Monday, September 01, 2008

Rewatch of Rebuild of Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone

To complete my rewatch of Evangelion, I took another look at Rebuild. Watching it again, knowing what it is and what it isn’t, it was a more satisfying experience, and I think I have a better understanding of why the project was made in the first place.

In his statement about the project, Anno said that he wanted to make the story more accessible for people, to tell a story that everyone could enjoy. I initially reacted to that negatively, fearing that it would mean the loss of the crazy abstractions that I loved so much in the series. But, I don’t think that’s what he’s trying to take away, rather I think his intention is to shape the narrative into something more linear, and to clear up a lot of the things that aren’t really explained in the original. The original exists in a genre universe, where we just take for granted that Shinji can go to school one day and pilot Eva the next. That caused problems for me on the first viewing, I was asking these questions and wasn’t sure if the series would ever answer them. This film spends more time setting things up for the viewer, making it clear that Shinji is piloting this thing because he is the only one who will be able to do so. I know that’s because the Eva was his mother, but the new viewer would at least know that there’s some reason for it.

Similarly, a lot of little character things are made clearer. Characters question Gendo’s behavior more, wondering why he shows so little affection for his son. No one in the original series really wonders why he’s so absurdly distant. And, watching it now, the scene from End of Eva where he says he kept Shinji distant not to hurt him sticks in my head. He’s so cruel because he thinks it’s what Shinji needs, but that’s so utterly wrong. In my initial review of the film, I said it would have been interesting to look at the whole thing from the adults’ perspective, and I’d stand by that. I’d love to see more exploration of what’s driving Gendo, and to get more insight into his relationship with Ritsuko.

We do see the two of them together more here, and the groundwork for their relationship is laid in a way it wasn’t in the series proper. The revelation that she was sleeping with Gendo came out of nowhere for me on the initial viewing, clearly it’s being placed in earlier here. This also allows them to reframe the motivation on certain events early in the series. Here, we see Gendo and Fuyutski discuss a plan to bring Shinji and Rei closer together. This was likely to ensure that Shinji remains on as a pilot, committed to the project. So, Ritsuko’s decision to have Shinji deliver Rei’s ID card to her is motivated by that. But, it also is motivated by Ritsuko’s desire to bring Shinji and Rei closer together, so that she will have Gendo all to herself. That could also explain Ritusko’s uneasiness with Misato potentially having a sexual relationship with Shinji, though that uneasiness could also be common sense.

Having seen the series twice, and having a better understanding of the whole Lilith/Adam mythology, there’s a few changes that really jump out here. One is the decision to accelerate the revelation of Lilth, and the purpose of the Evas. In the original series, we never really knew what the angels were until near the end of the series. I don’t think we knew why the Angels were attacking until Episode 20 or so. Here, it’s made clear that the goal of the angels is to penetrate Nerv and instigate the Third Impact. Making the motivations clearer earlier is a perfect example of making the story more accessible without sacrificing the mystique. The original series had ambiguity that served a purpose and ambiguity that was simply not telling us what we needed to know. Here, most of that latter stuff, the ambiguity that had no purpose is gone, and it’s a lot easier to follow the narrative.

If anything, removing ambiguity surrounding the instrumentality project and SEELE’s agenda will allow them to focus more on the psychological makeup of the character, and use the overall narrative as a mirror of the characters’ own emotions. This film doesn’t feature as much subjective stuff as the latter days of the show, but it does delve into Shinji’s psyche earlier than the series did. Notably, the entire focus of the film is to tell a single story, so the psychological interludes are less wide reaching, they’re more focused on Shinji’s uncertainty about piloting Eva. We see him on the train and there’s also some weird transitions when he’s in the Eva. Perhaps the most interesting new addition is quoting Gendo and Yui’s conversation about “If he’s a boy we’ll call him Shinji. If it’s a girl, Rei” right after the first battle with the angel. It makes it clear that there’s something up with Shinji and Rei right from the start, and raises questions about her relationship with Gendo.

We know the answers to those questions that were provided by the original Eva. But, things are a little different here, and this viewing made me wonder what exactly is the nature of the ‘rebuild.’ In the final moments of the film, Kaworu appears and says that Shinji is the third again, evidencing a range of knowledge that goes beyond what he should have in the story at this point. Shinji being the third again implies that all of this has happened before, say, in the original run of the series. So, does that mean that Rebuild is not a remake, rather than it exists on some kind of parallel continuity to the original series, that it is an in continuity extension of that narrative.

Notably, the film does open with the red seas that are featured so prominently at both the opening and closing of the End of Eva. It creates a kind of looping effect, where you can move seamlessly from Shinji on the beach choking Asuka to this film. What Kaworu’s comment indicates is that he’s aware of the other timelines. Kaworu here reminds me of John a Dreams from The Invisibles, someone who exists outside of the timeline, and moves into time at specific moments in the narrative when he is needed to achieve specific goals. If Kaworu is moving into the ‘game’ earlier, that would lead to a massive restructuring of the narrative as a whole, he would change the world.

In End of Eva, we see Kaworu as one of the Lilith, the incarnation of Human Instrumentality, a being who exists beyond time and serves the purpose of uniting all of humanity into complementation. So, his knowledge of things beyond this timeline would be logical. He has seen Shinji move through different worlds, move through the live action world, he knows that such travel is possible. One could easily argue that this entire film, hell the series as a whole, exists during the process of instrumentality, it’s Shinji reliving a different series of realities until he gets it right.

It reminds me a bit of the ending of The Dark Tower (SPOILERS AHEAD). There, Roland reaches the Dark Tower, the end of his story and is flung back to the beginning, it seems like the story is on an endless loop. However, this time he’s got the Horn of Eld, and this one change in the universe will produce more, and help bring him closer to his goal. The Rebuild could be a similar experience, Shinji went through Instrumentality and wound up in a world that was all wrong. So, he’s gone back in and decided to start things over again. On the surface, it all looks similar, and events don’t deviate wildly. However, there are subtle changes, and the intrusion of Kaworu into the next film will alter everything. (END DARK TOWER SPOILERS)

Right now, that would be my interpretation of the film. This is one of those other worlds Shinji saw during End of Eva, and as the films go forward, they will shift more and more. Certainly the preview for Eva 2.0 seems to be radically altered from the series itself. There’s many different Evas, a new female character and Kaworu apparently comes down from the moon in his own Eva. It would seem that that’s where this project spins off into something different from the original, and, much as I enjoyed this film, that will be more exciting to see. Perhaps this film was so similar to the original simply to make it clear where the continuity diverges, and to demonstrate how malleable reality itself really is.

But, back to the film itself, and one of the central differences between the film and the series, the portrayal of Unit 01. In the series, we see Unit 01 reach out and save Shinji, the first evidence that it had some will of its own, the spirit of his mother. Here, we don’t see that, the Eva does have clearly humanoid qualities, but it’s not as emphasized. Instead, there’s a greater emphasis on Shinji’s relationship with Rei. I’m left wondering if she is still a clone of his mother, because Gendo seems to be actively pushing the two of them together. Perhaps that’s just the way he is, he assumes that what Shinji would want would be the same kind of woman he’d want, so he gives Shinji this clone of his mother to be with.

Alternatively, in End of Eva, we saw that Gendo’s entire quest during the series was to get back to Yui, a woman he adores and places above all things. Much like Shinji, he hates himself, so wouldn’t it make sense that he’d want to avoid Shinji and instead let Shinji spend time with his ‘mother,’ in this case with Rei and Unit 01. It’s twisted, but it feels like the kind of logic he would use.

So, the Shinji/Rei relationship gets emphasized more, played out as an Oedipal conflict with Rei in the middle. The only flashback scene in the entire film is Unit 00 going beserker, and Gendo going down to rescue Rei. There, we see the extent of his feeling for her, which is made physical in the cracked glasses. It’s only with Gendo that we see Rei happy, and Shinji spends the entire film trying to simultaneously please his father and Rei.

It all comes to a head in the final battle sequence, which is masterfully executed. I still have some issues with the film’s pacing, the way the more leisurely patterns of life from the series are compressed into a tight film narrative, but that final half hour or so is just brilliant, both from a story point of view and from an aesthetic one. The powerless city, illuminated only by a giant moon, and the colored flashing lights of the vehicles around. It’s pretty astounding.

Anyway, the battle sequence itself is the first moment where Shinji sees someone sacrifice themselves for him. It’s where Rei steps in and nearly kills herself so that he can live. In the devastating final moments, Shinji tears open the capsule, and asks her for nothing but a smile. The raw emotion of that scene undercuts all the possible triumph of saving the city. And, in that moment, he ‘wins’ Rei from his father, he proves his own manhood and makes the connection he’s been seeking the entire film. Connecting with Rei is given priority over his relationship with the Eva, a development that will alter the way the future films play.

The first time I saw this film I felt like there was a lot missing. Watching it again, after seeing the series, I realized that the original series expanded in my mind after watching it. There’s not too much from the first five episodes that isn’t here. That said, in shaping it into a film, the more everday flavor of the series is gone. You don’t really know how much time Shinji spends at Misato’s, or get a full picture of his school life. That stuff was more fully explored in the later episodes, once Asuka showed up, but it was there early too.

When the show was first made, I doubt they knew a lot of the ways the story would go. As such, the earlier integration of the Adam/Lilith mythology, and Shinji’s psychological stuff makes this fit better with what comes later. Regardless of whether it’s actually in the same narrative universe, this film is clearly a post End of Eva production, and much of my reading is informed by what I saw there. I’m not sure how a new viewer would respond, I’d imagine they’d like this more than the first six episodes of the series, but I think watching the series makes the story more epic in some ways. It lets you fill in the gaps between episodes with imagined stories, here, it’s all sealed up as a neat little package. It’s more satisfying on a lot of levels, but it doesn’t replace the series.

The big question for me now is what exactly will the nature of future stories be. The second film may cover anywhere from Episode 12 to Episode 19. The rest of the series’ first half is a generally lighter period, focusing largely on the rivalry between Shinji and Asuka and building up the relationships between the characters. It’s a generally happy period, that sees everyone’s synch ratings rise, and Shinji gain more self confidence. That tone would fit with what we see in the trailer, an emphasis on many Evas and all kinds of action.

But, the big question mark for me is the last couple of films. The end of the series is so devastating and artistically ambitious. Will Anno return to those same techniques, or will he stay closer to traditional narrative storytelling? I think it would be near impossible to top End of Eva in terms of emotional artistic filmmaking, but if anyone can do it, he can. I’d be interested to see an ending that does deal with what’s come before, and spins through a series of realities, through the series, through End of Eva, and explores the reason that this story, this mythos endures. I want to see Shinji tripping through instrumentality and finding himself led by Kaworu to look at himself choking Asuka at the beach. If any image encapsulates what I’d like to see with the end of the film, it’s that, an integration of the previous mythology within its own new work.

I guess my big question is the philosophy of the work. When Anno says he wants to make the new films clearer, does that preclude the sort of exploration that End of Eva did, or is it more about precluding the convoluted mythology surrounding the narrative proper? I’d certainly like to see a clearer view of Seele vs. Gendo, the role of the angels and what have you. I hope that’s what he means to clear up, and to keep the psychological stuff on top of that. For me, it’s the psychological material that makes Eva what it is. This film does a fantastic job of getting inside Shinji’s head, but I hope that the later films go as far stylistically as the end of the series and End of Eva did.

Of course, if Kaworu enters the timeline and alters it, this could be an entirely different storyline. The beauty of the many worlds concept introduced in End of Eva is that it would allow them to deviate into something different and still keep it thematically similar. A person is simultaneously their intrinsic core and the product of the world around them, the product of the version of them that exists in other peoples’ heads. So, it can all change and still all be true. This is a new film, but it’s also the same film, the same story seen from a different moment in time.


Victor Hugo said...

Amazing review, it´s really food for thought. I just finished watching the original "Evangelion" in its entirety , plus the movie and I´m amazed.
I saw bits of the "Rebuild" and was left wondering why it´s being remade since the original was already brilliant. So thank you for your ellucidation.

Adam Arnold said...

Rebuild is really a lot like the Gundam movies. They're used to introduce new viewers to the franchise by giving them an easy place to start while also rewarding existing fans. Plus, let's face it, Evangelion is over 10 years old now and they have proven time and time again that they can milk the franchise in any way and people still keep coming back.

Patrick said...

I'll admit the first time I watched Rebuild, I was a bit disappointed and felt like, while a strong film, it didn't add much to what was already there. But, watching it again, I saw some subtle differences and a clarification of purpose that made it a worthwhile addition to what came before. I'd still love to see Anno tackle a new project, but if he wants to do another spin on Eva, and can make all the films as good as this one, more power to him.