Sunday, May 04, 2008

Rebuild of Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone

Thanks to the Japanese DVD release, I was finally able to find a decent torrent of Rebuild of Evangelion, and last night I watched the film. As a side note, normally I don’t like to torrent stuff, but I made an exception in this case because it will surely take many years for the film to be released over here. With a work like this, with a clear built in audience, would it really be that tough to get it released over here within six months of the Japanese release? Who benefits from the hold up? I’d much rather see the film in the theater as intended than check it out on a bootleg video file, but if I want to see the film now, that’s the price I must pay.

Anyway, onto the film itself. When I heard about the project, I wondered why it existed. It seems weird that Anno would want to revisit his masterwork and create a slightly different version of it. After watching it, I’m not really sold on the reasoning for this project. It’s clearer than the TV series, and features some better visuals, but I don’t know that it adds anything to the universe that wasn’t already in the series. But, I feel like my perspective on this film is really hazy because I’ve only seen the series once. I remember what happened in the first few episodes, but not so clearly that I can say exactly what’s different between this film and the series.

My impression of the film is that it’s much clearer than the series. When I watched the series, I didn’t really understand a lot of what was up with the angels, and why these kids were chosen to pilot the Evas. Shinji asks what he’s doing there, and I get a much better sense of him finding it odd that he’s chosen to pilot the ship. But, maybe that was there before and I just didn’t understand the answer. The end of the show insinuates that the Evas are actually elements of their pilot’s mothers, so Shinji is the only one who can pilot Unit 01. Once you know that, it’s a lot easier to understand why things happen the way they do.

What worked undeniably well in the film was the atmosphere. It took me a little bit to get into it, but by the time Shinji runs away, we’ve got that omnipresent mental darkness back. I found Shinji much more relatable as a protagonist here than in the series, and the film felt very focused on the conflict of him dealing with his loneliness. The subtitle of the film is “You Are (Not) Alone,” and it sums up the question Shinji faces. He believes that his only worth is in piloting Eva, he gets praise and reinforcement from Misato and the others, but it feels meaningless. Would they still love him if he didn’t pilot Eva?

And, the real brilliance and tragedy of the series, is they probably would not. So, maybe he’d be more alone if he didn’t pilot the Eva, he’d never have met back up with his father for starters. However, as the alternate world sequence in the series finale shows, maybe it’s piloting Eva that screwed him up in the first place, in another time and place, he could have had a normal childhood, a normal family. It is the Eva that gives him purpose, it is the Eva that destroys the life he could have had.

I think the show, and this film’s greatest strength, is its ability to depict its protagonist’s internal life. Most films have external conflicts, a hero vs. a villain, or a hero pursuing a relationship, external goals that are achieved by the end of the narrative and seem to solve all the characters’ problems. Complexity is added by giving the protagonist some kind of problem, alcoholism or something like that, but that kind of story doesn’t really deal with the issues I face, and I’m assuming most people face. In reality, most people don’t face enemies, they face ever shifting internal difficulties, like the kind that Shinji faces.

Shinji succeeds in saving the world and killing the angel, but he feels worse than ever because in this story, the internal conflict is not telegraphed one to one onto an external foe. The show has kind of a Trojan Horse narrative, we start out thinking it’s about battling angels, but there’s no real end in sight to these battles, the real foe is out own internal doubt and distance. Shinji wants other people to love him, but we won’t open himself up to them, that’s the essence of the Hedgehog’s Dilemma, the problem that nearly all the characters in the series face.

All around him, Shinji sees people who have shut themselves off from the world, and committed themselves to doing a job. That’s Rei, the perfect soldier. He wants her to react in some way, he wants someone to relate to, but she won’t give him anything. It’s the same with his father, those two are the ones he wants to recognize him, and it kills him when he sees Rei and Gendo speaking. His father will give her affection, but not him.

The whole thing is a mess of bizarre Oedipal issues when you view it in light of the fact that Rei is at least partially a clone of Shinji’s mother, but at the same time was raised by Gendo so she’s both Shinji’s mother/sister, and yet, he’s still attracted to her. Shinji watches Rei and Gendo from afar, jealous, he wants to kill his father and fuck Rei, quite literally he would be Oedipus. And, the craziest thing is he’s watching all this inside Unit 01, which is essentially his mother’s womb.

The film makes more of an issue of Misato’s feelings towards Shinji. We spend less time at their home, but Ritsuko questions Misato’s motivations in taking Shinji in more. The whole Ritsuko/Misato past is unclear to me. I felt that Ritsuko was attracted to Misato, and that’s why she seems to hate everyone Misato gets involved with, that’s why she would be so worried that Misato is attracted to Shinji. If that’s the case, why is Ritsuko having sex with Gendo? I’d argue it’s a kind of Elektra complex, she both hates and wants to be her mother, if her mother had an affair with Gendo, she will too.

That’s an element of the story I’d actually like to see explored more. I think Rebuild might have been more interesting if it focused primarily on the adults, and their complicated relationships, basically switching the perspective so this works better as an addition to the series, not a replacement. As it is, this feels like a musician covering their own song ten years later, there’s some interest in seeing the differences, but I’d rather see a completely new story.

That’s sort of the conundrum of the project. I’m happy it exists, it looks amazing, and in many ways is what I wanted Eva to be the first time I watched it. Much of the goofy stuff is excised, there’s fewer scenes at school and at Misato’s house and everything seems to hang together better as a singular narrative. However, once you see the whole series, the purpose of those goofy scenes becomes clear. Because we’re attached to Shinji, because we’ve seen him in a more normal situation, the awful things he goes through feel more awful. I still think they could have been handled better, but all those goofy school and home scenes are worth it for that five minute sequence in the finale when we see Shinji’s alternate world. Just hearing the wacky comedy theme come back after ten episodes of absolute horror hit me so hard.

And, I think the loss of those scenes, annoying though they were, takes away some of the scope of the story. It’s the difference between TV series storytelling and film storytelling. A film inherently has to be more focused, there has to be a beginning and ending, and everything must fit into some kind of structure. Even as the first of four films, this feels like a unified narrative in a way the series never did. On the series, new angels appeared every episode, stuff happened and we got the sense of time passing and life being lived. Here, I don’t get that same sense of time passing. If I had to guess, I’d say this whole movie takes place in about two weeks, while the series felt like it took place over the course of months.

The reason for that is, when you watch a movie, the characters don’t have time to go off and do their own thing. Episodic structure makes it easier for you to believe these characters have lives off screen. You watch an episode, go off and do some other stuff, then come back and watch another. So, it’s logical to think they’d be doing other stuff while you were gone. I think that’s why it sometimes feels weird when you have a show come back from a summer cliffhanger and all the characters are in the same place. If your life has changed, why shouldn’t theirs?

This feels much more like a filmic narrative, it’s got a tighter structure, and less room for standalone scenes with the characters other than Shinji. I’m hoping that as the films go on, we do get to spend more time with Rei, and when she’s introduced, Asuka. Asuka was by far my favorite character in the series, her internal complexity was just as exciting to watch as Shinji’s, and she functions as essentially his opposite, using a lot of external personality to mask what she’s feeling inside. I remember when I was first watching the show, her entrance coalesced the characters into a kind of family, and made it a lot easier to understand Shinji as a character.

Even though I do have issues with the film, it is pretty spectacular visually. Cutting down on the number of Angels in the story makes them feel more dangerous, and raised the stakes for the battles. It took me a while to get into the world of the story again, but by the second half of the film, it just flew by. I was really surprised the film was already over when the battle with the Diamond Angel ended, it didn’t feel like an hour and a half had passed. I did love that battle, the stakes were huge, and you could really feel how much rested on Shinji’s shoulders. That’s something that wasn’t really conveyed in the TV series. And, as I mentioned before, I love the way the triumph he should feel after destroying the Angel is undercut by the knowledge that he is still alone, and desperate for someone who can share his burden.

This film sticks pretty closely to the series until the very end, when we get the early appearance of Kaworu. Kaworu made a huge impact, despite only appearing in one episode of the series. I’m guessing his appearance will start a change of events that differentiate the films from the series. As much as I like the show, if Anno’s going to go to the trouble of remaking the whole thing, he might as well experiment and do things differently. In some sense, that’s going with the spirit of the work. I found the last two episodes of the show to be a perfectly satisfying, and thematically appropriate ending for the story, however End of Eva works in its own way too. I can’t really say which one is more ‘real,’ and whatever happens in this version of the story is just another way it could have gone.

What I’m really curious to see is the ending. Both original endings felt so raw and emotional, like they were torn directly from Anno’s subconscious and put on film. I’ve only seen End of Eva once, but that last half of the film was as close to pure subconscious experience as I’ve seen on film. The stuff with Asuka and Shinji, the fourth wall breaking live action scenes, it was almost too much to take on a single viewing. How will Anno end his story this time? What will it tell us about the world and the characters? I’m curious to see. This was a strong start, an undeniably powerful film that, for all my issues with it and the project in general, I’m very glad to see in the world. Evangelion is one of the most challenging and emotionally wrenching series I’ve ever seen, and I’m glad to get a chance to return to that world for another round of stories.


Anonymous said...

I think you're misreading the Ritsuko /Misato/Kaji relationship, man.

I never caught vibes of anything romantic or sexual between Misato and Ritsuko... their friendship was almost purely superficial ... "convenient" as Asuka would say. In fact, if you listen closely, you will find that they're somewhat jealous of each other's strengths. It strikes me a a very female sort of antagonism... like two sisters who don't like each other, but keep things reasonably civil.

As for Kaji... Ritsuko derives some amusement from playing the adult surface game, but she's not interested in him and Misato knows it. Kaji himself may also seem somewhat less screwed up than the rest of the cast, but he shares similar problems. He hides behind his easy surface emotions when a conversation starts getting a little too personal...

I've enjoyed your thoughts on Eva very much. Keep it up.

Patrick said...

I think my interpretation of the events surrounding them was colored by the fact that I got this lesbian vibe at the beginning, and fit all the stuff that followed into that framework, when your interpretation might be more accurate for what's actually in the text. There's plenty of material that could make it read that way, like Ritsuko talking about how she just doesn't understand men when speaking with her mother, but you could just as easily read that as her trouble dealing with anyone, a trouble that many of the characters share.