Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion ★★★★★

I think for a lot of people into film there's one show or movie a decade that defines the culture of that period. If you enjoy understanding film in that Kraukerian way - as communicating the subconscious interiors of a culture's thought - then there will be one particular item in every "era" that exemplifies that for you.

The Sopranos is for me that item for the 2000s. From the beginning it's a show about the end of Empire. In the very first episode Tony explains to his psychiatrist that he feels like he's coming in at the end of a good thing. He's talking about the American mafia, but as the show goes on it becomes clear that Tony's anxiety and pervasive sense of dread is the result of being surrounded by the whale skeletons of a decaying American value system. The final series goes out of its way to hammer this point home with a trip to Europe in which Carmella Soprano reaches an existential crisis surrounded by artefacfs of Europe's imperial past. In a time of declining living standards and the ratification of America's forever wars, The Sopranos communicated a shared understanding of the end of Pax Americana through the microcosm of an American mob family.

Evangelion is similarly apocalyptic but communicates its themes of individual loneliness through the macrocosm of a literal end of the world narrative. Evangelion isn't really about the decline of empire so much as it's about our atomization and isolation on a personal level. The show lays this out very clearly - Misato establishes early on that this series will be about the hedgehog's dilemma: our desire for human connection in tension with our fear of rejection. The show ends with the hedgehog's dilemma being violently resolved. All of humanity is absorbed into one gooey slimey being, with no spikey needles to keep us from one another.

Second Impact is obviously our stand-in for the post war period in Evangelion, a time of material struggle and reconstruction. The adults of Evangelion hold a shared trauma from that time that rarely needs to be verbally expressed, only given passing reference. Yet the teenage protagonists of the series, the ones who have grown up with comparative luxury, are so much more outwardly neurotic and damaged. What Shinji and Rei and Asuka lack which Misato, Kaji and Ritsuko do have is a sense of community. The older generation is embedded in a culture and memories of a shared class through struggle, whereas the young are constantly dislocated. No matter how many sweaty fan service scenes they find themselves in they're constantly alienated from one another - which is the utility of the shows central visual metaphor - damaged teenagers strapped into massive techno-organic wombs called Evangelions. The young protagonists of Evangelion are largely passive, maneuvered by massive techno-social apparatuses into simply piloting the Eva, fighting the Angels, and going home. 

There's more to say on Eva, a whole thesis worth of connections and visual allusions to parse. What Evangelion communicates for me (and this is not an original point) is the lost generation. It's a series about alienation: alienation from labor; from community; from the body; from people. In the 1990s, the period of the End of History; of the defeat of labor movements globally; the recession of socialist politics and the rise of neo-liberalism, Evangelion is what the culture created. A series where the most active choice a main character can make is to not engage; to not develop; to not get into the robot; to, on a fundamental level, resist narrative.

In 2020 Evangelion's apocalyptic imagery no longer feels as theoretical, and so I don't think End of Eva would be an appropriate ending within this cultural zeitgeist. It makes me wonder what the final rebuild film will show us.

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