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The Brilliant Conclusion to a Most Profound Series
on March 2, 2007
For those turning to this film to answer all the questions that the last two episodes of the Evangelion (NGE) series didn't answer, I suggest you look elsewhere. If anything, this film will provide you with precious few answers but a multitude of new questions. For those wanting a highly provocative, thought-provoking, intelligent and most poignant conclusion to the NGE series, then have no fear. I will try to explain some of the more perplexing elements in this film, without giving too much away, as well giving my thoughts and opinions at the same time.
The film is structured to be the final two episodes of the series. So the first half, Ep. 25 "Air/Love is Destructive" is concurrent with the series episode 25 "The World Ending/Do You Love Me?". The second half, Ep. 26. "My Purest Heart for You/One More Final: I Need You" is concurrent with the series episode 26 "The Beast that Shouted Love at the Heart of the World/Take Care of Yourself."
Much like the NGE series, the End of Evangelion (EoE) weaves a complex story where images and dialogue are closely related to the philosophy and symbolism. These themes are played out through the psychology of each characters' own mind. It is essentially a microcosm of the entire series. The opening scenes before the "Air" title card of Ep. 25 of Shinji overlooking the ruins of the city, and then entering Asuka's hospital room and, (I'll leave it there) set the mood and atmosphere. Showing effectively and very disturbingly that this is NOT going to be an easy film. As the first half roars out of the gates at breakneck speed, we see the hostile takeover of Nerv by the Seele organization and each Nerv member's desperate attempt to hold it at bay.
We also see the mental states that the two main Eva pilots - Shinji and Asuka - have been reduced too. Shinji is severely depressed after killing the last angel, Kaworu, whom he had formed a close bond with. Asuka is in the same mental boat as Shinji as she sits at the bottom of the lake in her Eva, which she feels she can't pilot anymore. What's interesting is the paths that have driven these two characters to this point. The ideas of finding one's self-worth (examined perfectly in the final two series episodes), and what happens to a person when that is taken away.
At the same time Seele is trying to initiate their plans for Third Impact using Unit-01 and the downright creepy looking Mass-Produced Eva Series, Gendo has his own plans involving Rei and Lilith. As Asuka, (with a little help and inspiration from her Mama) rages an extremely violent battle with the Evil Evas, Gendo takes Rei down to Lilith. He does this to unite the souls and bodies of Adam and Lilith only to find his scorned lover, Ritsuko there. It's interesting that two of the most shocking and violent scenes (the Asuka/Eva battle and the Gendo/Ritsuko confrontation) are played out to Bach's beautiful "Air". The infusion of the music in this film is truly brilliant and a major reason why many scenes are so effective.
However, this is the point in the film where most people will start to become completely lost. Without a really good understanding of the NGE story (and perhaps even with one), it's hard not to. It's very difficult to make the extremely complex simple, however I'll try without many spoilers.
Suffice it to say that Seele were trying to initiate Third Impact and reduce humankind back to its original form - the Primordial Soup of Life where all souls and beings are one. Gendo had different plans and just wanted to see his 'dead' wife, Yui again. Neither Seele's or Gendo's plans go exactly as they were meant to. Unit-01, along with Shinji, ends up becoming the Tree of Life, and the ark in which all souls are ushered through and into Lilith's Egg. Understanding the idea that in NGE, humans - Lilim, as we're called - were born from Lilith, and Rei is essentially Lilith helps make this clearer. What's happening near this point is 3rd Impact is occurring because of the Unit-01 and the Mass Produced Eva encounter. This returns the Geo-Front (the sphere like cavern where Nerv HQ sits) to its original form, the Egg of Lilith (we see this during the "Eye"-like explosion). After the Giant Rei/Lilith forms, Shinji is essentially given reign over the future of the human race by Rei/Lilith herself.
At this point, the tempo of the film slows to a crawl and the most surreal images and scenes begin creeping in. Even the most seemingly simple scenes such as a young Shinji playing in a sandbox with a swing, mountains, and a setting sun in the background is just rife with symbolism (hint: try to relate everything in this scene with something in the show, be it scenes, characters, or themes). Here, the psychological interplay between the main characters is crucial, as Shinji's wishes are played out in the real world. When he feels that everyone has deserted him and essentially says 'everyone can just die' is when the Instrumentality and joining of all souls through Lilith really begins.
What's important to note is Shinji's thoughts after his 'choice' has been made. The place he escapes to - the world of Instrumentality where all souls are one - and his questioning of this choice and all his choices is what we see here. More than just his questioning of the choice, we also hear him questioning the meaning of reality and dreams. This is not just random philosophical ramblings. It's a study of a character's, as well as the creator's, thoughts and feelings. Shinji holds all of humanity's future in his hands or, more accurately, his own mind. When you consider how psychologically scarred Shinji is, the idea that he can completely shape the future of Earth and all of humankind is what makes this so interesting.
Once he is allowed to be in the world he escapes to, he's faced with another choice of whether to stay or come back. As he discusses these things with Rei and Kaworu (Lilith and Adam), we hear his final choice and reasons why. The ending of EoE, titled "One More Final: I Need You" is rightfully confusing to almost everyone who sees it. However, it's also the perfect note to end the series with. Not only does it leave us as uncertain as the characters are about the future, but it also expresses the frustration and realization of Shinji's choice and the culmination of all the struggles that has lead them there.
This film is simply a divine marvel. Much like the series it has to be watched multiple times for one to uncover all of its hidden layers and meanings. But it doesn't lose its ability to invoke emotions and thoughts even after several viewings. There are scenes of immense power and drama in the film - many that match the best of most films I've seen. But I think it's the quiet moments that make this film so moving and memorable. The Sandbox scene is one I've mentioned. Another is the live action shots with the monologue and Bach's magnificent "Jesus Bleibet Meine Freude" (Jesus, Joy of Man's Desiring) playing along on piano with it. Even more subtle moments, such as Shinji's SDAT (walkman type) player out of batteries (more significant than many would think), and Gendo's broken glasses in Rei's place. With the vivid beginning of Instrumentality played out to the appropriate sad-song-with-a-pop-beat "Komm Susser Tod" (Come Sweet Death), it's these scenes that never fail to give me chills.
There's a great quote that goes something like "A truly wise man always has more questions than answers." This is a series and film that asks more questions than it provides answers. What it tries to do is make you think about those questions, rather than provide an easily digestible story. Some may call the story incoherent and disjointed, but what many don't realize is that the deep psychological and philosophical leanings behind the show are inextricably linked with the storyline itself. So to distinguish one from the other is impossible without realizing how the two intertwine and effect the other. If you merely try to breakdown the sci-fi storyline, then you will be confused by much of it. This is because the story is so big and so encompassing that many finer details can't be uncovered without diving deep into the inner workings of the series.
In the end, I can only speak for myself when I say NGE did a superlative job of doing everything a great work of art should do. It made me laugh, it made me cry, it gave me chills on more than one occasion.... but most of all it made me THINK. Anyone who wants to enjoy this show as just a meaningless work of science fiction can do so, but will be baffled as they're crushed by the multiple layers of extra contextual meanings. So, if you want to understand NGE, you have to not only pay close attention to the small details within the show (small scenes from many episodes back play a role in the film), you have to really open your mind up to the ideas being presented, and how they effect the story.
However, taken as a film, and the conclusion to the NGE series, End of Evangelion is a staggering achievement and powerful last testament to what is, in my opinion, the greatest visual series of all time.
Those considering whether to buy just the EoE or the EoE/Death & Rebirth 2-pack, I suggest you go with the EoE unless you don't own the director's cuts of the last several episodes (available in the Platinum Collection). 'Death' is mostly a muddled re-crap of the entire series, while 'Rebirth' is merely the first 30 minutes of EoE. Death also doesn't contain remastered visuals or audio like the Platinum Collection does, so you'll be getting a low quality re-cap at that. Death really doesn't even work as an introduction to NGE, because most everyone not aquainted with previous episodes would be confused by the structure of the recap. The only thing worthwile in 'Death' is something called "The Magi Archives" which provides great information about key people, places, events, and thing in the series. This is very helpful to those who feel completely lost by all the jargon in the series and will help clear some things up, even if it won't answer any of the bigger questions. So just stick with EoE unless you feel the need for completeness to get Death & Rebirth as well.