There are two ways one could approach reviewing End of Evangelion. One would be to approach the film as the climax, resolution, and closure Gainax's long running and controversial series Neon Genesis Evangelion, and the other would be to approach it as a film unto itself. I think both are valid viewpoints, but I have chosen to focus more on the latter than the former because although End of Evangelion certainly was designed as a cap-off for the series, it works much better as an independent piece of work.
End of Evangelion tells the story of the Final Days. Those familiar with the series are familiar with the basic premise: an organization called NERV is humanity's last line of defense against the "Angels" a series of mysterious creatures that may or may not be sent from God. The defensive weapons are called "Evas" and must be piloted by 14-year-old children. The series sports a large cast of characters each with their own problems and dilemmas, yet in the movie the majority of them are tossed aside in favor of Shinji, the central character of the series who is the pilot of the main Eva unit. Essentially, what End of Evangelion shows the audience is a metaphysical rollercoaster ride as the end of the world is seen through the eyes of this adolescent boy, and the results are at once frustrating, interesting, and disturbing.
I will tell you right now that this is not an easy movie to watch. I get the same feeling from it I get from Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers. It is graphic, frightening, sardonic, and relentless. The first sequence of the film which involves the UN's attempts to destroy NERV are extremely violent. Surrendering employees are executed in cold blood left and right, and there is a particularly graphic sequence where a pilot and her Eva are mutilated beyond recognition. Also, there is some fairly strong sexual material throughout the film. There is an actual scene of masturbation towards the beginning of the film (although the act is not actually shown), and the are several additional scenes of bizarre sexual acts that would be useless to describe here because of the gargoyle forms that take. They are not sex, strictly speaking, but they do have extreme sexual overtones that could make viewing uncomfortable for some people.
The basic plot of the film involves the annihilation of humanity and it ascension to a higher state which we see through Shinji's eyes. The sequence where humanity "dissolves" into a liquid state, set to a song I am unfamiliar with called "Come, Sweet Death", is particularly effective. Continuing to take a page from Stanley Kubrick as he did with his use of classical music in the series Hideaki Anno uses this oddly melancholy tune to contrast the events of humanity's destruction. It may be an old trick, but it works fairly well here (better than it did in the series, in my opinion).
The final sequences of the film are an existential romp through Shinji's mind as deals with the infinity of death and immortality as a collective being. Anno deserves special notice for his willingness to experiment here. He takes us through rapidly edited images so dense that they more than once reminded me of avant-garde cinema (I am told he actually photographed the back of cells for part of this sequence.), and there is also a odd, extended sequence involving real-life footage of Tokyo. This sequence involves a curious motif: the repeated image of an empty-then full-then empty movie theater that would imply some not-so-subtly audience address on Anno's part.
If visually End of Evangelion is engaging, ideologically it is more convoluted. I feel that many of the sequences are worth watching simply for the imagery, but on a narrative level they are more difficult to digest. Basically, the over-arching purpose of the film is the endless reiteration of Shinji's personal dilemma of self-worth and paradoxical desire to be intimate with another human being but also embrace solitude. The movie cycles through conversations, images, and narrations to this end until Shinji's finally makes his decision on whether to embrace oblivion or continue an existence in the imperfection of the flesh. In terms of symbolism and character motivation the film is extraordinarily tenacious in its attempts to confound meaning. The "answers" the film gives only lead to more questions (which may very well be the point), and the ultimate obsession that Anno satisfies is one total, glaring, and torturous ambiguity. The epilogue will leave many pondering the meaning Anno's thesis for sometime after, while those more interested in the fates of the characters from the series will most likely be frustrated and/or horrified.
In the end, EoE is an interesting experiment on Gainax's part with a lot of worth while sequences which may or may not appeal to you depending on your tolerance for disturbing imagery and your farmiliarilty/unfamiliarity with the show. Ultimately, I feel EoE is hopeless as a conclusion to the series because all the plot information it supposedly ties up really only has baring in the movie anyway, and in terms of character you are often dealing with hollow or exaggerated caricatures of the people from the show. The film, basically, is autonomous. If you can get past all the unfamiliar names and focus on the major conflict of the story--the end of the world and Shinji's trip through oblivion--the movies stands on its own fairly well.
I would recommend this movie to people who want to see a genuinely disturbing piece of work with some fairly redeeming factors in the stylistic department. As for Eva fans, it is a toss-up. The events are interesting, but the final original final episodes of the show I feel are a far superior farewell to what the show was really about. The movie isn't about that at all. It is all about dazzling and sickening you, and leaving you gasping for breath after hitting you with tough questions it doesn't have the answers for. Whether this is enjoyable is open to debate, but there is no denying its effectiveness.
- WM, 1999.12.05