced by the code—but the function of the “black box” is completely unknown. The contents of the unknown programming can be guessed by looking at the inputs and the resulting outputs, but the code within nonetheless remains a mystery.
The fact that the Thing does have a consciousness and is capable of rational thought is known. There are measurable inputs and measurable outputs, the inputs being reality and events, the outputs being the actions the Thing takes. However, the humans do not know what the consciousness and rational thoughts of the alien are—they cannot examine the “code” inside the Thing’s “black box”.
So, when the humans perceive the Thing (possibly the most apt name here), they perceive an organism they cannot fully understand, with a psychological/cognitive/subjective black box that they cannot examine.
All humans are actually like this to all other humans.
No two humans can actually know what is happening inside the other human’s mind—not fully, at least.
The minds of all humans are like “black boxes” to all other humans.
Here, I can recall the fictional (though, unfortunately, not completely unmoored from reality) anecdote of the lesbian in a Muslim society.
She might be the only person on the planet who knows she is a lesbian. She might not have shared with any other human the fact that she secretly has a sexual and romantic attraction to other women. This, being a function of her mind, experience, psyche, etc., remains a content of the “black box” of her psyche.
This “black box”, however, extends beyond just our thoughts, our motivations, our sexual preferences, our beliefs and so forth, and extends to things like our memories—which then extends epistemologically to our actions, our experiences, our decisions and so forth. Not only can we hide from others what we think, feel or believe, but we can also hide from others our actions, our patterns of actions (actions taken as part of an agenda) and the things we have experienced in our lives.
Now, one of the great peculiarities of humanity is our ability to communicate the contents of this “black box” to others. We can tell other people: This is what I think; this is how I feel; this is what I have done; this is what I have gone through in my life; etc.
And here, we find the interwoven segments of a functioning, healthy society (or, on the micro-level, functioning, healthy relationships): communication, honesty and trust.
Humans have the ability to communicate what resides within our “black boxes”, so long as we trust what the other person is communicating.
By knowing what these contents are—so long as we also know these contents do not indicate a hostility towards us—the people we know can be perceived as something we understand.
That may be one of the most important functions of language and society: providing every individual with a socio-linguistic structure that allows us to understand to a high enough resolution who everyone else within a society is.
You don’t have to know someone’s name, you don’t have to know their address, you don’t have to know their job, but we are able to safely and comfortably walk into a Starbucks without immediately backing into a corner at the sight of a dozen hairless primates because society has provided us with enough information to know (or believe) that none of the people are actively or passively hostile towards you.
However, what happens at the point at which someone doesn’t make any sense? Let’s examine this.
If we have a socio-linguistically mediated epistemological structure which provides us with the information about others, and this information ensures as that particular individuals will not be hostile, what happens when this epistemological structure is violated?
What happens if you go into a Starbucks, and someone pulls out a gun?
What happens, I think, is much deeper than most might suppose.
On a rational, material level, very little has actually changed. The only change in the material environment around us is that a small, mechanical object has been introduced to the physical contents of Starbucks.
However, from a deeper cognitive and psychological level, the change is nearly infinitely drastic.
You are no longer standing in a Starbucks waiting for your coffee to be made. This idea, this perception of reality, is not the material reality, it is a cognitive, phenomenological reality. The idea of Starbucks, the idea of what you are doing in Starbucks, the idea of what others are doing in Starbucks, and the idea of how these things are situated within our understanding of reality are all socio-linguistically mediated knowledge-structures we base our decisions on.
Suddenly, by the introduction of a gun into the environment, these socio-linguistic knowledge-structures have disintegrated. The reality of standing in a Starbucks waiting for your coffee no longer exists—that reality is gone—and a new reality of being in a place where a stranger has a gun has taken its place.
In addition, the person who was also waiting at Starbucks for a cup of coffee also vanishes, and they become an entirely different person. They may not even be a person anymore—at least as far as your psyche is concerned. The benign stranger at Starbucks (another mediated knowledge-structure) has suddenly vanished, and is replaced with an object whose intentions, motivations, knowledge and experiences you suddenly don’t understand.
That person transforms into some other thing that is no longer a person as you understood them to be.
That person, on a psychological or phenomenological level, literally transforms their being from a defined, articulated, mutually understood citizen of a country into a living, thinking, acting black box.
And here, now, I hope you can begin to see how this connects back to The Thing.
At the moment at which one of the dogs or humans is transforming into its alien form, what precisely is happening from the perspective of one of the non-aliens?
What subjectively and psychologically is happening?
We’ll take the scene at which Palmer is revealed to be one of the Things.
The poke his blood with the hot metal, and the blood reacts as a living organism.
Suddenly, we now know Palmer is a Thing, and at this precise moment, Palmer “physically” begins to transform.
He begins convulsing unnaturally; his eyes bleed and bulge; his head grotesquely deforms; his entire body transforms into a pseudo-human horror; his head splits open into a giant, monstrous mouth and attacks Windows; and MacReady finally burns the creature alive then kills it with dynamite as it tries to escape outside.
What is happening is Palmer begins with a defined, articulated, orderly form. What Palmer is—Palmer’s being as a perceived object—is understood. Then, at the moment Palmer is revealed to be a Thing, Palmer transforms into something that is not understood.
What is happening when the humans or dogs are turning into the chaotic monstrosities we refer to as “the Thing”? All of our fundamental and assumed knowledge about their being suddenly vanishes. They transform from something that has a rigid, defined form and a concrete definition-of, into something that cannot be easily described, except as something grotesque, volatile and chaotic.
Now, viewing this as a phenomenological event (rather than an actual, physical event), it is not that the people and animals are physically turning into these chaotic alien-creatures, it is that we are witnessing the psychological transformation of these beings from the perspective of the human-observers. The moment a dog or human transforms into a “Thing” is the moment where a defined, ordered, articulated being transforms into something that we cannot understand.
The perceived physical transformation is therefore actually a projected psychological transformation of the other being.
So here, if we view the entire film in this light, with the transformations as symbolic, phenomenological transformations, what is happening is quite peculiar.
What if, instead of viewing the movie as a sci-fi horror film where they’re being attacked by these assimilating aliens, we view this as a movie where everyone is subjected to a mass hysteria where they begin to “hallucinate” that their fellow outpost members are turning into monsters?
What if the members of the outpost are going insane, and begin projecting these monstrous psychological transformations onto each other?
Throughout the beginning of the movie, we see many of the characters at odds with each other, just over mundane things. With the introduction of the Thing into their midst, they suddenly become paranoid, suspicious of one another, and delusional. They perform purity tests on one another (like the blood tests), and enact a sort of martial law where the typical legalities and civilities are out the window.
How much of this is caused by the actual introduction of the Thing into their population, and how much of this is caused by a mass hysteria?
To bring this back to our prior quasi-fictional anecdotes:
At the moment the lesbian woman reveals herself to be a lesbian in the fundamentalist Muslim-dominated society, she is no longer an accepted, understood human within that society; she transforms into a being that must be ritually annihilated.
At the moment the benign coffee-drinker at Starbucks pulls a gun out from their pocket, they are no longer a benign stranger in a socially mediated/understood setting; they have transformed into a chaotic, undefined being who is armed with a mechanism that can quickly and effectively end lives.
To bring this back to our prior analysis of Thing-as-Subject, we (“we” as all of us as individuals) are at all times both Thing-as-Subject and Subject-Observing-OtherThing-as-Object.
And now, to wrap this analysis up, we will examine what this perpetual duality means.
Conclusion: Bring the Pieces Back Together
There are two obvious but conflicting moral or ethical statements to the analysis:
Communication between two beings—and so an understanding between two beings—must be established in order for there to be peaceful co-existence.
That which cannot be communicated with or understood may have to be annihilated if it cannot otherwise be survived.
While with the 1982 The Thing, the ethical question of communication and survival may remain ambiguous, in the original 1951 version of the film, The Thing From Another World, this ethical question is actually confronted, but is answered in a much less ambiguous way.
One of the characters attempts to communicate with the alien, but is killed for his efforts, and the remaining characters then annihilated the alien in order to survive it.
While I can applaud the original film for confronting this question more outrightly (itself adapted from the 1938 novella, Who Goes There? (of which I know little about)), and perhaps the 1982 The Thing ought to have brought this ethical issue more to the surface, the 1982 film nonetheless captures the true, phenomenological or subjective reality of this moral issue more accurately (though opaquely).
The problem is we never can know what to do.
The problem is not that we should create a society where there are no Starbucks shooters, or a society where we don’t murder lesbians in the streets (though both are admirable goals).
The problem is that it is impossible to create a society that does not possess analogues to these anecdotal societies.
The true “point” to the 1982 The Thing is not a moral answer to this combined problem of every individual being at once a Subject-Who-Perceives and Object-Being-Perceived.
The true point here is a pragmatic and amoral one, and the point is this:
We cannot know what is truly going on in the minds of anyone else. We cannot truly know what is happening in others’ minds, what they are motivated by and what actions they may take for or against us. We cannot truly know who (and, so, what) another person is.
And, so, psychologically, people we cannot understand transform into grotesque monsters before our eyes, even if physically they are exactly the same.
What The Thing proposes to us is not a moral proposition, but an amoral Truth about the reality of subjective experience and the phenomenology of human relationships.
All humans—all organisms and, more broadly, all objects with a personal subjectivity—are simultaneously:
Subject Perceiving Other-Object
Object Perceived by Other-Subject
Now, this is more applicable in situations where the aforementioned social-structures have been violated, but the problem here, as I tried to illuminate, is in part that we can never know when these violations will be made, or what the nature of this violation is.
So, I said previously these were not intended to be made into political/moral value statements, but, fuck you, I’m a lying black-box-bastard, live with it.
What is the most pressing moral/ethical/political and even epistemological (knowledge-based) issue today in America? (And, likely, throughout the world right now)
Our ability to communicate with one another has all but been corrupted to an impossibly unreconcilable state.
Our politics (in America, and, from what I know, in many places across Western society) has become so polarized that to say you support Trump is to self-declare yourself as a Fascist, and to say you support Biden is to self-declare yourself as an Anarchist.
Of course, except in the marginally extreme, neither of these cases are true. 99% of Trump-supporters are not Fascists, and 98% of Biden-supporters are not Anarchists (I’m kidding, fellow-Liberals, I really mean 97%).
However, those 99% who’ve fallen into the “Trump Camp” cannot convince those in the “Biden Camp” that they are not Fascist Bigots intent on inciting the Fourth Reich; and those 95% (I kid) who’ve fallen into the “Biden Camp” cannot convince those in the “Trump Camp” that they are not psychotic Anarchists seeking a Communist Revolution.
So, what has happened?
Both sides of our political divide have decided they can no longer convince the other side that they are not vicious monsters, so they’ve taken to treating the other side as vicious monsters.
What has happened to both sides of our current political “war”?
The Right and the Left currently perceive themselves as the humans, and they perceive the others as the “Things”.
We have a strange and potentially catastrophic situation right now where both the Right and the Left are simultaneously Subject-Perceiving-Object-as-Thing and Object-as-Thing-Perceived-by-Subject.
So, what do we do?
Obviously, we must come to understand that the shooter at Starbucks may actually be a Muslim Lesbian. I mean this jokingly, and I mean this seriously.
Imagine the moment you realize someone you know supports the candidate you currently oppose. How quickly does that person transform into something grotesque and horrific?
If you support Trump and you discover someone you know supports Biden, how immediate is the effect on you? How immediately do you either go quiet and politely smile and nod before walking away, or attack them on the spot, engulfing them in the fiery Truth of your words?
How immediately do you, a Biden-supporter, see your friends transform into a Fascistic Existential threat to equality and compassion the moment you see them don a MAGA hat?
At this moment, you may even be wondering whose side I am on, so you can know whether or not to condemn my words as profanity or praise them as sacred wisdom. “He poked fun at Liberals, but then he called himself a Liberal, but then ambiguously quasi-supported/quasi-criticized both sides, so what the hell is he?” Fuck you, that’s what side I am on.
The ending of this upcoming election may precisely reflect the ending of The Thing. The architecture we live in that protect us and trap us with the Thing—the structures of society/the outpost of Antartica—are destroyed in fire. We are left in the wreckage, only remaining alive by the dying light of burning buildings. And we face each other as the last survivors of a great cataclysm, wondering if the Thing across from us is a friend or foe.
We must communicate with each other.
We must learn to trust each other again, whether or not we agree on the other’s opinions.
We must learn to understand each other again, to open up our own black boxes, despite the ensuing vulnerability, so that others may open up their own black boxes.
And while we may find that our friends turn into Things and Things turn into friends, maybe, just maybe, if we can stop, think and speak to each other, we’ll come out of this alive.
Big O could’ve gone down in anime history alongside Neon Genesis Evangelion as one of the best giant mech anime of all time, and even as one of the best anime in general of all time.
However, Big O suffered not only similar flaws as Neon Genesis, but enough other of its own flaws that it is hardly even remembered (ironically). It’s a forgotten relic of the late 90’s and early 00’s: a giant robot anime that tried to fuse neo-noir Gotham-City-style action and mystery with the Modernist techno-dystopia style of movies like Metropolis, Bladerunner and Dark City.
Underlying this neo-noir, Modernist dystopia are questions of existentialism: free will, purpose, meaning, the relationship of the individual to society and the universe, the nature of being. And here, we can begin to see how Big O inevitably failed where an anime like Neon Genesis succeeded. Big O spread itself out across too many themes.
Both shows ran for 26 episodes, both were unique takes on the giant mech genre, and both were incredibly ambitious—delving into depths many “deep” anime only scratched at. The problem with Big O was that it was too scattered, too schizophrenic and too self-aware. Where Neon Genesis never felt like it was trying to be anything other than Neon Genesis, Big O felt like it was trying to be Kafka, Huxley, Orwell, Joyce, Bradbury and Asimov all at once.
Where Neon Genesis had a solid structure, a solid core to it (albeit a structure/core that was difficult to articulate at times, but was at all times clearly felt), Big O feels unstable, loose and uncertain. It’s difficult to even know how one should feel about it.
And, as one final critique, Hideaki Anno is simply a better story writer. Neon Genesis was able to wedge its characters and the central plot into our minds almost immediately, then develop the characters, plot and themes at a perfect pace (until, of course, the very end). Big O just has too much going on: too many sub-plots, too many mysteries, too many revolving-door-characters and standalone story-arcs.
The plot of NGE builds and stacks itself, like the stories of a tower, where Big O schizophrenically assembles the disparate and thinly-associated pieces of a broad puzzle. 90% of the characters appear in only one or two episodes; most individual or standalone story-arcs support the broader plot and themes, but are much more self-contained; and the philosophical themes of the story can never agree with each other on what questions they ought to be asking.
While this style of storytelling—the neo-noir, mystery/detective style of a succession of standalone plots supporting a larger plot—can work incredibly well if executed properly (such as in Cowboy Bebop), Big O was too cluttered to execute it as well as it should have been.
However, I did in fact start this analysis saying, “Big O could’ve gone down in history…” and I mean it. I want there to be no confusion here, despite my criticism, how I feel about this anime.
I love this anime.
Big O has such fucking style, such unique blends of themes and aesthetics, and such memorable, if not at times flawed, characters, plot points, scenes, settings and tone.
God, I fucking love this anime.
Big O was ambitious. In many ways, it was an homage to the science fiction, noir and modernism of the 20th century, and borrowed quite a lot from series like NGE and Batman (yes, there’s a lot of Batman in this show), but in many was its own, wholly unique show, tempered by the style and storytelling of anime.
This show is incredibly fun and unique—the robot fights, by the way, are sweet and plentiful—and the show contains quite a lot of depth to it, as well as good complexity beneath all the not-so-good complexity. And so, with the rest of this article, I will delve into the depths and attempt to come to terms with Big O.
There is a lot I won’t be able to cover. There is a lot you will simply have to experience for yourself and try to understand in your own fashion. But this analysis will hopefully provide a solid framework to understanding Big O.
If you don’t want spoilers: stop reading, go watch the short 2 seasons of Big O, and come back and read this when you’re done.
I will try to keep the initial explanation of Big O as short as I can, but, if you know Big O well enough, feel free to skip to the Literary and Structural analysis. Or, feel free to skip the next part and come back to it as a reference (or just do whatever).
Setting, History and Plot of Big O
Big O is set in Paradigm City, “a city of Amnesia”. There are a number of domes throughout the city: giant, spherical, glass-and-steel enclosures that separate the rich from the poor. The city within the domes is affluent, clean and often beautiful—the parts of cities you see on post-cards or Google-image searches—and the massive domes provide artificial skies and sunlight. The city outside the domes are run-down, dirty and bleak—the parts of cities you see when you actually drive through the cities in post-card—and are fully exposed to the “real sky”, a perpetually overcast sky where the Sun, stars and Moon are never visible.
On one side of the city is an ocean, where hundreds of drowned skyscrapers peak out from the water’s surface. On the other side of the city is a vast, desolate wasteland—a desert where even more of the city’s past is buried beneath the sand (evidenced by images of buried buildings, abandoned military outposts and even a sand-covered amusement park).
It is suggested that there is no civilization outside of Paradigm City—no countries or other cities beyond the ocean and the desert—but there is a mysterious group known as “The Union”, led by Vera Rondstadt, who are comprised of “foreigners”. However, even the legitimacy of these people being “foreigners” is called into question.
There are a number of other factions in Paradigm City in addition to The Union, but the two most important ones are the Military Police, led by Dan Datsun, and the Paradigm Corporation, led by Alex Rosewater. The Military Police act, as the name would imply, as both the domestic police force and the military army of Paradigm City, though they are also work under Paradigm Corp as the corporation’s “watchdogs”. Paradigm Corp essentially controls or rules over Paradigm City and all the organizations and business within the city.
It is remarked at one point that a business Roger is asked to work for is controlled by a parent company, and Roger states that anytime “parent company” is mentioned, it inevitably refers to Paradigm Corp.
The nature, design and isolation of Paradigm City, the perpetually gray skies and the drowned and buried cityscape surrounding Paradigm City are all a result of the City’s past.
No one in Paradigm City can remember anything prior to 40 years ago, though there are many relics of the past—such as the titular mecha, Big O—and many citizens of Paradigm City have scattered or partial memories of the past. While these memories play a large part in the show, they are also a great mystery in the show, even after its conclusion
What we can surmise from these memories, and from revelations throughout the show, is that there was some great and likely worldwide catastrophe 40 years ago. We are shown visions of Paradigm City engulfed in flame. Giant mechas known as Megadeus, or the plural Megadei, are rampaging through the streets or flying through the skies. While there are only three individual Megadei in the show’s present time—Big O, Big Duo and Big Fau, with a number of other “Bigs” that don’ qualify as Megadei—in the memories of 40 years ago, we see vast armies of Megadei.
Hundreds of Big O mechas march through the streets, with hundreds of Big Duos flying through the sky, and at least one Big Fau. On top of this, we see a number of other “Bigs” battling the Megadei, many of which are also present throughout the contemporary story of Big O.
In addition to the Megadei, there are also human-esque androids that have survived from the past. While most of these androids are quite obviously robotic, a few of them, such as R Dorothy Wayneright (one of the main characters of the show). The existence of androids like Dorothy also calls into question who is and who isn’t an android. These androids were constructed in the past, and only a few survivors of the past apocalypse remember how to construct androids. The same goes for the Megadei—only a few people know how to construct or repair the Megadei, and even fewer know what the nature or purpose of the Megadei are.
With the past ever-looming over the present events of Big O, the plot revolves around Roger Smith, Paradigm City’s “top negotiator” (or just, “The Negotiator”) and the pilot of the Megadeus, Big O. While working for a plethora of clients throughout the City as “The Negotiator”, Roger Smith secretly pilots Big O and protects the residents of the City from various attacks and catastrophes, and slowly works to unravel the history and the secrets of Paradigm City.
The protagonist of Big O is, of course, Roger Smith and his Megadeus, Big O.
Roger Smith is characterized as a sort of Bruce Wayne/Batman character: a wealthy individual who possesses an array of technology and resources, and secretly protects the city as the pilot of Big O (which could be argued is Roger Smith’s alter ego). Roger Smith as The Negotiator works outside of the various political and social forces of Paradigm City, and, as the pilot of Big O, works outside the law.
At one point in the rememberable past, Roger Smith worked as a Military Police, but left, presumably, because of the police’s connection to Paradigm Corp and the resulting corruption of the police. Nonetheless, Roger is still friends with and frequently works in tandem with one of the primary officers/commanders of the MP, Dan Datsun.
However, as the history of Paradigm City unfolds, Roger Smith’s character likewise unfolds. It is suggested that Roger Smith is a creation of the Paradigm Corporation. It is also suggested that Roger Smith was one of many “creations” of the Paradigm Corporation from the City’s past, and even, possibly, a member or associate of Paradigm City.
If one reads between the lines a bit, it may even be that Roger Smith himself is an android (and once you see it, it’s hard to unsee it). For me, this is evidenced in Roger Smith’s mannerisms and behavior throughout the show, particularly in Roger’s dialogues with Dorothy. Roger’s speech patterns, logical processes and behavior seems to mirror Dorothy’s own, much more pronounced mechanical behavior and logic.
Dorothy is probably the second-most primary character in the show, though her place in the show is often rivaled with Angel (who plays arguably the largest role in the show’s conclusion).
R Dorothy Wayneright is an android created by Miguel Soldano, who was commissioned to create her by the affluent Timothy Wayneright. Timothy Wayneright presumably had a now-deceased human daughter named Dorothy, whom the android Dorothy was modeled after.
The show begins with Roger saving Dorothy as a part of his contract with Soldano, learning after this that Dorothy has a “sister” who is in fact a giant mech, or Big, who Roger defeats in robot-combat. Dorothy eventually decides to stay with Roger in his mansion and work for him out of gratitude. While initially she mostly does housework alongside Roger’s butler, Norman, she begins assisting Norman with the repair and maintenance of Big O and aids Roger in his negotiation contracts and his giant robot side hustle.
Dorothy is a unique android in several ways. While most androids in the city follow Asimov’s three rules of robotics, Dorothy frequently does not, particularly in her relationship with Roger (though this may be evidence of Roger’s own robotic nature). In addition to her passive aggression and, at times, blatant insults towards Roger, she begins developing a romantic attraction towards Roger, which, to the despair of Dorothy, Roger denies. This also shows that Dorothy is capable of human emotion, particularly jealousy, but she also is shown to possess other human capacities, such as fear, sadness, contempt, self-awareness, and (in one short but glorious shot) smugness.
Dorothy is also one of a few androids who appears on the surface level to be entirely human, and Dorothy has some sort of unexplained connection to Big O. On top of this, she has some sort of empathic connection to other “Bigs” and other androids or machines.
Angel appears early on in the show, going by the alias Casseey Jones, and then later as Patricia Lovejoy. After calling herself “Angel”, Roger remarks that she is a “Fallen Angel”. Angel works for Paradigm Corp, though she seems to have her own agenda. Later, it is revealed that Angel is a part of the Union, which is a group of foreigners living outside of Paradigm City (though it is mentioned by their leader, Vera, that they were actually “cast out” of Paradigm City 40 years ago) who rebel against Paradigm Corp/City.
Angel often works either alongside Roger Smith, or at odds with Roger Smith—their motivations and agendas oscillating between allyship and conflict. However, as the show progresses, Angel and Roger seem to develop a romantic relationship, which is at odds with Dorothy’s romantic attachment to Roger (which at one point results in Dorothy’s aforementioned smugness).
It is later revealed that Angel has two scars going down her back, which is even later suggested to be where “wings” have been “cut off”. There are frequent allusions to Angel being Lucifer, or something equivalent in the story’s narrative. In the show’s conclusion, she becomes the pilot of Big Venus, the fourth Megadeus. Big Venus—Venus being an allusion to the Morningstar, being a name for Lucifer—essentially “resets” the show and returns Paradigm City to the amnesic state it was at the beginning of Big O.
Schwarzwald (“Black Forest” in German) is only an active character in a handful of episodes, but he is a major character in these episodes, and his presence is felt throughout the show—particularly in philosophical narrations permeating the show, even after his death.
Schwarzwald, born Michael Seebach, is the pilot of the Megadeus, Big Duo, and is motivated towards exposing the truth of Paradigm City’s corruption, its many secrets and its forgotten past. In addition towards this motivation, which he frequently gives manic monologues about, he seems to revere the Megadei as godly creations, or perhaps even as gods themselves (the Megadei and other Bigs as gods being a semi-frequent theme throughout the show).
Schwarzwald uses his Megadeus, Big Duo, to combat Roger Smith and Big O, but, while initially having the upper hand, is finally defeated by Roger and “dies” in the event. However, it is implied that Schwarzwald’s “ghost” may still be lingering in the City, still searching for the Truth.
Alex and Gordon Rosewater
Alex Rosewater is the leader of Paradigm Corp, the corporation in control of Paradigm City, and eventually becomes the pilot of Big Fau, the “Third Big” or third Megadeus. Alex Rosewater looks down on the poor population of Paradigm City, who reside outside the domes, and uses the Military Police to pursue his own goals, rather than for the protection of the City. Alex possesses something like a God Complex, and believes himself to be a superior Dominus to Roger Smith (“Dominus” being a term referring to the pilot of a Megadeus).
However, while Big Fau seems to be technologically superior to Big O, Alex does not seem to be as capable of a pilot as Roger and cannot maintain control over Big Fau as Roger maintains control over Big O.
Gordon Rosewater is the father of Alex Rosewater, and in some ways seems to be the ultimate “king” or patriarch of Paradigm City. He was in charge of Paradigm Corp before Alex was, and it is revealed that the construction of the contemporary Paradigm City (the domes, in particular) and the construction of androids was done under Gordon’s rule.
In the present times of Paradigm City/Corp, Gordon resides in his own personal dome where he lives on a large and beautiful farm and raises tomato crops. The tomato crops are implied to be something of a metaphor for Gordon’s creations—including the androids, “humans” such as Roger and Alex, and possibly even the Megadei themselves. After Roger Smith’s first encounter with Gordon Rosewater, Roger begins questioning if he himself “is a tomato”—a creation, crop and commodity of Gordon and Paradigm Corp.
While Big O and the other Megadei aren’t necessarily characters in the same sense that Roger Smith, Dorothy, Angel and so on are, they do play an integral role to the plot and history of the show, and it is frequently implied that they possess some level of sentience. The Megadei and other Bigs are also semi-frequently referred to or revered as gods.
The three primary Megadei are Big O, Big Duo and Big Fau. With frequent allusions throughout the show to Behemoth and Leviathan from Judeo-Christian myth and lore, it has been speculated that the three Megadei are partially symbolic of Behemoth, Leviathan and Ziz, Big O is entirely land-based, which would align with Behemoth, a giant land monstere; Big Duo is capable of flight, with the Ziz being a flying creature in Jewish mythology; and Big Fau is capable of maneuvering through water, with the Leviathan being a sea creature.
While typically not included in the roster of primary Megadei, there is the fourth Megadeus, Big Venus, which, as stated before, could be symbolic of Lucifer. This may also complete the metaphor of land, air and water, with Lucifer often being associated to fire (the “fourth element” of classical philosophy and alchemic writings). In the conclusion of Big O, Big Venus seems to be the force that brings an end to the current iteration of Paradigm City, resulting in the new era of Paradigm City where everyone has lost their memory once again.
In addition to the three/four primary Bigs, there are a number of other Bigs, as well as giant monsters, including (but not limited to):
– Dorothy-1, Dorothy’s Big sister
– The Archetype, a proto-Megadeus that appeared in one of the Schwarzwald
– Bonaparte, a Big controlled by the Union
– The Bigs created by Beck, various Bigs created and controlled by the recurring side character, a criminal known as Beck
– Eel and Hydra Eel, organic Bigs that utilized electricity (which appear both in the contemporary story and in memories of the past)
– Leviathan, a serpent-like mechanical Big that came from the desert
Structural and Literary Analysis
As you may have surmised from my “brief” summary of Big O, there are a lot of details and moving parts to this anime, as well as many things I didn’t mention.
I’ve only “briefly” discussed the main components of the anime, and there are single episodes that could have their own, individual analyses written over them. Just like Big O’s Big Brother, Neon Genesis, there’s too much to comprehensively discuss in one analysis, so—like I did with NGE—this analysis will be a broader exploration of the show, attempting to provide something more like a foundation or framework to understand the many individual components of the show.
Hopefully, however, this will be a shorter analysis.
First, we have to examine the setting of Big O, Paradigm City.
Paradigm City has as handful of major components: its history, its design and the ocean and desert surrounding it.
However, while the design of Paradigm City and the geography it is embedded within are meaningful, the history of the City is most important to understanding Big O.
Paradigm City is a city with amnesia. No one can remember anything about its history prior to 40 years ago, with the exception of a small number of people who can recall fragments of its past in brief glimpses.
At the conclusion of Big O, Paradigm City is essentially reset to its initial state at the beginning of Big O. The City is being rebuilt, and, presumably, none of the characters remember the events that took place throughout the anime. There are implications that Paradigm City has changed after its latest “apocalypse”, with the City still partially destroyed and Angel and Dorothy being shown together, possibly as friends or companions rather than beginning the show not knowing each other.
However, we can also presume that the state of Paradigm City at the beginning of the show was different than the state of Paradigm City prior to 40 years ago, and we can presume that history will repeat itself again.
This, in many ways, is the state of society and civilization as it is now—as it ever is, was and will be in “the now”.
While our history looms over us as an ever-present ghost, or maybe more accurately as a revenant, so much of our history is lost to us. Even the history that we can remember, the brief glimpses of the past that is recorded in our history books, is lost to most of us. We are so caught up in the tides of the present that we forget the lessons of the past.
And with this forgetting of the past, we forget our place in history. Nietzsche described Modern Humanity as begin disassociated from the rest of history, as being unmoored from its past, and so having no clear understanding of who or what they are, what their place, purpose or meaning in existence is, and no understanding of where to move on from here.
With Paradigm City’s past being so shrouded, it’s nearly impossible to understand the ongoing, historical narrative that one is a part of.
It is implied that the Megadei were created, and even mass produced, by Paradigm Corp under the rule of Gordon Rosewater, but what was their function or purpose? Why were they created and what was their function?
We don’t even necessarily know that Gordon and his intentions were evil, as his character is highly ambivalent to the plot and meaning of the show. If we don’t know what happened 40 years ago and why it happened, then how can we understand what is currently happening.
In addition, it is implied that androids, even Roger Smith androids, were created and mass produced by Gordon/Paradigm Corp. What were their purposes? Roger Smith is shown in a flashback as wearing a military uniform while piloting one of the mass produced Big O’s during the great event that resulted in the end of the previous historical era. It is also revealed that Roger Smith as The Negotiator had a contract with Gordon Rosewater prior to 40 years ago, which is contrasted to Roger’s current distrust and contempt towards Paradigm Corp. What was Roger Smith’s purpose?
And what does Roger Smith’s shrouded history say about his current purpose in the present era?
Why does Robert Smith pilot Big O? Why is he The Negotiator? Why does he disdain Paradigm Corp, and why is he constantly seeking the Truth of Paradigm City’s history?
While Schwarzwald in many ways is a foil to Roger Smith, he is also a mirrored image to Roger Smith. Just like Roger Smith, Schwarzwald seeks the Truth, battles against the perceived corruption of the City, and pilots the Megadeus, Big Duo.
Schwarzwald might in fact be the underlying or unconscious manifestation of Roger’s obsession with uncovering the secrets of the past and present, and his motivation to do good for the world. Schwarzwald is like a ghost throughout the show—a spirit that refuses to die, even after physical destruction. Schwarzwald is the manic, unconscious motivations we shroud and repress, but that still emerge from beneath our surfaces in all our beliefs, motivations and actions.
This repression, however, may be healthy. The irony of Schwarzwald’s search for the Truth is how blind he is to his own actions and decisions. Where Roger is tempered by his self-awareness and his awareness of the ethics of his actions, Schwarzwald is reckless and blind to the destruction his own pursuit of Truth and righteous vindication engender upon the innocent and down-trodden.
Here, we can find something I’ve personally been thinking quite a lot about lately: the relationship of moral values and the resulting actions and motivations.
Schwarzwald is obsessed with uncovering the Truth and executing vengeance upon Paradigm Corp/City. These are his highest values.
However, while these values are important to Roger, they are subordinated under his desire to protect the citizens of Paradigm City. Whatever Roger’s past is, whatever his purpose and role in Paradigm City was and is, he is driven by his current moral obligation to protect the City.
Roger even mentions on several occasions that he is not defined by the past—something Gordon Rosewater also mentions. Gordon at one point says that he hopes one of his creations can break free of its pre-ordained purpose or role, and decide its own fate.
Still, it is ambivalent whether this is accomplished or even possible.
If Roger was a soldier and Megadeus pilot prior to 40 years ago, as well as a Negotiator working under Gordon Rosewater, and if Roger became a Military Police member before once again becoming The Negotiator and pilot of Big O, then has Roger simply returned to his prior role? And will he return to this role with the resetting of society?
Has and will Roger always be a soldier, Negotiator and Megadeus pilot whose role in the grand narrative of Paradigm City always been to protect the citizens of the civilization?
And one final, and quite obvious note, on Paradigm City and Paradigm Corp is the name itself, “Paradigm”.
The original and primary definition of a paradigm is as a pattern, a reoccurring set of events or circumstances, or an underlying structure.
Plato used the idea of a paradigm in his metaphysical notion of the Demiurge creating reality from a model or pattern.
Merriam-Webster defines a paradigm as “a philosophical and theoretical framework of a scientific school or discipline within which theories, laws, and generalizations and the experiments performed in support of them are formulated; broadly: a philosophical or theoretical framework of any kind.”
When speaking more cynically about a paradigm in the context of society, government, law, etc., the paradigm of a society is essentially the ruling ideology, the ruling narrative or the ruling way of thinking and being. While the definition of paradigm is a complicated one, the use of paradigm in Big O in all its complexity may be intentional.
In this way, Paradigm City may be a City of Patterns, a City of Eternal Reoccurrence. But, Paradigm City may also be referring to the ruling ideology that permeates a society or culture.
The Paradigm, on the surface, may be the oppressive and dominant paradigm of the City’s rulers and elite—the paradigm created by Alex and Gordon Rosewater. But underlying this, the Paradigm of Big O may be the cyclical pattern of history, and the cyclical pattern of roles that individuals play in that history.
Roger’s paradigm is that of protector and Negotiator—mediating between the citizens and the higher powers of Paradigm City.
In concordance with a paradigm is a paradigm shift, a revolution in the ways of thinking. While this idea of a paradigm shift originated and is used more in the sciences—with Einstein and Darwin being two of the biggest examples of people who caused a paradigm shift—the idea can be applied to nearly anything with an ideological, legal, social or philosophical framework.
In Big O, the paradigm shift is the shift in society Alex Rosewater and Vera Ronstadt both seek.
Alex Rosewater as the figurehead of Paradigm Corp seeks to cleanse the city of “undesirables” (poor people, essentially, but also foreigners and others) and create a better, more perfect world. Vera Ronstadt as the figurehead of the Union seeks to destroy Paradigm Corp and create a world that accepts the “undesirables”, and possibly even where the “undesirables” are in power.
It could be argued (though it would be a pretty reductionist argument) that these two forces and their desired paradigm shift are equivalent to the two primary political forces, particularly in Western society: Liberalism and Conservatism. However, the term “Liberal” has been somewhat bastardized as of late, so a better comparison would probably be: Progressivism and Conservatism.
At their ultimate examples, Communism and Fascism (in many ways similar, but still the hyper-products of far-left-wing and far-right-wing politics), we see direct parallels to Paradigm Corp and The Union. The Union seeks a grand levelling of a society, essentially calling for a destruction of culture where the disempowered rule, and Paradigm Corp seeks a grand cleansing of a society, essentially calling for a Holocaust of those outside the ruling culture where the empowered rule.
Angel, who works both for Paradigm Corp and the Union, and is frequently allied with Roger Smith, sits squarely in the middle of this Paradigm Shift, and inevitably is the driver of the final Paradigm Shift resulting in a New World, or new iteration of Paradigm City. She is the pilot of the Big Venus, the Morningstar—the Lucifer or Light-Bearer of the apocalypse who brings about and oversees the final battle of the revolutionary moment.
Not only this, it is (confusingly) revealed that Angel is the daughter of Vera Ronstadt and/or Gordon Rosewater—the Matriarch of the Union and Patriarch of Paradigm Corp/City. Angel worked throughout the show on both sides, working both for Alex Rosewater and for the Union.
And Roger Smith is the Negotiator, the person mediating between these two political forces. Roger is both a wealthy, powerful elite himself and is the protector of the average citizen, and he ultimately stands as the savior of Paradigm City. Roger Smith mediates between the various conflicting forces of society, and, in the end, confronts Angel as the revived pilot of the Morningstar.
The destruction of society and culture is stopped, the average citizen and the down-trodden are saved, and the cycle of history begins once again.
Now, there is still more to get into here, and this is in part where Big O starts to fray.
There is still the matter of the androids—of Roger as an android/tomato—and the Megadei. While these do fit within the underlying theme of the reoccurring conflicts and the revolutions of society, they can distract from this underlying theme, both philosophically and narratively or as events/plot points in the show.
So, the androids. The androids are creations of the state, creations of Paradigm Corp. In the end of the show, there are a few moments that imply everyone might be an android, or at least that it’s impossibly to really know who is and who isn’t an android. This could mean that everyone is a product of the state—everyone is a tomato, or a crop that is grown and harvested by the ruling class of society.
Roger, for example, often goes into existential spirals wondering if he is in fact a tomato, and this, connecting back with the cyclical paradigm shifts of history, gets into a question of free will.
Free will has always been a topic that comes up with Artificial Intelligence or Robotics of any kind, and one of our biggest fears is that sentient machines will rise up against us. Maybe this is the same fear that those in the ruling class have of those they rule: they will gain a higher sentience and self-awareness, causing them to rise up against those in power.
However, free will in Big O is more nuanced and much more personal than this. It isn’t necessarily about political movements, it’s also about us as individuals. Do we have free will? Or are we pawns in the machinations of culture at large?
For Roger, are his actions free? Or is his role in society pre-ordained by history and by contemporary culture?
There’s some ambivalence here though, because perhaps having this role in society is necessary. While Roger’s actions both reset the cycles of history and return him and everyone else to a more blissfully ignorant state, he does in fact save Paradigm City—moreover, the innocent people of Paradigm City.
And, there’s even more ambivalence here. Who is actually in charge of these roles? Who is in control of the narrative? Alex Rosewater certainly isn’t in control of the narrative, or in control of the roles people play in the narrative. If he was, Angel and Roger wouldn’t have “won” (or whatever you’d call what happened).
Gordon Rosewater certainly doesn’t seem to be in control of anything by the end of the show. Vera isn’t in control. Angel isn’t in control. Roger isn’t in control.
So what is in control? What is the paradigm or source of the paradigm that pre-ordains the narratives and roles of society? Is this simply “how things are”? Is this simply how things always were and always will be?
And of course, to follow Roger’s personal desire and Gordon’s desire for his creations, will it ever be possible to break out of this paradigm?
And would we want to break out of this paradigm? What would happen if we did? What would that reality be like?
And how could we break out of this paradigm without actually being an unknowing participant in the paradigm?
Is the act of trying to break free of these pre-ordained structures, narratives and roles in fact a part of the paradigm itself? Is the act of trying to obtain free will a part of what creates, drives or perpetuates the paradigm?
And finally, the Megadei.
Borrowing a bit from my Neon Genesis analysis, the Megadei and the other Bigs can likely be seen as a number of things, but, most relevantly, the Megadei are like transcendent manifestations of various aspects or forces within the paradigm.
The Megadei and the Bigs are manifestations of the various conflicting forces, ideologies, motivations within the grand narrative of Big O.
Big O is the manifestation of Roger and Roger’s motivations:
– Big O being the “Behemoth” or land creature is “grounded” or terrestrial, rooted in the reality of everyday people and everyday existence
– Roger seeks to protect the people of Paradigm City; Big O is the ultimate protector of Paradigm City
– Roger seeks to mediate between the various forces of Paradigm City; Big O is the vehicle that meets Big Venus in the end to “compromise” on a new society or reality
– Roger seeks free will and the ability to act as his own individual; Big O is that power, or at least what gives Roger the ability to act as his own individual
Big Duo is the manifestation of Schwarzwald and Schwarzwald’s desire to seek the truth and strike vengeance on Paradigm Corp/City. Big Duo is literally “above it all”, Big Duo is capable of flight, and is capable of reaching heights that are impossible to reach for the other Megadei. Schwarzwald is also blind to his own actions, blind to what his manic ambitions to him and others. The final destruction of Big Duo flying into one of the lights at the top of the dome alludes to Icarus, and mirrors Schwarzwald’s desire to see the truth of the artificiality of Paradigm City. Schwarzwald as a ghost or spirit might be manifested in the “resurrection” of Big Duo later in the show.
Big Fau is the manifestation of Alex and Alex’s motivation. It is gaudy, it is technologically superior, and it is used to bring about the destruction of the undesirable aspects of Paradigm City. In addition, Alex throughout the show believes he is in control of everything, including Big Fau, but in the end is just a pawn himself. Big Fau acts on its own accord, and seems to control Alex more than Alex controls Big Fau.
The list goes on.
Beck’s Bigs are gaudy, useless, lack the capabilities the other Bigs have.
Bonaparte, the Big controlled by the Union, is an amalgamation of various other Bigs, just as the Union is an amalgamation of various foreigners of different backgrounds, lower class individuals from different walks of life, and even androids and human-android hybrids such as Alan Gabriel.
Big Venus is a manifestation of Angel as “the fallen angel”, as the central figure in the paradigm shift, and as the child of two conflicting political forces (the creation of God that eventually opposes God and brings about Armageddon), but also more literally as the Morningstar, as the light heralding the new day (the new day being the new cycle of history).
The Archetype is the manifestation of the unconscious and unconscious forces, but also of the past and the underlying influence the past has on the present.
The Eel, Electric City as a blue collar residence eventually used by the Union; the Construction Robot, working class hijacked by the Union; Chimera, the horrors of science; Osrail, the revenant of revenge; Eumenides, a Big used for assassination/vengeance.
The Megadei and the Bigs are all the manifestations of some grand, underlying force of society. They are a collective of individuals who share an ideology or common motivations, or they are an inevitable force of culture and society, which emerges as a grander force or active agent.
The only exception might be Big O, as Big O might be more of a manifestation of individuality itself. However, even if Big O is this manifestation of individuality (Roger the “Negotiator” being the Ego of the psyche), Big O might be a manifestation of the collective desire for individuality present in society.
And while I could go on for several thousand more words on giant robots, this is a good place to stop.
Big O, like its Big Brother, NGE, is a dense, complicated and opaque anime.
There’s a lot to digest, and it doesn’t give its secrets away readily.
I remember watching this show as a wee lad and being both incredibly excited by the giant robot fights and incredibly confused by everything else. But, even as a young lad, I knew there was something to this anime.
As an older lad, I still love the robot fights and am still incredibly confused by everything else, but I think less confused.
The show is definitely underrated, and I don’t think it or many other giant robot anime have been given the proper acknowledgement or understanding they deserve. The metaphors I’ve discussed, both in this analysis and the NGE analysis, of robots being manifestations of socio-cultural, individual and potentially metaphysical forces and realities are grossly under-analyzed and under-appreciated.
Still, Big O doesn’t do itself any favors.
I’ve simplified the show quite a bit, and so it might sound like I’ve got Big O pinned down, but I really don’t.
Big O feels like it contradicts itself, or that it’s confused as to what it’s trying to portray, but the show is such an elusive tangle of exposition and events at times that many of these internal contradictions and confusions are nearly impossible to even pin down.
It might simply be the execution in parts of the show, and the show did have a somewhat rocky production at times, but so did Neon Genesis—so do most shows and movies.
It could be that Big O was trying to do too much—to be too much—and that the show became too cluttered with its own aesthetics and its own ambitions.
It could also be that I’m a dull, incompetent, uncultured swine who doesn’t understand the nuances of modernist neo-noir/giant-robot/vintage-sci-fi fusion anime, and I’ve certainly taken this into consideration.
Still, I do think the best way to see where Big O went wrong is to look at where Neon Genesis went right.
Both shows are incredibly complicated, dense and opaque, rife with tangled philosophy and psychology, and both possess a large cast of complex characters.
However, Neon Genesis had a solid focal point or central plot-mover that moored the complexity of the show: the battles between Eva and Angel.
Big O doesn’t have this focal point to the same degree.
The show is about Roger Smith working as The Negotiator, and all the shenanigans he gets into. It’s also about Roger Smith protecting Paradigm City with Big O. It’s also about Roger Smith uncovering the truth of Paradigm City and its past. It’s also about Roger Smith’s conflict with Paradigm Corp and Alex Rosewater. It’s also about a lot of other things.
While Neon Genesis had many sub-plots, tangential exposition, and labyrinthian character development, the entire show, from start to finish, was focused on the Eva-Angel conflict, which, ultimately, was about the Third Impact.
The events of the past were the result of previous Impacts, the present events were the inevitable steps leading to the Third Impact, and the finale of the series was the Third Impact.
While, yes, the various focuses of Big O were all centered on the apocalypse of the previous era, and the finale of Big O was the new apocalypse that brought about the next era, these were all too disassociated from many of the events of Big O. It didn’t feel centered, and Neon Genesis was very powerfully centered on the Eva-Angel and Third Impact plot.
Maybe Big O was too opaque. Maybe it didn’t give us enough information, and the information it did give us was hand-fed and little was left to the imagination. The pieces of the puzzle were always present in Neon Genesis, and we were given the freedom to put a few of the pieces in ourselves; whereas the pieces of Big O’s puzzle were like disparate islands that eventually (kinda) came together in the end, but only by the hands of its creators.
Big O is nonetheless a terrific anime. It’s flawed, but everything is flawed.
The confusion and schizophrenic plot development of Big O might just be the confusion and schizophrenic state of modernity as it is. Big O is cluttered: life is cluttered. Big O is confusing: life is confusing. Big O is scattered, the pieces don’t all fit perfectly, and a few are missing: have you figured out life yet?
And flaws aside, when the pieces of Big O are put together, they’re absolutely brilliant. What the creators of Big O tried to do—and the things they did do—were incredible and impressive.
Flaws aside, Big O is a fun fucking anime. The setting of Paradigm City is wicked cool; the constant mystery mixed with the action mixed with the retro-modern aesthetic is A+; the characters can be a lil’ flat at times, but they’re still great and very memorable; and the giant robots and monsters are sick, bruh.
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.
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.
“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?
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.
“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?
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.
“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’ 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.”
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.
“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.
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.
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
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.
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 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, 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.
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.
So many foreign worlds So relatively fucked So ready for us So ready for us The creature fear
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 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.
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’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 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 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 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.