Cinema Quarantino is an ongoing series of alternative streaming picks for the self-quarantined and the socially distanced, as selected by the film staff of Boston Hassle. To browse the rest of our picks, click here!
THE FILM: The End of Evangelion (1997) dir. Hideaki Anno
THE STREAMER: Netflix
When Netflix welcomed the elusive TV series Neon Genesis Evangelion to its platform last spring, I was ready to let it consume me for as long as it could. Mindfully, the story is encased in a single season made up of twenty-six episodes, which are each less than thirty minutes long. So really, time in the fictional setting of Tokyo-3 was quantifiable, a vacation set to a timer. And if you weren’t paying attention, experiencing Evangelion felt like people-watching a civilization winding and rewinding underneath a glass dome. From a bird’s-eye view, it’s easy to admire the postmodern mecha design of a metropolis, colored by a hazy animated ’90s orange sunset. It’s easy to relax into the momentary relief of laughter when the tension shifts, whether that’s from teenage protagonist Shinji vs the Angels, Shinji vs Nerv, or Shinji vs himself. If you weren’t paying attention, Evangelion could have been a Monster of the Week show, Naruto-running across the season until it burns out like a lightbulb.
But as it turns out, a lot of people were paying attention. The controversy that followed the series’ broadcast ending — which was a hilariously gentle letdown to a seemingly steep ramp toward worldly chaos — prompted creator Hideaki Anno to create The End of Evangelion, a full-length movie that brushes off the last two episodes to be tailored to his true vision. And maybe I hadn’t paid as close attention as I should have. Knowing that an alternative ending existed, I hastily finished episodes 25 and 26 without reflecting on why the episodes were perceived as bullshit and started The End. When the screen turned white for the final time, I shut the TV off and didn’t watch anything for a month after.
Thinkpieces about Evangelion and depression aren’t a new or revelatory combination of buzzwords. The show’s origins are rooted in Anno’s history of clinical depression, which has shadowed his work all the way to Rebuild of Evangelion, the current remake that has been divvied into movies. Media outlets, from esteemed national newspapers to gamer-lite op-eds, had writers confront their own mental health post-The End, despite the fact that it was a miserable process. But in a way, it’s a relief to look back on it after a year and be able to raise my hand to say, “Bitch, me too.”
I’d recommend either watching the series or Death & Rebirth, which is a replay of the series remixed with new scenes and Canon in D because that’s art, in order to fully immerse in this coveted bleakness. In fact, I can only recommend The End once you become acquainted with Shinji, the teenager that has been fucked five different ways by the course of life’s mysteries. In the beginning of Evangelion, he is summoned to Tokyo-3 by Gendo, the leader of military force Nerv and also his emotionally cold father. Nerv is tasked with defeating Angels, unknown giants that are thought to be threats. To fight the Angels, Shinji has to integrate with an Evangelion, a biological cyborg hinted to have conscious properties. Shinji, for the entirety of the series, is not thrilled about any of this: the life-or-death fighting, his father, the secrets that are hidden from him. Other persons of emotional strife are as prominent as Shinji’s storyline; Captain Misato is a respected member of Nerv and has represented more of a paternal figure to Shinji, Rei is a mysterious pilot that speaks in codes and self-objectification, and Asuka is another co-fighter combative to external and internal oppression. For all of the fun that’s had in the series (because pet penguin!), no one is happy.
By the time The End starts, the glass dome has cracked. All of the characters are declining in red-alert fashion, despicable things will be done, and defeat feels imminent. To describe The End isn’t just by the events that occur, but by the spiraling fatigue that it invokes. It’s like the drowning scene from Under the Skin and you’re Scarlett Johansson, except that you’re fully cognizant of right and wrong. It’s like the anticipation of a recurring nightmare, and knowing that it takes more time in the morning to reassure yourself that it’s not real than it takes to get ready for the day. It feels like being stranded on another planet and watching Earth explode, knowing that there are lives on that planet that deserve more than the consequential actions of those who deserve none. The worst of it is that the hopelessness isn’t surprising, but is a sort of secret truth that Anno somehow pilfered from the locked room of societal fears.
In a critic’s scope, the movie excels in showcasing horrific destruction through heartbreaking sacrifices and manipulating flesh. Limbs are pulled apart and hearts are pecked to meaningless scraps. It’s impossible to escape the discomfort because it happens beyond physicality, where a character can lose their mind and it fills the negative space between battles and conversations. Visually, The End is compelling and monstrous, fitting to the world’s demise. Therefore, it might be startling to hear that the ending of all of this madness could be interpreted as somewhat optimistic. It just might take a while to process that.
The End of Evangelion
dir. Hideaki Anno
Now streaming on Netflix!
Streaming is no substitute for taking in a screening at a locally owned cinema, and right now Boston’s most beloved theaters need your help to survive. If you have the means, the Hassle strongly recommends making a donation, purchasing a gift card, or becoming a member at the Brattle Theatre, Coolidge Corner Theatre, and/or the Somerville Theatre. Keep film alive, y’all.