Hailing from Los Angeles, CA, Miguel Pichardo’s artwork has an incredibly unique, psychedelic blend of surrealism, abstraction and Gonzo-style artwork, which span across a tremendous breadth of style. Miguel and I first got in contact with each other over a year ago when I wrote my first article on him, and since then, his body of work has grown tremendously. In addition to talking about his recent developments in art, Miguel and I talked about his own growth as an artist over the last year, and the influence spirituality has had on Miguel and his art.
Since the last time we spoke, over a year ago, Miguel’s artwork has been getting more and more attention, including a restaurant and cafes his art has been featured in, including the Jesus Wall Brewery Artwalk in LA, and a number of projects and galleries he’s been involved with. Notably, Miguel has been working with Puzzle Crazy, a puzzle-making company who has been turning some of Miguel’s artwork into puzzles, and Miguel’s art was put into in the Pacha Moma Art Museum as a permanent installation.
For any major art lovers reading this, Pacha Moma is an insanely cool museum that features some incredibly talented and imaginative artists (so it’s no surprise Miguel has been featured here). I’ll post links to them, as well as links to Puzzle Crazy, at the end of the article.
Another major aspect to Miguel’s artwork is his focus over the last year on being able to connect more with his art and art process on a more intuitive level.
“Currently what I been doing with my work is that I’ve been practicing letting ‘the flow’ take over and kinda in a way let it create itself. I’ve found so much pleasure and satisfaction through that technique. I’ve gotten countless commission offers, but I turned them all down for the reason that I am focusing my time on creating what I enjoy. 2019 was a very magical year for me, if you will. I learned a lot about myself, as well as directing myself where I want to be. So yes, the goal for the future to me is becoming more clear.
“[…] I used to do it and it would take me hours to get in that zone. And now that I understand better that ‘zone’ I can tap into it faster. Some people also call it the ‘flow zone’ like you become fluent with your craft. Which create real master pieces. I believe.”
This style of creating art becomes especially impressive when you take into consideration the amount of detail in each piece. The ideas seem to be pouring out of Miguel’s head onto his canvas.
I think one piece that epitomizes this improvisational style is Miguel’s painting, “Jazz”. Named after one of the most improvisational and wildly flowing styles of music, “Jazz” zig-zags, twists, curls and loops across the canvas like a vision of controlled chaos. There’s somehow both a precision and a wildness to this painting. Miguel talked a bit about “Jazz” with me:
“I love this one for its simple yet powerful composition. What this piece represents to me is just the vibe of jazz the motion the rhythm the emotion of it. This piece brought back memories of my buddie Grover who has passed away. When I was a kid, he would express to me how much he loved bebop. As I was creating this piece I had him in mind as well. At the time I was have trouble with pricing my work. I finally stuck with a price and the piece sold for the price of $2000 which for me was a sign to have faith in my gut feelings or my intuition.”
While Miguel’s style can vary quite a bit from piece to piece, in general, this wild energy of controlled chaos is practically a staple in Miguel’s artwork. Some of them seem almost alive with movement and personality.
Once you get to know Miguel’s style enough, it’s impossible to mistake for anyone else’s style, but it’s still difficult to pin that style down, as it can vary so much from piece to piece. Some paintings, like his recent painting, “Cosmic Siren”, or his painting, “La Catrina”, have a heavy Cubist influence on them, while others range in style from Kandinsky-style abstraction to Ralph Steadman’s Gonzo-style of art. Still, Miguel’s art, though similar in many ways to these styles, blends these elements as much as it breaks free of any of these molds.
In pieces like “The Buddha” and “Enat”, there’s a mix of some realism, and then a sort of static or sheen of color—clouds, lines, splatters, constellations, swirls, sprays.
With “The Buddha”, the Buddha’s eyes have been replaced by twin nebulae of specks, spots, dots and blots. Miguel almost creates a new atmosphere, or a new fabric of reality in some of his pieces. Maybe he’s peeled back the mundane, crisp and clean surface of material reality, and revealed the chaos beneath it all.
“Enat” more deeply enters the realm of realism, though it depicts the ancient and somewhat abstract “Venus of Willendorf”, but even hear, there is that slight mushroom-haze of specs and spots and spatterings of color. This same messy atmosphere or peeled back reality can be found in a wide variety of pieces.
Miguel’s still life paintings, “Florero de Septiembre” and “Still Life Cacophany” are rich and dense with this atmosphere. In “Florero de Septiembre”, the air and the color of the background seem tangible, like I could reach out and grab the fabric of yellow-golden light, hold it like it was clay, or like the air itself was paint. “Still Life Cacophany” is an explosion of colors and lines coming alive with extradimensional energy. Here the blurred lines of slight realism and wild abstraction make the painting feel like its exploding both in front of you, and like the image is coming alive and moving in your head while you’re looking at it.
And with others paintings, the fabric of reality seems to erode even further. “Magic Clown” and “Al Fin de la Jornada” are barely clinging on to any semblance of realism. Small threads of realistic detail tie them to something tangible, but a surreal madness has all but overcome the paintings’ subjects.
With “Magic Clown”, the edges of objects have frayed in many places, and in other places, complete chaos has poured out or emerged forth onto the canvas. The crown of the clown’s head is all but nonexistent, and some unbounded limbo-world is exploding out of it. In “Al Fin de la Jornada”, reality has given way to geometric forms blooming out of the subject’s neck, shoulders and chest. Their mouth has transformed into pillars and skyscrapers of lines and color that run off the edge of his face.
When all semblance of reality breaks down, when humans people are little more than the colors and shapes of ideas of personalities, a psychic geometry of identity, we find highly abstract pieces like “The Sheriff in Town”, “My Anxiety Yesterday”, and “Una Noche”. Pieces like these show an almost final breakdown of reality, where anything tangible or bounded becomes almost formless.
Still, this doesn’t fully describe Miguel’s broad range of style. There’s collages of colliding faces and forms, such as with “Relajate”, or psychedelic fauvist art, reminiscient of Alex Grey, such as “Mama Pacha”. There’s jaw-dropping blends of styles, such as with “Look Forward”, and there’s even a painting of Patrick star losing his mind on acid with “Patrick Star ‘Woah’”.
I can try and articulate these things to you, and I can try to box Miguel’s artwork into this category or that category, but you’ll have to go look at more of his artwork with your own eyes to really get his unique style.
Much of this unique style comes from Miguel’s own spiritual connection to his work.
“This is one of my favorite pieces it’s titled ‘Spiritual Being’ which is basically a self-portrait of my spirit. The significance of this piece is basically the awareness of my connection to the great spirit and that I am a part of it and that I have complete faith in it. As well as gratitude. On the right side you can kinda see another face. Which to me is my spiritual mother. I believe she has always been with me guiding and protecting me
“[…] The hands up on the being (me) signify surrendering to god or the ‘light source’, which creates or births faith, which in many circumstances has brought me peace and understanding.
“The great spirit, or God, or source or the universe I believe to be everything literally. I believe that we are all connected to everything in many different ways. I believe there is so much that we can’t even imagine, imagining the entirety of ‘it’. I believe it is so complex that that we as humans cannot fathom in anyway. So yes, my belief is closer to Native Americans’.
“And yes, ‘Spiritual Being’ the piece was not planned in anyway. It just came out as I went. I built on it. And after I finished it I looked at it for a while and saw the significance in it..but as you can see on the piece . It is in mostly rainbow color and pattern. Which to me represents light. I believe we are in our highest connection with god when we are in light form. A rainbow is created by light. The half skull half human face represents that I am aware of what will happen after death. For I believe I’ve died already in this life once. That’s a long story. But what I experienced was the most significant thing that had ever happened to me hands down. But to answer your question yes. I believe My consciousness or intuition guided me in doing the piece. And the reason I found out after I did it.”
This spiritual connection is evident throughout much of Miguel’s work, which features a wide range of religious themes and iconography. These pieces include “The Buddha”, “Mama Pacha”, “Duality”, “Reborn”, and an untitled drawing with a Mother Mary-like figure. However, this spirituality may spill over into other pieces that might not be overtly religious.
In many religions, just as Miguel mentioned, the Great Spirit, the One God or Monad, the Source, the thing from which reality emerged is everywhere and in everything. From beautiful, cloudy skies to incomprehensibly large galaxies to city streets and empty parking lots. This Spirit fills everything in the universe, permeates it just like atoms and molecules, and likewise, this Spirit might be filling each of Miguel’s pieces of artwork.
In addition to spirituality, Miguel discussed the inspiration for one of his pieces, “Waiting in Time”, and how he’s changed throughout his life:
“This one is titled, ‘Waiting in Time’. What it represents is an adolescent me waiting for answers to all my questions. Closure to all my doubts. Around the time I was working on the piece I was receiving some of those answers and closure. And that’s one example on how 2019 was very mystical or magical for me. I was finally using consciousness to bring in what I was waiting for. Even though there are many other favorites of mine.
“[…] I feel like yes, I have changed a lot since that way of thinking. The state of mind I tried to portray in ‘Waiting in Time’ I now understand why I went through all those challenges that I went through as an adolescent which were like karmic cycles repeating so that I can understand more about ‘the afterlife’ understand not anchoring yourself to materialistic state of mind, or to practice living without ego. Which I haven’t accomplished. I believe I now understand and need to start practicing that life style more and more. So that’s the current position I feel I’m in. I feel like I’m entering a new chapter in my spiritual life.”
What I love with this painting is all the tiny details and shapes that comprise the image as a whole. It’s almost like there’s no solid image or figure here, it’s just a formation of fragments of images—even in the landscape around the younger-Miguel and the sky in the background.
I don’t want to put words into Miguel’s mouth, but, for me, it’s like the collection of memories coming together into how we remember the person we used to be. It’s all the photographs in our heads being taped together into a collage that forms a single, solid person, but it’s still a haze. Miguel in this picture seems hazy, maybe only halfway there. In fact, his face in this picture is only halfway there. It’s half normal and half almost alien or monster like. The mouth is almost entirely inhuman, and the teeth look almost like a mismatched collection of wrong shaped, wrong sized pieces, stuck together because there was nothing else to stick in.
There’s this puzzle we’re trying to put together of who we once were in order to figure out who we are now (coincidentally, you can buy this painting as a puzzle from Puzzle Crazy).
There’s this puzzle, and at the end, it gives us the image of our identity. The pieces are all made of memories, little bits of emotions and old sensations or feelings, and thoughts we had that we halfway recall. If you pick up all the pieces of who you once were, you get to put them all back together the way you want. Become someone new.
One of the last things we talked about was art pricing.
Miguel mentioned a bit about pricing his art, so I asked him if he had any advice for other artists who are looking to start selling their work:
“Pricing art. There is still no real set structure in pricing art. Just like the freedom of expression is so vast, so is its pricing. If you know a little about the art market, you know paintings have sold for crazy amounts. But basically, there are is way a lot of artists have used to price their work, which is by square inch. So, like $2 the square inch. Which is what I do, but sometimes I price lower or higher depending on the piece, but for the most part that’s how I do it. And as time passes the $ mark increases as well as my popularity.
“I guess I’m still kinda new to all this stuff. I feel I still have a lot to learn, but at the same time, I’ve learned a lot in the time I’ve been doing it. Keep in mind, I’m a dad, and my time is divided. And my advice to other artists is just do it. Do it all. We have Google and social media. We have it all in the palm of our hands. Haha all you need is the initiative of starting and finishing. Things are gonna go wrong just like everything else: there is its good times and bad times. Just keep pushing.
I would also say ask questions. If a gallery doesn’t wanna show your work, don’t feel bad keep going! Always practice optimistic mentality. That will help with longevity, and also invest, invest invest. You gotta water the tree before it gives you fruits haha.”
There’s a lot to be learned from Miguel. He’s a father of two children, and, before Covid-19, was working a full-time job, and still managed to find time to make this insanely cool artwork (so shut the fuck up with whatever excuses you have). He’s stuck to his artwork, and keeps consistently growing and developing his style. He’s open to branching out into venues and ways of showing or selling his art.
Possibly most importantly, Miguel’s style is genuine, authentic. There’s no mistaking this style, and Miguel incorporates the things he finds most meaningful into his artwork, especially his spirituality. Miguel’s art comes from somewhere deep, beyond the rational, waking mind. It’s like he opens up this faucet somewhere deep in his unconscious or in his soul, and all these thoughts and emotions and images come spilling out onto canvas. It’s brilliant to see, and if you haven’t checked out more of his artwork, you need to.
You can find Miguel on Instagram @9ichardo. If you want to check out the Pacha Moma museum, they can be found on Instagram @pacha_moma. If you want to buy one of the puzzles made with Miguel’s artwork, or check out some of Puzzle Crazy’s other work, you can find them on Instagram @puzzlecrazyuk, or look them up on Etsy at www.etsy.com/uk/puzzlecrazyGB.
Please give them all a look, follow them if you enjoy what they do, and support artists and other creators in whatever way you can.
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.
Because this analysis ended up being so long, I’ve broken it up into two parts. Some of the ideas and arguments in this article will not be resolved until the next article.
If you haven’t watched Neon Genesis Evangelion, I would recommend doing so. Also, while this article and the next focus on the first two episodes, there are a few references to events in later episodes.
Neon Genesis Evangelion has evaded any conclusive analysis due to its complexity, depth and ambivalence. However, given the proper framework through which to understand the show, the ideas Neon Genesis communicates to us become far clearer. Much of this framework can constructed from an in-depth analysis of just the first two episodes. With this analysis, we can understand Neon Genesis through a lens of psychodynamic symbolism and the thematic contexts of Violence, Pain, Fear and Individualism vs Collectivism.
We can use these to examine the characters, the narrative structure, and—quite possibly the key or cornerstone element—the setting of Neon Genesis in order to understand this impenetrable anime.
Neon Genesis is about many things. Primarily, it is about our relationships with other people, and how we perceive, construct or conceptualize those relationships inside our own minds—our subjective understanding of our personal relationships.
The nature of these relationships may be that of friendship, that of duty, that of transaction, that of recognition-seeking, that of sexual attraction and so forth, but they are all forces acting upon us—forces of the Id and Super-Ego (sexuality, survival and society) acting upon the Ego.
However, these relationships are not necessarily shown explicitly through the interactions of the characters, and the tensions between characters may often be manifested in the major physical conflicts of the show through Angels and Eva’s
The Ego in Neon Genesis Evangelion is represented with Shinji. Shinji as the protagonist is the character we are supposed to relate to the most, the character we are supposed to invest in the most, and the character whom the entire story revolves around. Shinji (as many protagonists are) is a stand-in for our conscious sense of self, and Neon Genesis shows the subjective psychodynamics of this conscious sense of self relating to the world around us.
It shows us our relationship to society (Shinji and Gendo). It shows us our relationship to those we become close to (Shinji and Misato). It shows us our relationship to those we become romantically attracted to (Shinji and Rei).
This last one is arguably the most important. This romantic attraction, as I will show later, is the most powerful of these varying psychic/subjective forces. Attraction, love, sexuality is what drives us forward, into the harsh reality around us, to confront the horrors of the world (the Angels).
Violence is a physical tool in Neon Genesis. We see this with the angel penetrating into the inner sanctums of Tokyo-3 and penetrating the body of Eva Unit 01, and Eva Unit 01 tearing down the Absolute Terror (AT) Field down around the Angel and tearing open the Angel’s body with its hands.
Violence is also a psychological tool. It is the violence necessary to confront reality, to penetrate into the world, and the violence necessary to become closer to someone, to slowly tear down the boundaries between you and the other. It is finally the violence of sex, the ultimate state of vulnerability between two people.
And, of course, violence in all its forms causes pain, physical and psychological. We are at all times vulnerable to violence, vulnerable to assaults from others, vulnerable to intimacy, and vulnerable to the pain caused by closeness to others. This is Schopenhauer’s Hedgehog Dilemma.
Neon Genesis is about the individual and the collective.
We are all singular beings, and yet we are all pieces of something much larger. Very few humans could survive long without other humans, especially in the current organization of modern society. We are all individuals, but we are all individuals exist as one larger super-organism. As stated in Fullmetal Alchemist, “One is all, all is one.”
Humanity is made of many individuals, but humanity operates as a collective. Angels, by contrast, operate as individuals. Angels, you could say, operate as “hyper-individuals”. Though their motivations may align with the other angels’ motivations, each Angel operates autonomously, and are capable of waging one-man wars against the human collective.
Eva’s are the human response to the Angels’ hyper-individuality with their own hyper-individual constructions, but this necessarily requires the Eva’s to still be under the dominion of the broader collective, and the singular Eva’s would not be possible without this broader collective.
Finally, on a deeper examination, the setting of Neon Genesis reveals to us that we are not witnessing physical events when we watch Neon Genesis Evangelion, but we are actually witnessing internal, psychological or subjective events.
Neon Genesis Evangelion is a symbolic representation of the inner struggles, machinations and battles of the psyche, as experienced by the conscious Ego—Shinji.
In Neon Genesis, we witness the psychic theater of the unconscious, and the ambivalent, complex nature of Neon Genesis is the same as the ambivalent, complex nature of our own psyche.
Neon Genesis begins with the Sachiel, the first Angel, swimming through a ruined city flooded by the ocean. Hundreds of military tanks are lined up in near-perfect order along a highway overlooking the ocean. We see the ocean erupt in the distance with the emergence of Sachiel.
Next, we are shown an abandoned city, abandoned, presumably, because everyone has been evacuated. One of the only the only people left in the city is Misato, who is driving through empty streets searching for Shinji to bring him back to NERV headquarters.
Shinji is standing at an inoperable pay phone, wondering if he’ll be able to find Misato. Shinji catches a brief glimpse—a hallucination, most likely—of Rei. The ground and surrounding buildings shake, and Rei is gone. Shinji turns to see helicopters retreating into the city, followed by the towering, impossibly large Sachiel, relentlessly invading Tokyo-3.
We briefly get our first look inside NERV and are introduced to Shinji’s father, Gendo Ikari.
Next, Misato saves Shinji from an explosion caused by the Angel, Shinji gets in the car with Misato, and she begins driving him to NERV headquarters.
At the same time, the military has exhausted most of their resources in combating the Angel, with little to no effect, so they resort to a weapon referred to as an N2 mine. Although this N2 mine is roughly equivalent in power to a nuclear bomb, even the detonation of an N2 mine can do little more than briefly slow the progress of the Angel.
Because of this Ikari, the director of NERV, is given command over defeating the Angel. His intention is to use the Eva Unit 01 to combat the Angel.
Shinji and Misato, who were nearly killed by the detonation of the N2 mine, flip Misato’s car back over before continuing on to NERV headquarters.
The two of them reach NERV headquarters, descending in a car-elevator deep underground. Here, it is revealed that NERV headquarters belongs to Shinji’s father, Gendo. Though Shinji doesn’t know what his father does, he comments that his father’s work is important to the safety of the human race. As the two descend further, we learn about the tension between Shinji and his father, and their somewhat troubled past.
They go far enough underground to enter the Geofront. The Geofront is an underground city which is designed as both a fortress to defend against the Angels, and a fortress to house the Angel, Lillith. It is depicted as a vast cavern with a city hanging from the ceiling and a pyramid conjoined to an inverted pyramid, with everything cast in a golden, heavenly light.
Far, far underground now, in the depths of the pyramid housing NERV headquarters, Shinji and Misato encounter Ritsuko, who finally takes Shinji and Misato to Eva Unit 01—the first time we are fully introduced to the Evangelions, which are referred to as mankind’s last hope.
Far above the Eva Unit 01, Shinji’s father, Gendo, calls down to Shinji from an observation deck overlooking Shinji, Misato, Ritsuko and the Eva. Gendo tells them they are moving out. They will use Unit 01 to combat Sachiel. Shinji, who has never seen or even knew about Unit 01 until this moment, will pilot the Eva to battle the Angel.
Misato and Ritsuko argue about this, until Misato finally concedes that Shinji must pilot the Eva to save humanity. Shinji refuses. He is hurt that he would be asked to do such a thing—hurt that he is being pressured to perform a task so terrifying and harrowing as this—and he is hurt that this is the only reason his father even wanted to see him. Gendo doesn’t seem to care about Shinji except as a tool to be used.
When Shinji insists that he will not pilot the Eva—when the tool refuses to perform its task—Gendo coldly ignores Shinji and calls for Rei, another Eva pilot, to be brought to Unit 01 so she can battle the Angel. Misato and Ritsuko turn their backs on Shinji, and Shinji, now essentially abandoned because of his refusal, thinks to himself “I knew it, I’m not needed after all.”
Rei, who is badly wounded, is wheeled in on a gurney to Unit 01. She struggles to get out of the gurney, obviously in much pain. As Sachiel continues its assault on the aboveground city over NERV headquarters, parts of the building begin to collapse.
Unit 01, which has been completely motionless until now, reaches out to save Shinji from falling debris. Shinji holds the struggling, wounded Rei, and pulls back his hand to her blood on his fingers. Shinji, seeing this, repeats to himself, “I mustn’t run away”, and finally agrees to pilot the Eva.
After Shinji enters the cockpit and the Eva is prepared, Shinji and Unit 01 are sent aboveground to the surface of Tokyo-3 to confront the Angel. Here, episode 1 ends.
Breakdown of Episode 1
A lot of information has been packed into just this first episode, and this episode is evidence of the genius of Hideaki Anno’s brilliant writing. In just over 20 minutes, we’ve learned an enormous amount of information, and we can’t help but want to see what happens next. However, this means that there is a large volume of information that must be parsed apart in order to dissect this episode, but this concentration of information is reduced if we focus on our psychoanalytic and thematic framework of understanding Neon Genesis.
The opening shots, showing us the ruined, flooded city, the Angel, Sachiel, and the array of military tanks awaiting the Angel can be viewed as a number of things, but, overall, it is representative of our threat-response.
The ruined city is our past. It is our past society which has been destroyed by the Second Impact, an event which humanity is still recovering from. It is symbolic of previous generations and eras of humanity which once flourished, but fell to the wayside because they could not adapt. They are also the past generations that we have built our new society upon. While the ancient, classical, medieval and pre-modern societies of our history are either extinct or no longer exist as they once did, they have provided the foundation by which we’ve built our modern society, just as Tokyo-3 has been built nearly on top of this former city.
Though our new society has adapted to the threats we once faced, we now must face a new threat—albeit a threat that has likely adapted from the threats of our past.
The ocean that has flooded the ruined city is representative of both the unknown, and the dangers which emerge from the unknown, and of the unconscious—large, deep bodies of water being symbolic of the murky, lightless depths of our own psyche.
Sachiel is a new threat to our society, as humanity has never had conflicts with Angels in this manner, but it is a threat that has evolved from the calamity of the Second Impact.
The military that has been sent to combat the Angel and the evacuated city of Tokyo-3 are both symbolic of our cognitive threat responses.
When humans perceive a threat, when they go into fight or flight mode, their empathy, their sociability and their rationality are all shut off, and they rely on their instincts or their learned defense mechanisms. When the Angel emerges from the ocean (either the external unknown or the internal unconscious), the civilians of Tokyo-3 evacuate (our prefrontal conscious minds evacuating) and the military is mobilized to combat the threat (our survival instincts and our defense mechanisms).
However, our conventional threat-response mechanisms are incapable of responding to this novel threat (conventional weapons, even our most powerful conventional weapons, doing nothing to combat the Angel).
Because of this, humanity must adapt, but how can we adapt to this?
To defeat a monster, one become a monster.
Shinji is brought to NERV (German for “nerve”) by Misato. While it has been argued by some that Rei is Shinji’s Anima—a Jungian term describing the feminine aspect of the male psyche, and a psycho-spiritual guide of the Unconscious—Misato is at the very least another aspect or manifestation of Shinji’s Anima. Misato as a character at the very least functions as Jiminy Cricket functioned in Pinocchio—as our moral compass. Shown in Shinji’s relationship with Misato, our relationship to our own moral compasses is not an easy one. There are conflicts, misunderstandings and personality clashes between us and the voice telling us who we should be.
We then meet Ritsuko, who is the scientific, logical and introverted foil to the intuitive, emotional and extroverted Misato. Misato’s character here deepens in contrast to Ritsuko, and the two can be seen as representative of the left-brain/right-brain lateralization of the brain. Nonetheless, the two of them can both be seen as different manifestations or incarnations of Shinji’s Anima, and the act in conjunction as Shinji’s moral compass.
The two guide Shinji deeper and deeper into NERV headquarters. NERV HQ is highly symbolic of the brain and the psyche (Nerv being German for “nerve”, and the underground architecture being symbolic of the underground architecture of the brain).
Shinji is tasked by his father Gendo to pilot the Evangelion to defeat the Angel.
Shinji is the Ego—the conscious perceiver.
Gendo is the Super-Ego—society, symbolized by God the Father (recall Gendo speaking to Shinji from on high).
The Evangelion is the monster we must become. Eva Unit 01 is, in essence, a giant suit of biomechanical armor (defense-mechanism) and a living weapon (a monster).
Shinji—as everyone is—has been tasked by society to confront the threat that society is faced with. The new generations of humanity must step forward to confront the problems that the older generations of society could not overcome, and possibly the problems the older generations have caused.
The Evangelion is the suit of armor we must all wear as we confront the world and its horrors. It’s the brave face we must wear, the armor of conviction, duty and love. The Evangelion is the person we must become in order to save society.
What is important to note here is that Shinji did not pilot the Eva until he met Rei. He refused to obey his father. He refused to obey Ritsuko. He refused to obey Misato. But he willingly volunteered to pilot the Eva when he met Rei.
Shinji here retains his individuality by conforming to society’s standards and needs, but only because he aligns his own values and desires with society’s. By helping society attain their goals, Shinji achieves his own goals.
If Rei is Shinji’s Anima (Rei meaning “spirit” or “ghost” in Japanese, among other things) then Shinji decides to pilot the Eva out of his own, deeper sense of morality and psychic individuality—which supersedes that of society’s. He is not acting out of duty to the collective—Shinji is acting out of duty to his own psyche: to his own spirit.
This concludes part 1 of the analysis. In part 2, I will discuss episode two, delve deeper into the characters, the Angel and Eva, and the setting, then bring the ideas together to reinforce my broader analysis of Neon Genesis.
Max and Robert Egger’s 2019 “The Lighthouse” is a surreal dark comedy horror film, reminiscent of “Eraserhead”, “Dead Man” and “The Wickerman”. Set in the late 1800’s on a small, isolated island, “The Lighthouse” portrays the slow descent into madness of Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) and Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) with a subtle, well-balanced mix of gritty realism and dream-like paranoia. The film is both disturbing and fascinating, bewildering audiences and critics with its near-schizophrenic plot, bizarre and bipolar dialogues and the stark, dream-like imagery presented in Ephraim’s growing insanity. However, despite the tangled web of absurdity, ambiguous symbolism and distorted reality, the film is highly intentional in its events and imagery, and “The Lighthouse” yields great depths of meaning once the layers of its web have been dissected.
The first problem with understanding this movie is the immense intentionality in every shot. Many scenes in “The Lighthouse” might take an hour or more to decompose, especially in relationship or in context to every other scene in the film. Despite this, I will try to summarize the movie as briefly as I can without losing important cohesiveness. The second problem is this problem of density and complexity. There’s honestly too much in this movie to discuss without writing at least another 2-3 analyses of the same length as this one. However, I intend to only follow one thread of analysis here (a long and at times winding thread, but one thread nonetheless).
“The Lighthouse” begins with the arrival of Ephraim and Tom to the mid-ocean lighthouse they will be manning for the next four weeks, the two of them entirely isolated from society for a month. Tom, the senior lighthouse-keeper, makes it clear to Ephraim, the new junior, that the duty of maintaining the actual lighthouse will solely be Tom’s responsibility, and the manual labor (shoveling coal for the foghorn, cleaning and maintaining the house, purifying the cistern and so forth) will be left entirely to Ephraim. Tom wavers between being intensely critical of Ephraim and tyrannically domineering; and being warm, friendly and jovial with Ephraim, usually during their dinner.
Shortly into the film, we witness the beginning of both characters’ insanity. Tom stands in front of the Lighthouse at night and removes all of his clothes, speaking to the lighthouse lamp affectionately. Then, Ephraim goes out to the ocean shore and sees wooden logs floating in the water, before seeing a dead body in the water. Ephraim walks into the water until he is fully submerged, then sees a mermaid or siren swimming in the water, screeching at him.
Over dinner, Tom tells Ephraim about his time as a ship captain and how he solved a mutiny by giving his sailors liquor until they made it to land. After telling Ephraim how his former junior-keeper went mad and died, Tom tells Ephraim he shouldn’t kill seagulls because its bad luck, and Tom later explains seabirds are the souls of dead sailors. In the next scene, Ephraim masturbates in the supply shed to a small, ivory trinket shaped like a mermaid he found in the beginning of the film.
Leading up to the midpoint of the film, we begin to see the intensification of a master-slave relationship between Tom and Ephraim, with Tom repeatedly calling Ephraim a dog and treating him as subhuman, juxtaposed with a much friendlier relationship between the two.
Ephraim goes to the top of the lighthouse one night, where he hears Tom muttering to himself. White slime drips from the metal grate above Ephraim, where Tom is standing, and Ephraim then sees a tentacle slithering across the metal-grate above. Ephraim eventually kills a seagull, which has been continually harassing him, and this action causes the wind to change direction. A storm rolls in just before the two are to be relieved of their duties at the end of their four-week stay. They find themselves marooned on the island, and either Tom’s or Ephraim’s sense of time begins to slip.
At the midpoint, Tom gives one of the greatest monologues in cinema-history as he curses Ephraim in the name of Neptune for a whole two minutes (as a side note, Willem Dafoe won at least 8 awards for his performance in this film, and was nominated for at least 17 others). As the two keepers remain stranded on the island, they steadily drink more and more alcohol, Ephraim continues furiously masturbating in his spare time and reality slips into a strange back-and-forth state of hallucination, paranoia and glimpses of sanity. Ephraim reveals that his name is actually Thomas Howard and that he let his former foreman, Ephraim Winslow, drown to death before taking his foreman’s name (you will probably forget this detail, but, nonetheless, try to remember it for the very end). Ephraim (or Tommy) tries to leave the island, but Tom chases him down with an axe and destroys the island’s only lifeboat. After calming down, Tom tells Ephraim that they’ve run out of alcohol, so the two begin drinking lamp oil (likely to be kerosene).
The storm, which has been raging for weeks, days or months now, finally ends after flooding the island and the lighthouse, all but ruining the home they’ve been staying in. Ephraim wakes up and finds Tom’s logbook and finds that Tom has been writing highly critical notes about Ephraim, even going so far as to say Ephraim should be fired from the job without being paid. Ephraim attacks Tom, and the two begin grappling, punching and strangling each other. After a hallucinatory moment where Ephraim sees Tom as his former foreman, the siren he’s been fantasizing about and masturbating to and as the sea-god Neptune himself, Ephraim nearly beats Tom to death.
Stopping himself before killing Tom, Ephraim stands over Tom and begins commanding Tom to bark like a dog. Ephraim then leads Tom out of the building on a leash to a hole they previously dug in front of the Lighthouse. Ephraim begins burying Tom, while Tom gives another masterful dialogue about “Protean forms”, “Promethean plunder”, “divine graces” and “the fiddler’s green”. Once Tom is presumably dead, Ephraim steals the key to the lighthouse, but, once inside the building, Tom returns with an axe and strikes Ephraim with it. Ephraim takes the axe, kills Tom and proceeds to the top of the lighthouse.
Ephraim reaches into the lighthouse lamp, presumably reaching into the lamp-flame, and begins laughing and screaming as the light engulfs him, then falls down the stairs to the bottom of the lighthouse. The movie ends with Ephraim laying naked across a rock formation alongside the ocean. Seagulls have shit on his body, and they are now devouring the innards of a still-living Ephraim. And that’s the movie.
There are a few other notable details to mention here. There is a foghorn on the island, which can be heard in the background throughout the movie, as well as a ticking clock which is likewise heard throughout the movie. There are a number of Christian and Greco-Roman allusions throughout the movie, as well as allusions to maritime folklore. In addition, there are quite a few phallic symbols throughout the movie, as well as a large (like, dinner-platter-sized) mermaid vagina. However, I probably won’t be able to get into all the various symbols and their potential meanings.
To begin understanding the movie’s deeper meanings, we need to understand the relationship between Ephraim and Tom, Ephraim and the mermaid, the lighthouse itself and Ephraim’s character. What we find here are the psychoanalytic dynamics of the Ego (Ephraim), the Super-Ego (Tom), the Id and the Anima (the mermaid/siren), and the Self or the Godhead (the lighthouse). Ephraim is the individual struggling against the forces of the Super-Ego/Authority/Society and the Id/Sexuality/Material-Satiation in order to find freedom and independence, as well as to reunite with the Self or the Godhead, symbolic of the power and freedom of true individuality. How do we pull such a lofty meaning from such a bizarre movie?
At its core, “The Lighthouse” is a mythological psychodrama. The movie is about an individual struggling with God the Father and the Sirens of instinct and sexuality. It is about an individual struggling with the oppressive demands and absurd behaviors of society, as well as struggling with one’s own nature—an individual struggling against these forces in order to maintain their individuality.
Ephraim is the Everyman, a term describing an ordinary, non-spectacular character whom the audience can sympathize with because of their mundanity. Ephraim, despite moments of fluctuating insanity, is mostly level-headed throughout the movie, and most of his actions or reactions seem sane compared to Tom’s. Ephraim is relatable—he’s the average person working a shitty job with an overbearing boss—and he reflects many of the ideas and hopes that most people share. Not only does Ephraim share these hopes with the audience, but Tom frequently reminds Ephraim of the mundanity of these hopes.
Ephraim remains pretty quiet throughout the first act of the movie, to which Tom tells him he’s not special in that regard. At one point, Ephraim tells Tom about his plans to build a house somewhere, so he can be free of others’ demands. Tom replies to this with, “Same old boring story, eh?” Midway through the third act, Ephraim begins telling Tom of his troubled past, and Tom tells him, “Yer guilty conscience is ever as tiresome-boring as any guilty conscience.” Then, near the end of the film, Tom begins telling Ephraim how unspectacular he is, saying things like:
“Come to this rock playin’ the tough. Ye make me laugh with yer false grum.”
“Ye pretended to mystery with yer false quietudes, but there ain’t no mystery.”
“Ye’re an open book. A picture, says I.”
Not only is Ephraim subjected to inglorious manual labor by Tom throughout the movie; not only is Ephraim constantly criticized throughout the movie, culminating in Tom’s logbook full of Ephraim’s many supposed infractions; and not only is Ephraim led to disaster by many of Tom’s actions (such as the insistence on constantly getting drunk (which Ephraim is later blamed for)), but Ephraim is then told he isn’t even special in any way, and his existence as an individual is denigrated to a final extreme
Tom calls Ephraim, “A painted actress, screaming in the footlights, a bitch what wants to be coveted for nothin’ but the silver spoon what should have been yours.” Ephraim begins crying here, for which Tom mocks him. As this scene escalates, Tom begins calling Ephraim a dog over and over again.
“Thomas [Ephraim], ye’re a dog! A filthy dog! A dog!”
All Ephraim wants is a life free of servitude and domination. He tells Tom at one point, “I ain’t never intended to be no housewife or slave.” And yet, despite his dreams of freedom, he seeks that freedom through servitude, by taking a job to save up money. Anyone and everyone can sympathize with the desire to be free, the necessity of working for this freedom and the eventual boot on our necks that weighs heavier and heavier with each passing day. Perhaps there is nothing special with Ephraim, as he is just like everyone else, but it’s that normalcy that makes him such an empathetic individual, and why his role as the Everyman plays such an integral role in the meaning of this story.
Connecting this back to the Ego, all of us, in our immediate, conscious sense of reality, are confronted on the psychic level by the injunctions of the Super-Ego (society, law and order, Tom, God the Father) and the needs of the Id (survival, sexuality, the Siren, Mother Nature). Among the injunctions of the Ego, however, is that we accomplish this in a manner that will maintain our dignity and ensure our freedom and independence. Survival, security and self-dignity are three of the deepest desires of every human, and they all stack like weights on the shoulders of the Ego: that which consciously perceives and consciously decides.
There is a Camusian element of absurdity in this movie. Ephraim took the job as lighthouse keeper out of sheer arbitrariness. It paid well, that was it. Tom treats Ephraim like dogshit for no real reason, other than the fact he has the authority to, and then randomly starts treating him warmly at various moments.
At the end of the film, Ephraim is judged by Tom both verbally and in his logbook, and that judgement is almost entirely arbitrary. Some of the things Ephraim did were reprehensible. Some of the things Ephraim did weren’t. Some of the things Ephraim is judged for have no evidence to back them. Some of the things Ephraim were judged for were influenced by Tom himself. And that’s fucking life.
These events have parallels to one of the greatest works of absurdist art, Albert Camus’ novel, “The Stranger”, in which the protagonist’s mother dies one day, and he feels indifferent about this (death just happens, and why should we act one way or another about it). The protagonist’s neighbor is a volatile human, who careens between abuse and friendliness. A woman randomly begins having sex with the protagonist, then wants to know if he’ll marry her. He tells her it wouldn’t make any difference to him, and later tells her that marriage wasn’t special and he would have married any woman. In a half-awake daze, the protagonist is walking on the beach and runs into a man he knows nothing about, except that he has a feud with the protagonist’s friend, and so the protagonist kills this man for no real reason.
In the end, the protagonist is brought to court for killing this man and is found guilty essentially because he doesn’t feel one way or another about things. The primary evidence used against him is the fact he felt indifferent about his mother’s death. Things simply are the way they are, and the protagonist simply acts the way he acts out of his own detached volition. Because the protagonist does not wish to play the same games as everyone, carry the same sense of morality and imbue things with the same emotional weight as everyone else, he is sentenced to death, he is hated and he is, essentially, declared evil. The protagonist finally accepts his fate and accepts the absurdity of life.
“As if that blind rage had washed me clean, rid me of hope; for the first time, in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world. Finding it so much like myself—so like a brother, really—I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again. For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate.”
I would argue that meaningfulness—true meaningfulness—can be found in life, but there is indeed an enormous degree of arbitrariness to reality. We’re just born one day, in a certain period of history, which has its own set of rules and customs we’re told to abide by. We’re told to be a certain person, to act a certain way and to feel certain emotions for given events, and we’re told not to question any of it. We’re called a villain for questioning or going against the status quo. We’re judged for things that are out of our control, or that have no real impact on life. There are seemingly arbitrary standards and traditions by which we’re judged, and then there’s entirely novel arbitrariness by which we’re judged (things that aren’t even a part of broadly accepted standards), and then there’s false or fabricated claims about us by which we’re judged.
This is the weight foisted upon Ephraim, the weight of arbitrary judgement, and this is the weight foisted upon the Everyman, the proxy of the collective individual or collective Ego. This is the weight carried by everyone living within a society. This is the guilt and condemnation which degrades: the arbitrary tyranny: the absurd, laughable, comically bizarre oppression of culture. And yet, that’s just life. Camus’ protagonist in “The Stranger” becomes what Camus called an Absurd Hero. The Absurd Hero is the individual who does not shy away from or seek to destroy the absurd reality around them, but rather accepts the empty arbitrariness of life and continues to live their life as an individual: continues to affirm life as being good and worthy, without the dishonesty of dogma, ideology or personal delusion. Shy of eradicating life, or at least eradicating your own life, one must learn to live heroically amidst absurdity, to remain free, individualized and dignified amidst our bizarre world because there is no escape from the necessary evil that is society, which is the Super-Ego, which is Tom.
Tom is the nagging, oppressive and at times nonsensical voice of the Super-Ego within Ephraim’s mind. Tom is the smiling, friendly face of society, which barks commands at us, and condemns our actions with spite and fury. Tom is society keeping Ephraim from achieving individuality by flooding his life with menial tasks, deprecating the value of the individual and forbidding Ephraim from witnessing the divine, and Tom is the same society which asks Ephraim to be as a friend: to love Tom, to forgive and overlook Tom’s flaws (of which, as we see at the end of the movie, Tom seems completely blind to).
Tom is what pushes Ephraim to insanity, and then denounces Ephraim as a madman. And yet, Tom is also what guides and protects Ephraim. There is an ambiguity in the nature of Tom and Ephraim’s relationship, just as there is an ambiguity in the nature of the Ego and Super-Ego’s relationship. The Super-Ego is typically represented in mythology as God the Father, or as some other variant of the masculine-authority archetype, which is simultaneously protective and wise, and oppressive and tyrannical. It is culture and society which protect us from the ravages of nature, and it is culture and society which tyrannize us with unyielding dictates. It is culture and society which rewards us meaningful work, and it is culture and society which enslave us with meaningless tasks. It is culture and society which gives us the wisdom of tradition, and it is culture and society which fascistically conforms individuals with this tradition.
In “The Lighthouse”, we quite clearly witness this paradoxical relationship between Ephraim and Tom, the Son and the Father, the Individual and the Society, the Ego and the Super-Ego. Tom teaches and guides Ephraim. He tells Ephraim when he’s doing something wrong or foolish. We see this in the concrete form when Ephraim carries the drum of oil up the lighthouse stairs rather than fill the small pail with oil, and we see this in the absurd form when Tom superstitiously warns Ephraim of the dangers of killing seabirds, which he later explains are the souls of dead sailors. There’s an ambiguity even in this superstitious tradition, since Ephraim’s act of killing the seagull that’s been harassing him is implicated as the cause of the storm which maroons them on the island.
Tom is also a part of what protects Ephraim from the terrors of nature. Tom cooks food to feed Ephraim, keeping him from starving; Tom gives orders to Ephraim to maintain the house they live in, thus protecting them from the cold and the rain; and Tom gives Ephraim advice that helps him stay alive and healthy. The island is a lone territory of protection from the chaos of the ocean (the suffocating depths, the dehydrating waters, the monsters of the sea), and the lighthouse itself is a mechanism of security: a light in the dark which keeps sailors from crashing their ships in the night.
Yet, Tom is also the highly critical or judgmental aspect of society and the oppressive or tyrannical aspect of society. Tom is constantly criticizing Ephraim, telling him how poorly he’s performing his tasks, even at one point asking Ephraim if he’s a “dullard”. Tom not only criticizes Ephraim’s work, but also criticizes Ephraim as a person, essentially calling him boringly normal and morally reprehensible throughout the film.
Beyond just the criticism, Tom is constantly giving Ephraim orders and loading him up with manual labor, while Tom’s sole responsibility (beyond making sure Ephraim is performing his tasks) is to man the lighthouse lamp, which is the most glorious and honorable of tasks. Tom gives Ephraim all the shit jobs, while Tom gets to perform the single easiest and most respectable job. Even then, Tom does his one job poorly and strangely. While manning the lighthouse lamp at night, Tom drinks and, presumably, masturbates (though we’re not shown Defoe’s jerk sessions as explicitly as we’re shown Pattinson’s). Tom orders Ephraim around and judges him for all his faults, while declaring himself to be the unfaultable and supreme authority of the island.
And, just to hammer it home, that’s life.
You can’t live with society, and you can’t live without it.
So where does Ephraim’s heroism come in this story? It comes in his insanity, as it does with every individual striving for freedom within society.
It comes, initially, from his repeated visions of the mermaid and her siren’s call. I’ve come to believe the mermaid is symbolic of three things.
The mermaid is Ephraim’s Id, represented as his sexual desires (the siren’s call). The mermaid is Ephraim’s Anima, which, in Jungian psychology, is the feminine, psychic force in men, which guides the Ego into the depths of the psyche. The mermaid is also Ephraim’s Shadow, or at least that which guides Ephraim to his Shadow. In Jungian terminology, the Shadow is the repressed part of the psyche, oftentimes synonymous with the Id, though not necessarily. The Shadow is the parts of our personality that we bury or repress, such as sexuality, aggression and even self-importance or self-love. Though the Shadow contains many negative aspects of our personality, those aspects of our personality might be what save us from the problems of our lives. Holding back the contents of the Shadow holds back the individual’s potential for actualization, or from becoming the free, independent, dignified individual we all hope we can become.
The mermaid in Ephraim’s hallucinations is repeatedly coupled with the image of Ephraim’s previous foreman, whom Ephraim effectively murdered by letting him drown. Throughout the movie, Ephraim is repressing three things: his sexuality, through nearly constant masturbation, his aggression, the same aggression that let Ephraim dispassionately watch his foreman die, and his desire to see the lighthouse lamp. The ultimate repression is the latter, repressing the desire to climb to the top of the lighthouse. The lighthouse is a phallic symbol of divine power, which is roughly parallel to Ephraim’s inner divine power, which is roughly akin to the Libido. The lighthouse can also be seen as a symbol of social power, as in the social hierarchies of society, or as moral authority, the light being the highest moral good.
Though I argue the lighthouse to be a symbol of psychological hierarchy, I would also argue the lighthouse is symbolic of all three of these at once, and that these representations may in fact be synonymous with each other at a certain level of analysis.
Ephraim represses this divine power, the psychic energy of the Libido, through masturbation, and, by repressing his aggression, represses his ability to overthrow Tom, the Super-Ego, which is also denying him his divine power. Throughout the movie, Ephraim masturbates to a small, ivory trinket carved in the shape of a mermaid. He’s not actually having sex, he’s not actually incorporating the repressed portions of his psyche; he’s fantasizing about the act and arbitrarily giving himself pleasure and release from the repressed Libido. He’s worshipping a false idol, he’s worshipping a fetish, and he’s silencing the siren’s call by sexual release, rather than actually uniting himself with those repressed forces (the divine or psychic marriage).
Ephraim is keeping himself from attaining his desires by shutting down and repressing those desires with short-term gratification. Ephraim wants to be a free human being, that is his ultimate desire. He wants to have power—not power over others, but power over himself: not the power of authority, but the power of individuality. However, rather than fulfilling that desire, Ephraim spends most of the movie bending to the will of Tom, the Super-Ego, or, in other words, bending to the will of society. At the end of the movie, Ephraim fulfills this desire by first destroying the mermaid trinket, the object of false sexual desire, and then by killing Tom, the judgmental and tyrannical force of society. It’s at this point that Ephraim finally ascends to the top of the lighthouse and finally witnesses the glory of the fire within the lighthouse lamp.
What is the lighthouse, and what is this divine power within its lamp? The lighthouse symbolizes a number of things. It is that which protects sailors from death as they sail through the horrors of the night. It is that which is most high upon Ephraim and Tom’s little rock, as well as that which shines most brightly. It is the most valued and coveted thing upon the island, and it is the most important thing on the island (it’s literally the only reason they’re there). The lighthouse is also a phallic symbol (among many), as previously mentioned, and an analog in some ways to Ephraim’s sexual frustrations. He is denied actual sexual release, and he is denied access to the top of the lighthouse.
I mentioned earlier that the lighthouse is the Self or the Godhead, which it is, to a certain degree. It is the source of divine power within ourselves. It is the axis mundi, source of all life-renewing energy: the world navel. As Joseph Campbell explains in “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”:
“The torrent pours forth from an invisible source, the point of entry being the center of the symbolic circle of the universe, the Immovable Spot of the Buddha legend, around which the world may be said to revolve… The tree of life, i.e., the universe itself, grows from this point. It is rooted in the supporting darkness; the golden sun bird birches on its peak…Or the figure may be that of a cosmic mountain, with the city of gods, like a lotus of light, upon its summit…”
The lighthouse is the axis mundi, with the bright, burning spirit or entity of light at its top (sunbird/phoenix, city of gods, lotus of light, etc.), and it is from the lighthouse that Ephraim discovers reinvigorating, life-giving energies.
However, there is more to the lighthouse than simply this. What is interesting about this Axis Mundi or Godhead (this source of divine energy and the divine “Self”), is that it is manmade. The center of Ephraim and Tom’s universe is a manmade construction, and it is designed to keep sailors safe amidst the ocean’s turmoils. In some sense, this is showing that the new source of rebirth comes from the humanity’s creations, or their ability to create, alter the world around us and constantly innovate.
The new source of divine energy comes not from our ability to confront the natural world and its horrors, or from society and its oppression, but from our ability to create, a traditionally divine ability in itself, and through our creations, alter nature and alter society. Originally, creation was seen as the province gods, and then, in the West, the cosmos was seen as crafted by Jehovah or Yahweh, the Judeo-Christian God. Now, the divine power of creation is a human power.
Now, there’s another piece here, you may have already noticed it, and this is the Greek story of the Titan, Prometheus. There are many details and variations to the myth, but the central story is that Prometheus stole fire from the Greek gods and gave it to humans. As punishment, Prometheus was chained to rocks, and everyday his liver was eaten by an eagle. This almost directly parallels the ending of “The Lighthouse”, in which Ephraim “steals the fire” from the lighthouse lamp and is then seen lying naked across oceanside rocks, his insides being eaten by seagulls.
To add to this, one of the details of the broader Prometheus myth is that Prometheus is seen as a hero in a Greek Deluge or Flood myth. The son of Prometheus, Deucalion, builds a boat with the help of his Titan father, and Deucalion and his wife survive a massive flood brought on by the wrath of Zeus. Just before the climax of the story, there is a similar flood in “The Lighthouse”. During their night of drinking lamp oil/kerosene, the unending storm that has been assaulting Tom and Ephraim floods the lighthouse and ruins the interior.
There are two things to parse apart here: Prometheus and the Deluge, or the Flood.
Beginning with the Deluge, because it occurs first in “The Lighthouse”, the Great Flood represents the Flood of Chaos. In mythology, from Greek mythology to Judeo-Christian myth, the Flood is typically a punishment on humanity because of their hubris or their sins. Why is a society of sinners punished with a flood? Because they were too arrogant to prevent or prepare for a flood. The floodwaters represent the accumulation of Chaos, disorder or poor behavior, accumulating over time until the water level, or the Chaos level, is too high to stop.
If a society, a group of people or even a single individual do not take the time to deal with all the small annoyances of their lives, or all the small problems they know they should fix (internally or externally), those problems begin to accumulate until your life is flooded with them. Maybe there’s a leak in your roof, and you do nothing about it. Maybe there’s some damage to the electrical circuits in your house, and you put off having it repaired. Maybe you feel like you should buy home insurance, and you never do.
Maybe that leaky roof keeps getting worse: the wood rots and more water gets into your house every day. Maybe the state of the wiring in your home continues to deteriorate, and maybe it does so without your knowledge because you don’t think it will ever be a problem. Maybe one day, a huge storm rolls over the city you live in, and your roof does nothing to keep your house dry. The water comes into the attic, maybe it drenches your floors, maybe it interferes with the damaged electrical circuits, and maybe the day after the storm, you’re left with a water-damaged house, ruined furniture and no electricity, and there’s nothing you can do about it because you don’t have home insurance. That’s the Deluge.
It doesn’t have to actually involve water, it might involve parking tickets, or it might involve bill collectors, or it might involve that skin rash you’ve been hiding for three months, hoping it’ll magically go away, or it might involve the steady and growing supply of alcohol you’ve been consuming for ten years, or it might involve anything in your life that you know you should have fixed, prevented or prepared for, but didn’t.
In “The Lighthouse”, the Deluge begins with Ephraim killing the seagull, thus bringing on the near-unending storm as a result. Once Tom and Ephraim are thoroughly marooned on the island, they begin drinking copious amounts of alcohol, which results in them acting irrationally, damaging parts of the house and not performing their tasks as well as they should be. In the end, the storm floods the lighthouse and ruins the interior of the first floor, but the question here is:
Was it the storm’s fault? Or was it their fault?
The other part of this is the Promethean mytheme of stealing the fire. If Prometheus stole the fire of the Olympic gods, and Ephraim’s tragic character arc is a parallel to Prometheus’s, then what fire does Ephraim steal?
Here, I come back to the Self and Ephraim’s desire to unify with his inner, “divine” Self.
Ephraim has two core desires within “The Lighthouse”. One is to become a free, independent individual, and the other is to gain access to the lighthouse lamp. The desire to become free and independent aligns with the Jungian notion of Individuation or Actualization, in which an individual unifies the disparate portions of their psyche or personality (their Ego, their Super-Ego and their Id, for simplicity), in order to become the greatest version of themselves: in order to become a complete, unified individual. Once they become this complete, unified version of themselves, they are capable of actualizing their fullest potential. They become a person who is fully equipped to seek out and satisfy their deepest desires.
Another description of the Jungian process of Individuation and Actualization is unifying oneself with the deeper Self, the True Self. There are the superficial, extrinsic and animalistic parts of one’s personality: the Persona—the mask we wear for society—the Ego, the Super-Ego and the Id. Then there is the deeper part of one’s personality: The Self. The Self is our true identity, the unified whole of our fragmented personality, where our most pressing desires and profound personal capabilities reside.
It is this Self, this deeper source of individuality and personal power, which Ephraim is seeking throughout the movie, both as his desire for freedom and his desire for the lighthouse lamp.
In this sense, the Self, the divine spark of the Godhead, is what Ephraim is stealing and giving to humanity. The cure for a sickly, stagnant or corrupt society—symbolized by Tom—does not come from a collective—the cure for society isn’t society. The cure for society is the individual capable and willing to transgress society. Ephraim’s theft of the divine flame—of the inner Self—is punished in the form of laying naked across rocks and being eaten alive by seagulls, which is a reflection of the actual punishment such an accomplishment might engender. Much of the writing of Friedrich Nietzsche centered around the notion of the Ubermensch or the Superman, a hypothetical individual Nietzsche posited as not only being able to overcome the horrors of nature and the shackles of society, but also capable of overcoming themselves and their own flaws—an individual capable of personal greatness. However, this Superman is an individual who is misunderstood by broader society, sometimes envied, oftentimes villainized, and, in many cases, abused by society.
Ephraim achieves Individuation and Actualization, then returns this divine spark of freedom and personal power to society—symbolized by him falling back down the lighthouse, or falling back to Earth—but then is punished for the very same act. Ephraim steals the fire of the lighthouse, returns to society, and then is consumed by the souls of dead sailors. Not only is he consumed by the souls of the dead sailors, but he was never saved by living sailors—no one came to rescue him from his isolated island.
In this sense, Ephraim becomes like the lighthouse. He becomes the beacon of light keeping sailors across life’s ocean from death. However, twisting the meaning of Ephraim’s punishment a bit, he, like the lighthouse, becomes a stationary object, neglected by the very people he has saved. Not only is he neglected, but he is also abused by those he couldn’t save—the sailors who weren’t saved by the lighthouse. This could be guilt, these could be parasites of society, or these birds could be metaphoric critics eating Ephraim alive. The lighthouse is revered, and yet it is also an object used as a lifeless tool by the society that reveres it. Ephraim saves society, so to speak, by his actions, but then is left for dead and eaten alive by that society. No deed goes unpunished.
Now, despite the dissections of these symbols, the meaning of the story still hasn’t fully been articulated.
“The Lighthouse” is a movie about an individual attempting to maintain their individuality within the confines of the Id and the Super-Ego, but, moreover, attempting to transcend those confines in order to save that society. Ephraim and his story are offered up to us like a sacrificial lamb to feast upon. The lighthouse is a construction of individuals, and this construction is a gift to society, a gift which is both revered and abused. Similarly, we in our own lives can become individuated and actualized human beings, which in turn makes us beacons of light that save our society from death at sea. This in turn makes us something like sacrifices to the society we are trying to save.
Now, there’s an interesting dynamic to this all. The individual attempting to save society—the individual stealing the fire from the gods—must first transcend or overcome society in order to then save society. This exact structure can be found in the Christ myth.
Christ is born on Earth as a normal human. Christ led a revolutionary movement in his society, rebelling against the authorities of that society, as well as challenging the traditions and social norms of that society. Christ was then crucified for his rebellion and revolution. And yet, there is an even deeper sub-structure to this.
It is interesting to note that this film takes place in the late 1800’s, which was around the same time Nietzsche made his famous declaration, “God is Dead”.
“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?” In order for Ephraim to ascend the lighthouse and steal its fire, he first had to kill Tom.
As I mentioned before, the Super-Ego is often symbolized mythologically as God the Father, or as the Benevolent or Tyrannical King. Society, as well as the fatherly-authority god, are both derivatives of the Super-Ego—the standards, traditions and practices of society which both protect and oppress us. Ephraim killed Tom, the analogue of Society, the Super-Ego and God the Father. It was only through this act that Ephraim was able to attain wholeness and individuality, but this was not necessarily a happy act. Through killing Tom, through killing God, Ephraim’s world fell apart, and he was punished for it.
Christ, by challenging society, by challenging the Jewish high priests and by challenging the governors of the Roman Empire, was in fact challenging God himself.
To dig deeper into this, and to dig deeper into what the Death of Christ ultimately means, I’ll now come to the work of the contemporary Hegelian philosopher, Slavoj Zizek. Nietzsche believed that Christianity, by holding Truth to be its highest virtue, was inevitably a self-extinguishing religion. It was Christianity’s insistence on Truth which led to the Age of Enlightenment, which led to Nietzsche’s claim that “God is dead”. In a similar vein, Slavoj Zizek has made claims that Christianity is in fact an atheistic religion.
In Slavoj’s words:
“I think that this [the story of Job] is maybe an incredible ethical revolution because this is already the first step out of this traditional pagan view where justice means you should be at your own place, do your particular duty, and so on and so on, you know, this withdrawal, which then I think culminates in the death of Christ.
“What dies on the cross? … As Hegel says, what dies on the cross is God of beyond himself. It’s precisely God as that transcendent power which somehow secretly pulls the strings. This is, I think, the secret of Christianity… This God abdicates. I think that something tremendous happens in Christianity because remember, after the death of Christ, we don’t get back to the father. What we get is Holy Spirit… So, for me, again, this is a tremendously important message of freedom.
“Again, as my beloved Chesterton said… in all other religions, you have atheists, people who don’t believe in God, but Chesterton‘s reading of those famous ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani?’ (‘Father, why have you forsaken me?’) is that only in Christianity, and for him this is crucial, God himself becomes for a moment an atheist.”
To sum up what Slavoj is saying, though eroding much of the subtleties here, at Christ’s death, Christ looks up to the sky and asks, “Father, why have you forsaken me?” Here, Christ, being a manifestation of God himself, is God realizing the truth of his own non-existence.
The revolution of Christ was not the continuation of a religion, but the annihilation of a religion, albeit a slow annihilation, and, to this day, not a complete annihilation (which might be evidence of the psychological vitality of the Christian myth). Christ: the Logos, the Word of God, the Truth made Flesh—Christ is what killed God.
The resurrection of Christ is not the resurrection of the flesh, but the resurrection of the spirit. Christ as spirit—Christ as the spirit of the Logos—paradoxically could only be kept alive by the Death of Christ as flesh, or by the Death of God by science and the Enlightenment. And now, this concept of the Spirit, decoupled from God as flesh and God as Divine Authority, lives on with us as the Logos, or rational thought and truthful speech.
Just as God died because of what Christianity valued most highly—the Logos, or the Truth—Tom, the analogue of God, died because of what he valued most highly, the lighthouse, or the Divine Self. It was Ephraim, the analogue of Christ, who killed Tom and sacrificed himself for the betterment of society. Just as Christ was the Logos, or Truth, made flesh, and it was Truth which murdered God; Ephraim was the Self, or Individuality, made flesh, and it was Individuality which murdered Society.
Just as Christ saved society and saved God by killing both society and God with Truth, Ephraim saves society and saves the fire of Individuality by killing Tom and both murdering and sacrificing himself to society with Individualism. In both stories, the murders are in fact suicides. God the Father, the manifestation of society and the Super-Ego, the manifestation of the crowds at Judaea, sends Christ as a sacrifice to die at the cross, and, in doing so, sends himself to die at the cross. Christ, the manifestation of the Logos, kills God, thus killing himself. Ephraim’s real name is Thomas. This means that Thomas killed Tom, and, in doing so, Tommy essentially sacrificed himself.
Just as Catholics consume the body and blood of Christ, an act of ingesting the divine Logos, the seagulls now consume the body and blood of Ephraim, an act of ingesting the divine Self. Christ will become resurrected as the Holy Spirit, the dove, and Ephraim will be resurrected as the soul of a dead sailor, a seagull.
expression today is not used in the major French-speaking countries, France, Belgium
or Switzerland, but in the English-speaking world it is well known from Agatha
Christie’s books about the fictional Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot.
stereotypical French curse that is never used by real French people. Similar to
the mustache and the beret—something only non-French people think is typical of
As with many artists, it’s difficult to pin-point exactly what makes Gradi Nitert’s artwork stand out from others’, but it is immediately apparent that her artwork possesses an original style. Yet, Gradi’s work ranges across a wide spectrum of subjects and technique so, what common thread brings her artwork together?
“I think I now deeply realize my deepest core desire or ‘why’
is creating worlds where others—and myself—can find wonder; be surprised
by the estrangement and alienation.”
Gradi Nitert is a dutch illustrator, maker and creator from
Zwolle, in the Netherlands. Her work spans across collages, paintings and
digital artwork, and her art incorporates elements of surrealism, fauvism, and
abstraction. Drawing inspiration from dreams, oddities, music and a sense of
nostalgia, Gradi pushes the boundaries of conscious and unconscious
perceptions, and creates small pocket-realities of memories, imagination and
fragments of reality.
With this kaleidoscope of the unconscious, the strange, and
the familiarity of the past, Gradi’s artwork stretches the walls of reality,
until Gradi simply steps over those walls. Outside the confines of a prescribed
reality, Gradi defines her own rules, shapes her own landscapes, and gives life
to her own people and places. Yet, for all the absurd strangeness of her work,
Gradi has managed to build a bridge between her imagination and the world we
“As a little girl, I started creating little worlds—sometimes
with small, hidden moments in them that made me laugh. When making 2D or 3D work,
I always want to create an ambience where people feel nice, and with every
piece there is a journey of discovery. I love to get out of reality, stepping
or crawling into a new world—not to escape reality, just to discover a new one.
Creating new worlds is my passion, and in surrealism I can do that infinitely,
with a sense of connection.
“The curious thing is that I often like a sense of nostalgia
in my work—a hint to the past. So, again, by creating a new world, I don’t want
to lose our connection to reality. With things from the past, I want to give my
art a cozy, comfortable feeling. The past is like our own, personal collection.
I love to collect old, curious and peculiar things, so that I have that
comfortable sense of nostalgia in my personal life. Surrounding myself with
nice things, it gives me space to create and simply be.”
From the start, I found Gradi’s connection to music quite
“Music is the oil that makes the ideas come out. For all my
ideas I do first visualize them in my head, which sometimes is a problem
because by experimenting you’ll find yourself in things you never thought of in
the first place. I try to do both, pushing myself to experiment with materials,
and ‘to just do it’ and make ‘mistakes’, but I think still 70% of my work I see
in my head. How? I don’t know. Maybe the music is a trigger; maybe the ambience
or mood creates unconscious links and triggers. I love instrumental music the
best; classical music, music from movies, or orchestras. Orchestra plus rock or
electronic beats and other mashups are perfect too. I love Rob Dougan, as well
as big band music—music from the 20’s to 40’s.”
In music, like in art, meaning is formed from the
relationships of small components, and the patterns across a piece. Chords
harmonize from notes across a scale. Chord progressions and rhythms form a landscape
of sound, with melodies and improvisations roaming across that landscape.
Together, these things form a cohesive whole. Formed from the placement of many
small parts, the composer creates their own, unique space within the sound.
In art, colors, lines and shapes harmonize into the
fundamental forms of a piece. These come together into the images or symbols of
the piece. The placement and composition of each image forms a relationship
with the other images, and together they create a new world of the artists
What’s peculiar about Gradi’s artwork is that, despite the
seeming arbitrariness of her art, she forms something cohesive and meaningful.
Similar to jazz, orchestra, and other instrumental music, Gradi’s art doesn’t
tell you what you should be thinking about, and yet it still feels familiar. The
worlds she creates define their own rules, patterns and relationships, and it’s
from these patterns and relationships that Gradi creates its meaningfulness.
“I was asked by producer-duo Seven League Beats to create a
cd-cover while they were finishing their music. I saw their process develop
from “sketches of sound” to the final CD. It was an amazing project. They gave
me very personal notes of why they created that CD, what drove them to make the
music, and what inspired them. Since they were a duo, there were two experiences
I had to fuse into one ambience-world. Listening and isolating myself with the
music made me create the final design. Sound and music have always been a huge
inspiration for me—it easily takes me into that ‘world’ in my head, and the
creations flow out of my head onto paper. Some movies, I listened to over 200
times, and never fully watched them, just because the sound design and music is
The two most prominent ways Gradi portrays her small worlds
are with her choice of imagery, and her application of color theory. Gradi’s
work achieves its dream-like effect by pairing random subjects and objects
together, and by blending realism with abstraction. This is seen particularly
in her collage-work, where she pairs together animals, people, plants,
architecture, and other random objects.
Some of her work anthropomorphizes animals, or clumps odd
arrangements of visuals together. Some of her work pushes towards more uncanny cliff-edges
of the weird and strange, but never comes across as disturbing, or so strange
or novel that it’s unpleasant to look at. By toeing the line between strange
and familiar, Gradi pulls us into the worlds of her invention, and invites us
into spaces created from her dreams and imagination.
With “Weirdscape”, from Gradi’s “Nation of Nonsense” series,
Gradi combines three rocks, a planet, a bear, and a pathway of boxes. The bear
is walking across the path of boxes, with a planet emerging from its body, and
the rocks projecting up and out from the planet. It’s arbitrary, it’s random,
it’s nonsense, yet it feels meaningful to look at.
There is an orderly placement of each object, with the
direction of the bear, planet and rocks centered and perpendicular to the
boxes, and there is a hierarchy of size with the objects. There is a single,
small rock at the top, the bear and the planet at the center, and the endless
rows of boxes at the bottom. Despite its apparent nonsense, there’s a pattern
and an organization to the image.
Beyond the selection and arrangement of images, a major part
of what gives “Weirdscape” and other pieces of Gradi’s meaning is her use of
color. Much like the Fauvists of the modern art movement, Gradi uses color in a
surreal, dream-like way. Rather than depict reality as we know it, Gradi colors
her new worlds in muted tones and unnatural hues.
Though some of Gradi’s art appears to have random color
schemes, Gradi’s use of color is just as organized and meaningful as it is dream-like
and strange. She uses scales of complimentary and analogous colors, but also
uses scales of values—from neutral tones to brighter, vibrant colors—to create
dreamy, pleasing and cohesive color schemes.
In “Weirdscape”, she uses a light, muted purple as her
background, with a dark purple bear and a light blue-purple planet at the
center. The two uppermost rocks are colored with orange/red-orange and
purple/red-purple, with a few hints of blue. At the bottom are the neutral-tan
boxes, which contrast with the other colors, but also pair with the muted and
lighter shades throughout the rest of the piece. Though the colors are strange
and otherworldly, they’re arranged in a pleasing pattern, which clicks in our
heads as something meaningful and familiar.
Another example of this use of color can be seen in “Cult”.
The background is a chalky black, which transitions into the dark, red-purple
bodies of the figures. The heads range on one end of the color spectrum from
red-orange to violet, and on the other end, blue-green to yellow. Despite the
abstract use of color, the hues of the odd figures are tied together like notes
along a scale, with the purple-red bodies grounded in the black background.
While “Cult” can be analyzed technically, this piece also
ties back to Gradi’s interest in the unconscious—which is actually her
inspiration for the color choice.
“This is one of my
paintings I made in response to some dreams I had. A period of my life I couldn’t
sleep during the nights and barely stayed awake during the day. That period had
some really inspiring visuals for me. The dreams were so complex, so deep, I
had to recreate them. I even tried to make myself have lucid dreams, but I
never really succeeded. The colors I saw were so consistently intense, it took
me a while, but I managed to ‘catch’ them and transfer them on my canvas. That
period was one of the darkest in my life, you can imagine lack of sleep is a
real killer. When I look back at the works I created that time, I can still see
and feel the darkness I sunk into.”
Across cultures and throughout history, humans have a
fascination with dreams, and, since Freud and his contemporaries, there’s been
a fascination with the unconscious parts of our mind. It’s become apparent to
many that there seems to be some connection with the unconscious and art, music,
or writing—with creativity and ingenuity in general.
This connection between dreaming and reality has been a
major inspiration for Gradi and her art.
“I think I can analyze my work more and more after looking
back at myself when I made the piece. Dreams are a way of processing. By not giving
yourself time and rest to do so, it will be a mess starting with intense
dreams. I don’t think dreams give you literal answers or views of your mind,
but I think you can learn from them sometimes; maybe you have to think things
over more. Maybe you have more difficulties with a subject than you thought.
But also, the weirdness of dreams is amazing, right? It’s funny to think you sometimes
dream unthinkable weirdness, but it’s still your head thinking it. That makes
you think, don’t you think?
“I love how endless your brain can be, the unique ideas and
images you can create, and how unfortunate 80% of the stuff we make looks like
each other. Unfortunately, I don’t remember my dreams anymore the last few
years—though, for me personally, I know that is a good thing. I have some
peace—some rest in my head—but my unconscious is of course still influencing my
work. In a good way, but also some times in a bad way.”
On her piece, “Dreamsight”, Gradi stated:
“In the same series
as ‘Cult’, is Dreamsight. Notably, I always hid the faces during that time. I
think it’s an unconscious choice I made. I wanted to hide—trying to understand
this intensely confusing feeling. I still often make my paintings like that.”
Dreams, daydreams, the unconscious, and the storm of
thoughts that can invade our waking minds, can all be seen as a window to the
soul, or to the Self. Yes, we must mediate between our personal selves and the selves
we put out into the world, but we must do so without obscuring our inner realities,
our inner selves. I think this might be one of the greatest challenges of the
modern era—of rediscovering the things that made humanity, and that make each
of our lives, meaningful.
Gradi shows this with her piece, “Block”.
“I think this is the painting that describes my most dominant and recurrent topic in my personal work and life. Trying to escape the mold of society. I painted myself stuck in the structure (I call ‘the mold’) and the pressure I feel very deeply in the Western world. We constantly get shown how we should live. People just assume it is the way you should go. And how simple the solution looks like, I still have to remind myself as an adult to follow my own path. It’s easy to float in the stream, you know.
“Stuck, oppressive, trying to get out. The world walking
numb in circles around you.”
When I asked Gradi to explain this sense of pressure from
society, she explained:
“I think it’s the unnatural overload of advertisement, the
core of materialism and capitalism, and the acceleration and the growing
presence of social media everywhere. The way ‘normal’ is portrayed, and the way
it must be in your life is constantly rubbed in your face. It’s really a
struggle, the jealousy (really nasty feeling), and thinking 10,000 people can
do what I do better, so why should I make this stuff.
“What can I contribute to this (art) world? All slowly
slipped in my mind. Good thing you can go offline—literally stop or unplug—but
it had me, and I didn’t even know it… …it is just something that unconsciously
slips into my life, and by not reminding myself, I will do and make stuff I don’t
My favorite piece of Gradi’s—the beautiful, vibrant and expressive, “Silence”—expands on this idea.
“This one I made more
recently. I think my style constantly develops. I also believe that experiment
and development is crucial to your work and your own, personal development. I
don’t want to stand still. I always try to find new, other, or better ways to
“’Silence’ is made with the feeling that you have to be your own explorer, instead of listening or looking at others. I think this is an important topic in my work. Look at ‘Dreamsight’. So many influences with the same eggs. Don’t create the same egg. Create your own.”
Let it out. Let yourself, your ideas, your creativity—your
inner reality—flow out from your head, and into the world around you. Let the
space you inhabit be your own, and don’t let the world constrict you so much
that you lose sight of what’s important and meaningful—don’t let the world
constrict you so much you lose sight of who you even are. Bring your own vision
to bear upon the society that bears down on each of us.
When talking about developing her style, Gradi stated:
“I can’t remember not wanting to be an artist; it is my
love, my why. It never was and still is not easy—to be an independent artist,
to make art most of my time. To develop my own style, I always push myself to
reflect my work and myself—reminding myself why I want to make art, what
inspires me, and what has always driven me.
“After being ‘lost’, and not being true to myself as an
artist, I slowly started making stuff I thought others would love to have.
Since I had to make money, pay my rent, pay my bills, and not really have other
degrees or skills, I HAD TO MAKE IT, I HAD to make MONEY. People had to love my
work and pay for it so I could make art and not have to work elsewhere—elsewhere
meant no energy or inspiration left to make art. Otherwise it was office jobs,
and that would slowly dull me out. But I realized that I only want to inspire
people, make people feel good a little bit by looking at my work.
“Not money. I just want to MAKE. And the only way to do so,
is make what I love. Make what inspires me, only then can I give that spark to
someone else. And so, I try to experiment, and also remind myself often why I
make what I make. And that makes me go forward, and it makes me happy.”
The last piece of Gradi’s in this article, “Circus”, is a
simple yet beautiful example of what makes her work unique. It’s like a
photograph taken from a distant mindscape—possibly an image from a textbook on the
geography of dreams and the unconscious.
“Okay, after the previous works, I want to show you the
other side of creating. The fun just drips off this work. It was made after I
read Kafka’s ‘Ein Hungerkünstler’ [A Hunger Artist] (1924). Shuffling and
combining collages and pieces of paper, until I created the right ambience of
that masterpiece by Kafka. It shows my hints of nostalgia, my love of paper and
oddity, and the experiment I always recommend.
‘Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you
—a quote by Albert Einstein.”
I was a little surprised that the inspiration from this came from Kafka’s “Ein Hungerkünstler”, as it’s a rather dark read. It’s about an artist who starves himself in a cage for days on end for the entertainment of others. When the artist finally dies from starvation, they are replaced by a panther, which the crowd finds far more entertaining than the artist. However, I thought about this for a little while, and it began to make sense to me.
I don’t want to speak too much for Gradi’s interpretation of
Kafka, but, relating it back to her other artwork, between the self-starving
artist and the panther, the crowd found the panther far more enjoyable. Why? Because
the original artist became a hollow husk for the sake of others’ pleasure, but
the panther was something wild and true—something full of life, something that
didn’t apologize for its existence, or seek to please others with its own
Gradi likewise overcame her need to please others with her
art, and became an artist as wild, true and full of life as the panther. We’re
not searching for artwork that was designed to entertain, we’re searching for creations
that emerged out of someplace deeper. Gradi’s art not only emerges from that
deeper place, but creates a bridge for us to cross over and join her in the worlds
of her creation.
If you enjoyed Gradi’s work, you can find her on Instagram
@studiosacrebleu. You can purchase prints, original artwork, and other products
of her design at https://www.studiosacrebleu.nl/.
If you’re ever in Europe (or, if you live in Europe), her work can be found in
a wide variety of shops (which you can find on her website), and—if you catch
her at the right time—festivals, galleries and other events.
had begun telling them about my job as a contributor to a magazine, when we
heard a gunshot. It wasn’t too close—I’d guess about five or six blocks away—but
it stopped us in our tracks as soon as we heard it. There were other people out
and about, most of them looked as confused as we were, and they all stopped and
turned as well when the gunshot went off. All was quiet for a couple seconds.
No cars. No sirens. No talking. I had never been in a city this quiet before in
began looking at each other. I heard some murmuring. John began to ask, “What
do you think that—“
a few people began walking the other way. Although there were no more gunshots,
the nearby threat of them struck fear in everyone. It certainly struck fear in
me. I asked, “Should we go back?”
said Paul, “the police station is only a couple blocks away, we should be
what about those gunshots?” Mary asked.
be alright, that was pretty far away.”
else seemed to quietly accept this, or at least they didn’t vocalize any
argument so, we kept on walking. We turned around the corner at the end of the block.
Diagonal from us, at the corner of the next intersection, was the police
station. There was a crowd of people gathered around it. I guess everyone had
the same idea as us—to find the nearest authority and try to figure out what
was going on. This also meant that everyone else around here was having the
same problems as us.
we came up to the crowd—it was maybe only twenty, thirty people—we asked the
first few that were closest to us what was going on. They said they didn’t
know. “One of the officers came out a while ago saying they’d try to get some
answers,” said a man in the crowd, “they’re not letting anyone in right now or
anyone else’s phone working?” I asked.
said a woman, “nothing’s working.”
cars? No radios? Nothing?”
the woman repeated.
didn’t make sense to me for a second. How could nothing be working? What did
that mean? That… That couldn’t be right. Everything was working just yesterday.
“So,” Ahab began to ask, “what are the police doing? What’s anyone doing?”
woman was about to answer, when some yelling and jostling within the crowd
caught all of our attention. We looked to see two people shoving each other, knocking
each other into everyone around them. . The people who were smart and quick enough
began moving out of the crowd, but others began joining in. It all began
happening too fast. Someone began throwing punches. Someone got thrown to the
we were already on the edge of the crowd, so we started backing away easily,
but then someone in the brawl got shoved out toward us and careened right into
Ahab, knocking him to the ground. We pulled the man off of Ahab, and the man
got up and began running away down the street. Ahab had hit his head on the
asphalt and was bleeding. He was still conscious, but he looked like he could
barely tell where he was at.
and Paul dragged him a few yards away to the sidewalk behind us—away from the
brawl. “Abe!” John said. “Abe! Can you hear me, can you—”
gunshots exploded through the air. We all looked up to see the crowd of people
breaking up. “Go home!” someone was yelling, “Go home and stay home! Do not
leave your houses unless you absolutely have to! Go home before we start
crowd dispersed enough that we could see a police officer standing in front of
the station. John stood up from Ahab’s side. “Officer!” he yelled, “Officer,
over here! Please help us!”
officer heard Paul and looked over at us. For a second, he looked like he was
going to ignore us and go back inside, but then he seemed to realize what was
going on. He jogged across the street to us and stopped in front of Ahab, who
was groaning and looking worse with every second. “What happened?” asked the
fell out of the crowd and knocked him over,” Paul answered.
an EMT,” said John, “I can help him, I just need some first aid supplies. Do
you have anything?”
officer looked between us all, as if sizing us up. For a moment, I wasn’t sure
if he would help us at all, then he said, “Yea, we’ve got plenty. Come on,
we’ll bring him in.”
and Paul helped Ahab to his feet. However, Ahab could barely walk on his own,
so John and Paul essentially carried him across the street, with Ahab’s feet
moving in time. At the station, the officer held the door open for us, and we
all filed in. “We’re bringing in someone who got wounded,” the officer called
inside, “help them find medical supplies.”
two men carried Ahab inside, and we were led in by the Police Officer. Inside
the building, it was dark. There was light coming in through the windows, and
they had lit several candles here and there, but it was impossible to ignore
the fact that this station—this bastion of law, order and authority—had no
electricity in it. The presence of the police officers set my mind at ease
somewhat, but they were all bustling around in a frustrated way that unnerved just
as much as it comforted me.
anyone know what’s going on?” I asked the officer as he led us inside.
shook his head as he ushered us quickly through the station, arms over us
protectively. This was something else I found both comforting and unnerving. I
was glad to feel protected this way by the officer, but it unnerved me that it
was at all necessary. “No one knows what happened. At first we thought it was
the power grid, but that was a pretty dumb idea.”
don’t need a power grid. Cell-phones rely on the grid for signal, but not to
turn on. Batteries aren’t working. Nothing electrical is working.” The officer
led us into a sort of waiting room with chairs we could sit on. “Someone said
something about a solar flare, but no one knows enough about silence here to do
much more than bullshit.”
I’m sorry, science.”
So what’s going on?” I asked. We were sitting down now.
told you, we don’t know—“
mean what’s going on aroung the city? What are you guys doing? What’s… What’s
the plan? How are you guys going to start fixing it all?”
officer shrugged. His body language said he had work to do, but he’d indulge me
another couple answers. “We got in touch with some electricians and an
engineer. They’re checking the lines and the electrical stations around here. The
plan right now is to try keeping the city from collapsing onto istelf.”
did you get in touch with them if you have no electronics? Or, if none of its
working? And what do you mean, ‘collapsing in on itself’?”
rode bikes. We’ve been riding bikes all over the city, there’s nothing else we
can do right now. And people are starting to go crazy out there. You’re lucky
we let you in, this is probably the safest place in the entire city to be.”
are going crazy?” I asked.
officer nodded, then spoke, “I have to go. You two stay here. I won’t be too
far if you need anything. You and your friends can stay here at the station for
officer left the three of us there in the waiting room, baffled and alone with
each other. We sat down together, but didn’t say much. I couldn’t stop thinking
that the rest of the city might be falling apart outside. Everything we relied
on had all of a sudden collapsed around us. I felt I might start going crazy
too. I looked at Catherine and Mary. They looked like they were feeling the
three of us sat in silence for a little bit, but soon, Mary began talking to
us. I was anxious enough that I immediately focused all my attention on a
trivial conversation about our lives.. Yesterday, I might have only halfway
listened to her, while the other half of my mind kept wandering back to thoughts
of a glowing screen. Today, I couldn’t have been more grateful for the contact.
I hadn’t known Mary very well before, we had a few, short conversations every
few weeks or so, and that was it, but I found that I liked her pretty well,
given the circumstances. The same with Catherine. I hadn’t known her at all
before this, but I found that I liked her quite a bit.
and Catherine seemed to like me too, and they seemed to like each other. Oddly
enough, for three people who had never talked much or at all in real life, we
got along pretty well. Maybe we were substituting each other for texts and
comments, but it was working. We were slowly but surely filling the holes in
our rapidly beating hearts, and forgetting that the world might be coming
few hours passed by in conversation and a few awkward silences in between. We
would have short bursts or long storms of conversation, but nothing more than a
half an hour of talk. It was as if none of knew how to keep a conversation
going. We managed to pick the conversation back up at least, without too much
hesitation in between. Still, the day dragged on and on. The conversations
slowed, and grew duller and more fragmented.
later—past noon, I guessed—Paul and John came back with Ahab. Ahab’s head was
wrapped up, and John told us he had a concussion. Ahab could walk on his own
now, but it was slow and uncertain. He came into the waiting room and sat down
next to Mary. John said they were going to go to a nearby hospital and see if they
could get some painkillers for Ahab.
want to go with you,” I said, almost without hesitating.
said John, “you should stay here at the station. We talked with the officer who
brought us to the medical supplies, and he said there’s already a lot of chaos
brewing in the city.”
be fine,” I said, feigning bravery. The truth was, I had to get out. I had to
do something—anything. “How far away is the hospital?”
about five blocks away,” said Paul.
you shouldn’t go,” said John.
are you to tell me to stay?” I asked. “I’m an adult. If I want to go, I can
her come with us,” said Paul, “it’d probably be safer.”
didn’t say anything for a few seconds. Then he relented. “Fine, you can come
with us. But,” he said, looking at Mary and Catherine, “I need you two here
with Ahab to make sure he’s alright. If anything happens, get one of the
officers. They should know at least a little bit about emergency medical care.”
said Catherine, nodding. Mary nodded as well, but didn’t say anything.
Paul, John and I left. We found the officer who let us into the building and
told him what we were going to do. He told us that was fine, and that he’d let
us back in once we returned. Paul thanked him profusely. Then the three of us
were out the building and walking down the street. There wasn’t anyone outside.
I assumed that everyone realized this was something of a state of emergency.
walked past the station and down to the next four-way intersection. Here, we took
a right. About halfway down this street, there was an abandoned Pawn shop that
had been broken into. This troubled me, but I only thought of it as odd at
first. Someone just being opportunistic and looting for whatever random things
they could find in there? Rings? Guitars? TVs? Maybe some DVDs or power tools?
Then I remembered all the guns, knives, and even swords and other weapons I’d
seen in pawn shops. I got even more worried.
passed up the pawn shop, and, almost instinctively, I reached for my pocket. My
hand was in my pocket when I caught myself, and I pulled my hand away. I began
to wonder how ingrained my cellphone use was in my brain. Were there withdrawal
symptoms? I had heard of people being truly addicted to their phones and
tablets. I used my pretty often—I wouldn’t have called myself addicted, however—and
I was already missing it.
about twenty minutes of walking, we took a left, and the hospital was down at
the end of the street. Outside, there were dozens of people. Most of them were
sitting around, smoking or talking. Some of them looked like doctors. Others
looked like patients. Others were just normal-looking people. It was a strange
we approached the hospital, we saw that the doors were open, and people were
rushing about inside—almost as frantically as the police officers. A doctor
smoking a cigarette looked up at us as we approached. He looked exhausted,
miserable, and not in the least bit excited to see us. “Are you guys out of
power here too?” John asked the doctor.
doctor nodded and took a drag on the cigarette.
you guys handled it?” John asked.
doctor shook his head slowly. “We haven’t. We can’t. There’s no way to handle
slowly dawned on me what it meant to lose power at a hospital.
happened?” John asked.
doctor took one last drag on the cigarette, then put it out on the metal bench
he was sitting on. “We lost power at midnight. We lost over a dozen patients in
the first hour. We lost almost thirty by sunrise. Forty-two in total.”
John asked, aghast.
doctor nodded. “And it’s only a matter of time before we lose more. We’ll
probably lose someone else in the next half-hour. There’s no life-support, no
heart monitors, no computers, nothing. If we had enough people, we could keep
tabs on everyone at once—at least check heart rate and blood pressure, and
distribute some sort of life-support manually, but there’s not enough people.
There’s no way. We can’t reach out to anyone, we can’t transport anyone
somewhere else, we can’t do anything except give pills and wrap people in
shit,” John whispered.
doctor stood up. “I have to go back in,” he said, “what are you three here
looking for some pain meds. Our friend had a concussion, his head’s gonna be
killing him soon.”
doctor shook his head. “We can’t give anything out right now.” Then he pointed
down the street. We all looked to see a Walgreens a block away. “That’s your
best bet. It never opened, but the doors weren’t locked, you can force them
open. We’ve been sending people there all day.”
nodded. “Okay, thanks.”
doctor nodded and turned around to head back into the hospital. “Don’t bring
your friend here,” he said without looking back at us.
walked down the block to the Walgreens. As we approached, we saw that the
sliding doors were already open. A man emerged from inside with a white bottle
in their hands. He looked at us for a moment, and no one really knew what to
do. The man nodded cautiously, then turned and walked off down a street to our
left. We entered the Walgreens, and found that it was completely silent inside.
didn’t take long to make it to the back of the store, where all the
pharmaceuticals were. “Should we really be doing this?” I asked. “Isn’t this
have to do something,” said John, “Abraham’s head is going to be killing him
soon, and all that stress is just going to make his condition even worse. We
need something to take the edge off, maybe a light sedative if he can’t sleep”
skipped the aisles of over-the-counter bottles and went straight to the
walled-in area where the pharmacists kept the real drugs. We found that the
door had already been busted. “John,” I said, “we shouldn’t go in there.”
not?” asked John.
wrong, and it’s probably very illegal. Let’s just get some ibuprofen or
something and go- something harmless and over-the-counter.”
know what he needs,” said John, entering the pharmacist’s room, “and this is an
emergency—the doctor said it was okay.” Then, John disappeared into the room,
and we could only briefly see him moving around through the windows in the
shocked me how quickly John reverted to stealing prescription medicine—it
hadn’t even been a full day since this all started. It shocked me how quickly
things had slid into chaos, and how quickly everyone seemed to be going crazy.
It’s like people had begun to forget who they were yesterday, and that we were
all civilized twenty-four hours ago. I looked at Paul, and he looked just as
worried. When John emerged carrying several bottles, I asked him what he had
gotten, as I thought he only needed two things.
I got a couple types of painkillers, I got some Xanax, some Ambien, and plenty
of anti-biotics. I figured we could use what we needed for Abraham, keep a
bottle of anti-biotics for ourselves, take some Xanax, and give the rest to the
police. They’re letting us stay there, and I’m sure they might need some of all
these. We could just say the hospital gave us—”
you kidding me?” I asked, “Some Xanax and… and keep the anti-biotics for our—“
John interrupted, “we don’t know what’s going on. We don’t know how long it’s
going to last. We don’t know what might happen. We can’t abide by normal rules
right now, and I’m sure anyone would agree with that. This isn’t the same city
we lived in yesterday. Things aren’t normal, and we can’t pretend like they’re
normal until they are normal again.”
John began walking to the entrance of the Walgreens. He walked past Paul and I
without looking at us. “Then we can
pretend everything is normal.”
was right. I looked at Paul. He was about to say something, I could tell-
something to comfort me. But I could also tell that Paul believed John, and I
knew that I had begun to believe John. I shook my head. “He’s right,” I said.
nodded. We both turned and followed John out of the Walgreens. We made it back
to the police station without any trouble. We gave Ahab a small cocktail of
pharmaceuticals, then everyone but me took a Xanax. When John offered me one, I
thanked him and put it in my pocket. I didn’t feel right taking something that
was stolen. Then John brought the Xanax, a bottle of painkillers and two bottles
of anti-biotics to the police. He kept a bottle of anti-biotics, painkillers,
and Ambien for us.
officer he handed them to seemed uncertain at first. Then John said that they
were from the hospital, and that he thought the officers might need some. He
also said it was a way of repaying them for their help. The officer seemed to
like that. The entire time, the two of them were playing their respective roles—the
EMT, the good-guy and the civilian, and the man of authority, the upholder of law
and the mediator of justice—but, in the end, they were just two people
bullshitting their way through survival.
came back, saying that the officers would let us stay the night since it was
getting late and they didn’t want us having to walk back home in the dark. So,
we all ended up going to sleep here in the dark. John, Paul, Mary, Catherine
and Ahab all fell asleep pretty quickly—I saw John pull two more footballs from
his pocket and disperse them to Mary and Catherine, and they fell asleep minutes
however, had much difficulty falling asleep, however, and stayed awake for
several hours. I frequently thought about the emails that must have been piling
up—unless the entire world had shut off, and there was no one on the planet who
could send me emails—and I thought about how nice it would have been to check
my phone. I distracted myself from these thoughts, and all my other worries, by
watching the officers. It was my only form of entertainment. Eventually, around
midnight, I began to drift of to sleep. My eyes shut on their own, and I was
lulled into a comfortable sleep.
Pierre Lucero is an artist from Aurora, IL, who creates wild explosions of colorful imagery with marker and pen. Each of his pieces showcase a command of color theory and detailed linework, while also displaying insane supernovas of psychedelic visuals. With artwork that spans across a vast multitude of subjects, and near-infinite variations of his style, it’s difficult to know where to begin with Lucero’s art.
For each piece of art, Lucero seems to open a small bottle of inky chaos, then pours the contents of that bottle over a blank sheet of paper, until all the irrational contents of a dozen dreams and a dozen nightmares cover the page. Many of Lucero’s pieces show a storm of multicolored guts and flames, and fluids and brains, all radiating from some insane epicenter. In some pieces, the images converge at the center onto an eye, or a mouth, a skull, or an alien head. Other pieces have more concrete images or designs, while others portray landscapes, creatures, or people. Many pieces are just nightmares emerging from fever dreams, with no primary subject or object to focus on.
Then there are pieces like “Spongebub”, where Lucero takes everyone’s favorite sea sponge, and transforms him into a tornado of texture, objects and imagery.
“A tribute to one of my favorite cartoon characters growing
up as a child, “Spongebub” is a psychedelic doodlebob originating from none
other than Nickelodeon’s classic SpongeBob. I incorporated transparencies as
the arms flailing throughout the piece, since I didn’t know exactly what to do
with them from the start. The effect is achieved by not adding any line work
inside the shape, but still coloring it in as it would be, then outlining it
with white highlight. Maybe I’ll return to this little series with a Patrick.”
Much of Lucero’s art is seemingly pulled straight from the
ether, with only a small thread of reality being cast into a gulf of
imagination, where some irrational leviathan is caught and hauled onto Lucero’s
blank bristol. On “Bloomer”, Lucero had this to say:
“This piece means a lot to me in terms of the direction I
try to achieve in my artwork. An obvious centerpiece filled with an explosion
of random objects protruding outwards. I made it in the summer of 2016. The
idea was given to me by my girlfriend when we took a photo together, and I had
put a flower over my eye. The bottom pyramid piece was made to poke at the
Illuminati joke I always get from people, claiming that my art is so good I
must have sold my soul to get to where I’m at. Or maybe I actually did sell my
soul at one point, who knows.”
A few glances at his work, and it’s not difficult to believe
Lucero’s ideas might come from some sultan of a yawning, artistic void.
Yet, calling Lucero’s work pure chaos, or chalking it up to
infernal intervention, would not do it justice, as each piece is a feat of
time, effort and creativity. Lucero’s artwork is meticulously detailed and
colored—with Lucero pulling infrequent all-nighters to finish various
pieces—yet much of his artwork comes from spontaneous imaginings, rather than
“I’m still unsure where my ideas come from… …Very often do I
have any idea what I’m actually going to create next. It’s always a blank sheet
and continuously caking things on that I think would look unique bunched up
On his piece, “Broken”, Lucero said:
“This is another random drawing that probably has no real
meaning, just solely for the purpose of looking weird. Repeating hands didn’t
become a thing in my artwork until 2018, and I’ve been addicted to incorporating
them ever since. This also makes me more interested in animation. I think this
piece also is a good example of how bright and vivid my work can look when
there is no limitations. We may be finite physically, but our imagination is
Lucero typically utilizes graphite, copic markers, and ink,
though he also uses watercolor and acrylic in some of his work. His pieces
typically begin with a small idea drawn with graphite, and then another small
idea, and then, perhaps, another, until a pile of ideas are laid out across a
formerly blank sheet of paper. From there, Lucero goes over his initial drawing
with a size 1 micron (if he hasn’t already been going over them), and then goes
over everything with thicker microns and fills in any black space. Lucero then
begins with the base colors of the image (almost always starting with any hands
or mouths), before filling in the entire image with color. To finish each piece
off, Lucero shades all the images, goes over them with different shades of
gray, and finally adds highlights to the piece.
Though many of his pieces are wildly ambiguous, and filled
at times with seemingly arbitrary images, much of Lucero’s art coalesces into
themes present in all our lives.
For “Caterpillar”, Lucero said:
“I created this piece with the thought of insect evolution
and how far it may go. Exaggerated for dynamic effects in the art piece alone,
but the idea remains. I’ve always wondered if certain animals or insects would
follow the same evolution path as humans did. Will any species’ make it past a
point where their ancestors branch out a different route and become as highly
intelligent as humans are? Extinction plays a big factor in this question,
seeing as every living creature’s goal is survival, so what is the pinnacle of
intelligence and are humans #1 when it is all said and done.”
In “Caterpillar”, we see a tangled mass of multicolored
brain matter (presumably) in the bottom right corner, and arms reaching from the
same corner. Then, swerving across the page, we see a series of images, all eventually
converging into a caterpillar head. It begins with octopus tentacles and a
butterfly, then morphs into a strange face, then a demon-like head, mouths,
skulls, fluids, hands, eyes, and a pharaoh’s mask. The last leg of “Caterpillar”
is a flaming head, roses, a variety of ribbons, colorful spheres, a burning
animal head, and finally the caterpillar head.
Lucero demonstrates a sort of evolutionary shift from one
image to the next—from a brain, to tentacles and a butterfly, to peace signs
and angry, gaping mouths, to a caterpillar. It shows the movement of evolution
as one continuous thread, the movement of states of being across thousands of
generations of existence, and ends with an insect that naturally shifts and
metamorphoses across time.
Just how the caterpillar evolved across time to become
something which metamorphoses throughout its life, humans are a creature who’ve
evolved across millions of years to become what we are now—a creature with the
capacity to metamorphose itself. And yet, it’s possible something else may take
our place at the top of the food chain. Reality is not static, it is dynamic
and ever-changing, and the lives we all know and believe to be firm may one day
fall out from beneath our feet.
“This drawing was made after the election of Trump. The idea
of mass destruction and nuclear weapons didn’t become a reality until that for
me. Although I’d rather not be right about the situation, the idea of it will
always be there. Its crazy to think how many nuclear weapons are already made
and ready to detonate, I find it highly, highly unlikely that nothing will ever
be set off again. But I also fear that in this modern are, it’ll be the last
time they do, when they do.”
“Fallout” depicts a skeleton flying through the air, filled
with multicolored organs of some sort. Though this presumably depicts the physical
effects of a nuclear war, I wonder also if this depicts the psychological
effects of the threat of nuclear war.
Since 2016, how many of us worldwide have been affected by the political and
cultural shifts we’ve seen? How many of us still regard life in the same way?
How many of us—right or left or center—have walked away from the 2016 elections
unchanged? How many of us have returned unharmed and unmutated by the bombs
that were so carelessly dropped—from the left, right, and center—and how many
of us have escaped the fallout that remains today?
And, for “Mankind”, Lucero says:
“Sometimes I wish I could see the linear timeline for the
human race. What will eventually make us extinct? Future
discoveries/inventions, wars not yet had, evolutionary traits, space
exploration/alien contact, and so on. I wonder how different the year 2019 will
be from the year 14780—if we’d be living far more advanced lives, if we’d nuke ourselves
back to the stoneage, or maybe we’d colonize another planet by then.”
“Mankind” is a head melting away from some internal
explosion of information and chaos. It almost harkens back to “Caterpillar” and
“Fallout”, and depicts our minds as we grapple with life. We see the good in
here, we see the bad in here—creativity and progress, spaceships and confetti, and
gnashing mouths, barbed-wire fence and melting brain matter. We see the future,
and the progress of mankind. We see extinction, and we see lost civilization.
And we see us, staring out at the world from a ruined head, wondering what we’re
looking at (though we can’t seem to turn our eyes around and gaze at the realities
in our heads).
However, try as I might, Lucero’s art isn’t intended to have
one, specific meaning. Some of his artwork isn’t intended to have any specific
meaning, other than what we see when we look at it.
“People are free to think about whatever they’d like when
they look at my art. I hope people can take away more than the usual “I wonder
how long this took him!” Not saying that’s a bad thing, but its often what
people are left wondering with. I believe there’s so much more in each piece of
mine that makes it hard for people not to take away something. Some objects in
my work, or entire pieces, might correspond differently to different people and
vice versa. I only hope people are left inspired to create something themselves
after viewing one of my pieces. Not only that, but to view composition and
contrast differently, being able to alter reality through a piece of paper on
canvas holds tremendous power.”
This last piece, “Blue”, seems to show everything that makes
Lucero’s art his own. It’s an amorphous, tumbling and roiling glob of texture,
images, objects, and forms. We see a skull at its epicenter, and Lucero’s somewhat-signature
mouths and hands. We see chains and spires and eyes and signs and organs and
fluids and tendrils and limbs and stars, and even a fetus near the center,
still in the placenta.
And this is the art of Pierre Lucero. It’s wild, it’s
chaotic. It’s amorphous and ambiguous. It’s mildly insane, but it also come
from much discipline and practice. It comes from hours upon hours, multiplied
across days, across months, across years, and the result is a portfolio of
incredibly detailed and fascinating images. Do they all have a purpose and
meaning? Perhaps not, but they’re all capable of eliciting some deeper,
internal response upon seeing them, which makes you wonder, “Where do these ideas
Pierre Lucero has been included in a number of expos and galleries, so, if you’re in his area, look him up, and try seeing his art in person if there are any shows he’s currently in. If you’d like to buy any stickers, prints, pins, shirts, or original artwork of his, you can find his work here:
The following paper analyzes how the theme of fear has changed in Australian Literature over time. The Australian settlers responsible for our early gothic fictions gave external form to their internal fears through their descriptions of the landscape as eerie, dangerous and monstrous. While some contemporary works, such as Craig Silvey’s Jasper Jones, revisit the nation’s classic literary themes of racism and “who belongs?”, others, such as Liane Moriarty’s Truly Madly Guilty, fall into the emerging trend of domestic suburban thrillers. Both these works will be analysed through a psychoanalytic, post-colonial and feminist lens to determine how contemporary fiction has changed the face of fear.
Fear has played a major
role in the history of Australian literature in response to the establishment
of British colonies and what that meant to Aboriginal culture and way of life;
beginning with the gothic tales published in the late nineteenth century. The
colonial writers of these early Australian novels wove unnerving tales about
the anxiety of not belonging in a foreign land. At the same time, the unknown
landscape also inspired their fearful descriptions. In The Anthology of
Colonial Australian Gothic Fiction, author Marcus Clarke provides a ghostly
description of the Australian landscape.
The Australian mountain
forests are funeral, secret, scorn. Their solitude is desolation. They seem to
stifle, in their black gorges, a story of sullen despair . . . In the
Australian forests no leaves fall. The savage winds shout among the rock
clefts. From the melancholy gums scrips of white bark hang and rustle. The very
animal life of these frowning hills is either grotesque or ghostly. Great grey
kangaroos hop noiselessly over the coarse grass. Flights of white cockatoos stream
out, shrieking like evil souls. The sun suddenly sinks, and the mopokes bursts
out into horrible peals of semi-human laughter. The natives aver that, when
night comes, from out the bottomless depth of some lagoon the Bunyip rises,
and, in form like monstrous sea calf, drags his loathsome length from out the
ooze. From a corner of the silent forest rises a dismal chant, and around a
fire dance natives painted like skeletons. All is fear-inspiring and gloomy
Gerry Turcolte, lecturer at
the University of Wollongong, provides further insight into the Gothic
narratives place in the history of Australian literature.
Long before the fact of Australia was ever confirmed by explorers and cartographers it had already been imagined as a grotesque space, a land peopled by monsters. The idea of its existence was disputed, was even heretical for a time, and with the advent of the transportation of convicts its darkness seemed confirmed. The Antipodes was a world of reversals, the dark subconscious of Britain. It was, for all intents and purposes, Gothic par excellence, the dungeon of the world. It is perhaps for this reason that the Gothic as a mode has been a consistent presence in Australia since European settlement (Turcotte 1998).
Literary monsters are
timely as they embody social and cultural present-day fears. Before the White
Australia Policy was dismantled, books such as Charles Chauvel’s Uncivilised were
popular. The story is a fairy tale about an indigenous tribe making a lost
white child its leader and includes what would later become the archetype of
the “evil witch doctor” (Breyley 2009), a reference that also appears in
Bingham and other Golden Boomerang books. This continued into adult novels such
as Ion Idriess’ Lasseter’s Last Ride which featured a black witch
With skinny claw the
witch-doctor pulled out a dried lizard . . . His lips moved sibilantly and
Lasseter could have sworn that the lizard hissed in reply . . . Over each
article he pored . . . as if it possessed some power of evil (Breyley,
Shared global fears in the
twenty-first century, at least for Western countries, largely concern terrorist
attacks. This is reflected in Janette Turner’s Hospital, A.L. McCann’s Subtopia
and Linda Jaivin’s The Infernal Optimist; three narratives about the
destructive nature of terrorist and their desire to wreak havoc (Carr, 2016).
heteromasculinity and two subtly different types of Other, Indigenous people
and ethnic groups (those who are understood as offering a threat of social,
political or military invasion). Other authors are more concerned with the
horrific actions carried out by members of our own community, such is the
premise of Craig Silvey’s novel, Jasper Jones. Fear maintains an active
presence in the work following the opening catalyst: the grisly discovery of a
young girl’s body, hung from a tree by a local watering hole. Though this
incident is frightening enough, the sensation of fear continues well beyond this
scene. The protagonist, Charlie Bucktin, is consumed by fear. Some of Charlie’s
worries are spurred from actual experiences, others are the conjuring of his
own mind. He is instantly suspicious when Jasper Jones knocks on his window
that fateful night and enters his life. Later, Charlie is terrified of the idea
of Jasper leaving town and abandoning him. After disposing of the young girl’s
body, Charlie is afraid of getting caught, of not getting caught; afraid that
there is a murderer in his town, and that maybe that person is Jasper. And to
top it all off, he has an irrational fear of bugs.
Racism, prejudice and the
underlining fear of the Other are explored through the outsider characters of
Jasper and Jeffery. Jasper is the child of a white father and an aboriginal
mother. Jasper experiences an unstable childhood following the death of his
mother. His rebellious, alluring and aloof personality quickly establish him as
a convenient scapegoat and he is blamed for every unseemly activity that occurs
in the town. It is because of this prejudice that Jasper compels Charlie to
dispose of Laura’s body. Jasper is convinced that if they don’t, then he will
be arrested for Laura’s murder; a reasonable conclusion given that the victim
is a white teenage girl (believed to be a virgin) from one of the town’s
wealthiest families. Similarly, Jeffery Lu and his Vietnamese family are the
continuous victims of racial prejudice as many of the local residences have
sent their sons off to fight in the Vietnam War. Charlie witnesses the town’s
prejudice first hand during a town meeting. Following the announcement that the
police have no new leads on Laura’s disappearance, Charlie notices the gossip
and speculations around the potential culprit.
“Then someone mentioned Jasper Jones. The same way they did when the post office burned to the ground. With titled eyebrows and suspicion. … And I understood then that maybe we really did do the wrong thing for the right reasons” (Silvey 2009).
Before Charlie turns to
leave the hall, he hears Jeffery’s mother, Mrs. Lu, cry out. After filling her
teacup up from the communal urn, a woman named Sue Findlay, slaps the cup from Mrs.
Lu’s hand, scalding her badly, and precedes to jab the air and recite racist
remarks. It isn’t until Sue reaches out to pull on Mrs. Lu’s hair that the town
This racial tension
continues throughout the novel. At one point, Jasper is arrested – without
evidence – beaten up by the town sergeant, locked up for a weekend and enticed
to confess to Laura’s murder. It is during this illegal detaining that Jasper
meets Laura’s father, who also beats him, and discovers that Pete is the president
of the shire. Here, Silvey illustrates that racism was not only common in
Australia in the 1960s, but celebrated. As the narrative continues, the Lu
family continue to experience violent attacks and abuse. Jeffery is mocked by
his schoolmates, and Mr. Lu is brutally beaten on his front lawn after a town
father discovers that his son has died in action while fighting in Vietnam.
Fear and racism have
remained popular themes in Australian literature because of our settler history
and our present-day multiculturalism and social egalitarianism. As Cornel West
argues in the case of America, “To engage in a serious discussion of race…we
must begin not with the problems of black people but with the flaws of American
society — flaws rooted in historic in equalities and longstanding cultural
stereotypes” (Huggan 2017). Graham Huggan states that Australia, like America,
also suffers from this same “violence and ideological extremism” (Huggan 2017).
Racism is fear; fear of the other. It could be argued that the racism that
exists within Australia, and that is reflected within its literature, may not
be the result of the nation itself but the product of far reaching roots that
go beyond the nation’s history and borders. The root behind the racism within
Australian literature boils down to one question, “who has the right to
belong?” (Huggan 2017)
Feminism and Fear
Until we reach a political,
social and cultural utopia, themes regarding racism and “who belongs” will
continue to dominate contemporary Australian fiction. In alignment with Poe’s
earlier sentiments about fear being a luxury in a time of comfort, the new
subgenre of the domestic/suburban thriller has emerged. Fear is no longer
generated through external evils that exist outside the home: monsters, supernatural
entities or psychopaths. Instead, publishers and readers are interested in
experiencing sophisticated, modern, and internalised fear by exposing the evil
that exists in our homes, our spouses and ourselves. Evening Standard
Journalist Rosamun Urwin describes this new genre as chick lit with “no happy
ending, no wedding dress or pram, just plot twists and tortured souls. These
are thrillers thrown into the domestic sphere, tales of intimate betrayal and
mistrust” (Whitehouse 2014). International best-sellers Gone Girl
(Gillian Flynn, USA) and How To Be A Good Wife (Emma Chapman, UK) have
helped craft this new sub-genre and Australian author Liane Moriarty’s suburban
thriller, The Husband’s Secret, hit number one on the New York Times,
and her novel, Big Little Lies, has been turned into a US television
drama. Truly Madly Guilty is Moriarty most recent work, hitting number
one on the Australian bestseller list while her two-previous works were still
in the top ten.
The target audience of these novels is straight, married women. What makes these books marketable and profitable is their ability to tap into the audiences’ collective fear that men are a threat to women’s safety. Though men are more likely to be the victim of a violent crime than women, women assume that they are more vulnerable to attacks than men. Criminologists dub this the fear-victimization paradox (Yodanic 2004) The belief that women are more vulnerable to sexual attack than men assists in the divide between the public sphere and the private. The private sphere, physical structures built by men, are safe. The public sphere, which is dominated by men, is unsafe. The perceived threat of inescapable attack when entering the public sphere keeps women fearful, and therefore, easier to control. Women are not doomed to become victims and not all men are violent, but by manipulating the knowledge that some women have become victims, then women are collectively easier to control and suppress.
Suburban thrillers take
advantage of this basic fear by having female characters experience multiple
forms of domestic violence or abuse. In the case of Lianne Moriarty’s work, Truly
Madly Guilty, all the female leads are the victims of their male counterparts.
Erika becomes a foster parent because her husband Oliver wants to be a father
(though she doesn’t want to be a mother), Clementine is blamed by her husband
Sam for the near death of their child (though both parents were present at the
time of the accident) and Tiffany is encouraged by her husband Vid to strip
during a neighbourly barbeque (despite her reservations to do so). Moriarty
plays directly into her audience’s basic fear of men taking control of women.
Although Jasper Jones
is set in the 1960s, the suppression experiences by its female character remain
uncomfortably relatable. Initially, Jasper idolises Eliza through his
comparison to her and Audrey Hepburn; both are prim, proper and perfect. A
simplification that causes him to underestimate her. As the truth behind
Laura’s death is revealed, Jasper learns of the tragic circumstances that lead
to her demise. Both Wishart sisters were abused by their father, a wealthy and
prominent man in the community. Pete Wishart, a closet alcoholic, sexually and
physically abused his oldest daughter Laura, and physically abused his youngest
Eliza. In an effort to save Eliza from their father, Laura submits to his
abuse. Eventually, Laura decides to commit suicide, seeing no other means of
escaping her powerful father. Eliza eventually gets her revenge, by setting a
fire in her home and injuring her father. Similarly, Charlie’s mother Ruth
feels suppressed by the circumstance of her own life. Now middle-aged, she
feels that both her youth and dreams have withered as she raised her son in the
small town of Corrigan, isolated from her own family in the city. Her outlook
is further embittered through her passionless marriage to Charlie’s father,
Wesley; a relationship that is not improved by Wesley’s decision to disappear
into his study every night after dinner. In the end, Ruth is only able to
liberate herself by abandoning Charlie and Wesley, knowing that her husband
would never be willing to sacrifice his comfort and preference for small town
living in order to follow her into a new life in the city.
Literary Devices and Supporting Themes
If a novel is truly terrifying – or at least unsettling – why do readers continue to read? Some may argue that a likeable character is enough to keep readers’ attention, but award-winning author Patrick deWitt disagrees: “Some of my favourite books have despicable protagonists but I find them fascinating […] I hope some [readers] might be willing to push a bit deeper and look to spend time with characters who aren’t entirely likeable” (Bethune 2015. In alignment with deWitt’s statement, Moriarty’s Truly Madly Guilty focuses on three largely unlikeable couples, their children and one rude neighbour. Though unlikeable, Moriarty has made the characters interesting through their dynamic interactions with one another, complex personal and interpersonal histories and through her withholding of information. Given the sizeable cast, Moriarty initially allows her characters to fall into stereotypical roles, making it easier for the reader to differentiate them. First, there is the outrageous and wealthy couple Vid and Tiffany, OCD control freak and germophobes Oliver and Erika and the artsy new-age parents Clementine and Sam. As the book progresses the characters deepen and change and justification for certain behaviours are revealed. For instance, Erika and Oliver’s controlled demeanour is the result of their respective parents’ mental illnesses. Previously endearing characteristics, such as Sam and Clementine’s playful marriage are later revealed as a forced re-enactment of how ‘happy families’ behave in the movies. In reality, their marriage has become sexless and is on the verge of collapse. However, despite each character’s flawed nature, they are capable of selfless acts. For example; Erika accepts Vid’s invitation to the barbeque, even though she doesn’t want to go, and Clementine agrees to donate her eggs to Erika for IVF treatments, even though she finds the idea repulsive. Readers are willing to invest in these characters because they can relate to the (admittedly bloated) suburban problems.
In order to convince a
reader to stay with a novel that explores fearful themes, one needs more than a
cast of interesting characters. The use of literary devices such as voice, POV
and pacing double as tools to engage readers, heighten tension and build fear. Truly
Madly Guilty uses a rotating, past tense, third person limited POV,
while Jasper Jones uses first person, present tense. While Moriarty
maintains a consistent tone throughout, the voice within each chapter changes
to reflect that POV character’s unique perspective. Though the horrifying
events of the barbeque are not revealed until halfway through Truly Madly
Guilty, Moriarty successful keeps her readers hooked by making them care
about her complex characters and by delicately insinuating the reasons behind
particular behaviours and conversations. Despite the close third person POV,
Moriarty subtly alludes to deep seeded secrets and regrets while holding back
on the details. Though she shows that the characters’ feel appalled by the
behaviour of their shadow selves, she conceals the particularities of their
situation until the end of the novel.
Fear is maximised in Truly
Madly Guilty through the manipulation of its pace. As the timeline,
sequence of events, or character motivations become clear, Moriarty peels back
another layer to reveal a new unexpected truth: Erika is a kleptomaniac, having
stolen items from Clementine’s home for years and storing them in a concealed
chest in her bedroom cupboard. The book moves quickly throughout, despite the fact
that the traumatising event hinted at in chapter one is not revealed until page
291. Moriarty leads us to this pivotal moment with five short sharp chapters,
increasing the pace and instilling a sense of fear: something is coming. A red
herring appears, but when the much-foreshadowed event is revealed the plot
One of the book’s central
mysteries is Erika’s memory loss. Fear is propelled through these gaps as other
characters step in to reveal what they witnessed on the night of the barbeque.
So much information is brought forth that the reader is led to believe that
they have the full picture. It is only when Erika regains her memory within the
last ten pages that the plot twists one final time. Truly Madly Guilty
generates terror in its readers through its characters exploration of their
shadow selves, but also through Moriarty’s withholding of information,
consistent allusion to character secrets, and the tension created by the
combination of these two elements.
The subject matter and
style of Jasper Jones is very different from Truly Madly Guilty,
yet it uses similar techniques. Employing a mystery novel structure, Silvey
carefully exposes the truth behind Laura’s death while simultaneous unravelling
the complicated and rich subplots of 1960s racism, marital discord (domestic
servitude), first loves, sexual abuse and child abuse. The question of Laura’s
death is what drives the narrative, however, it is the compounding emotional
terror of the subplots that keeps readers engaged. Readers identify, or at
least empathise, with Ruth’s domestic suffocation, Jeffery’s alienation,
Jasper’s abandonment and the abuses suffered by the Wishart sisters. Though the
emotional tenor is what keeps readers engaged, Silvey also employs classic
mystery novel techniques like red herrings – did Jasper kill Laura, did she
kill herself, did Mad Jack Lionel do it? – and the gradual exposure of
secondary characters’ motivations and backstories to keep the central plot
Jasper Jones combines horrific events both real and rumoured.
Mad Jack Lionel, as the name suggests, is cast as the town’s mad man supposedly
responsible for the murder of a young girl, her car slowly rusting away in
Jack’s backyard. Fear is struck into the hearts of Corrigan’s youth as
teenagers dare each other to dash across Jack’s property to steal a peach from
the tree in the backyard. Even when Charlie learns that Mad Jack Lionel isn’t
mad, that the rusting car in the backyard belonged to Jasper’s deceased mother
and that Jack is, in fact, Jasper’s Grandfather, he stills feels uncertain
after accepting Warwick Trent’s dare.
“I’m so far inside [the yard] that I can’t hear them, or even feel their
presence anymore. And even though I know I’m under no threat, it’s still an
eerie and intimidating pilgrimage. I start to tread lighter as I get closer … I
wonder if he’s watching me … I breathe deep.” (Silvey 2009)
Then there are the real
horrors: Mr. Wishart’s repeated assaults on his daughters, a town blaming a
teenage boy for all its mischievous activities and the brutal hate crime
against the Lu family. Through the manipulation of pace and careful control of
information Silvey is able to turn commonplace events into terrifying
experiences. Both Jasper Jones and Truly Madly Guilty start with
enticing, violent incidents: the death of a young girl and the near drowning of
a small child. However, these events are not the plot, but a mere catalyst to get
the ball rolling. The true plot is the snowballing effect generated from the
terrifying incident and how that crime has caused some characters to expose
their shadow selves or become aware of the shadow selves in their families,
friends and perceived enemies. Following Laura’s death, Charlie’s eyes are
opened to the racism that exists in his small town of Corrigan and the abuse
the women in his life have suffered. Following the near drowning of a child,
Erika’s kleptomania is revealed, Clementine confesses that she is only friends
with Erika out of obligation, Oliver’s need for control increases, Sam and
Clementine’s marriage grows colder and the neighbour who warns Erika of the
near drowning, Harry, immediately falls down the stairs and dies.
While Jasper Jones
is a contemporary take on the classic Australian tropes of racism and
belonging, Truly Madly Guilty falls neatly into the trendy category of
domestic suburban thrillers. And yet, both give form to fear not as an external
Other but in the shape of neighbours, family, friends and ourselves. While
early horror novels gave form to fears – social and cultural – by way of
supernatural creatures and monsters, contemporary literature leans towards a
more sophisticated representation. Now, terror is explored through the exposure
of a character’s shadow self. Now, we are the monster.