The Reality of Instrumentality

January 8, 2015 § Leave a comment

At the climax of End of Evangelion, after Shinji has been co-opted into the transformation or the destruction of the human race — it really just depends on your viewpoint — reality increasingly inserts itself into the film. It begins with real-life dialogue, all the suspicions and rejections that pervade the collective psyche into which Shinji has been immersed as the focal point of Instrumentality. Car horns and railway chimes periodically drown these lines out as the animation gives way to rapid cutting between defaced and miscolored cels from the television show, further highlighting the artificiality of the film’s world. The editing of these sounds and images together reaches a fever pitch as a live-action shot of light shining through water gradually fades up, then it all snaps. We see an eye widen (probably Miyamura Yuuko’s eye, given that the concurrent line of the sequence is Asuka saying, “I’d rather die than do it with you!”) and are left with an empty auditorium.

An empty auditorium in End of Evangelion

At this point in the film, the Human Instrumentality Project is complete and humanity has evolved onto a new plane of existence. Accordingly, the film has ceased to exist as a fictional world and is now entirely a reflection, albeit distorted, of real life. It no longer offers a figurative mirror to the audience, but a literal one.

The live-action interlude of End of Evangelion has habitually been dismissed as a pointless mindfuck, just as most of the more conceptually difficult parts of the Evangelion franchise are. Granted, live-action shots are used quite often in anime because they are disorienting to the audience, not to mention cheaper to produce, and the hundred and eighty-three second sequence is almost entirely composed of visual motifs on which Anno Hideaki seems to be fixated — particularly rippling water, urban infrastructure, and lens flare. Still, I think that this instance has important diagetic implications for the film itself.

The final shots of the sequence, as Shinji discusses the difference between dream and reality with Rei, are crowds of people both on the street and in the auditorium. In the former, Hayashibara Megumi, Mitsuishi Kotono, and Miyamura Yuuko stand passively as they struggle not to be swallowed by the flow of bodies. They first appear dressed normally, then there is a cut to them (or the characters they play, given how much taller than her voice actress Misato appears) walking away in costume. This continues in slow motion until the quick montage of real-life death threats signals Shinji’s rejection of Instrumentality and the end of the sequence.


Ayanami Rei, Soryu Asuka Langley, and Katsuragi Misato in End of Evangelion

Just as Arianne’s jarring pop ballad about suicide is supplanted by Bach’s Jesus bleibet meine Freude, the animated world of the film is supplanted by live-action cinematography. The characters persist between the two, showing not only the place in the real world for the experiences and themes that they embody, but also their elevation from the lower existence of fiction to the higher existence of real life. This interpretation is reinforced by a fuller version of the sequence that was cut from the final version of the film for unknown reasons. With Shinji absent, all that’s left is for Asuka, Misato, Ritsuko, and Rei to live entirely mundane lives in a reality that is familiar enough to be regarded as probably our own.

I love the live-action sequence in End of Evangelion, not just because the Bach is beautiful and I share Anno’s fascination with power lines. The creative challenge of showing the altered and elevated consciousness within something as apocalyptic as Instrumentality… It must have been enormous, but Anno answered it in a way that shows his unique talent in the medium. Obviously, the higher reality of fiction is reality itself, as inhabited and perceived by the fiction’s audience, and also what better way to drive home the relevance of that work to reality? If we look hard enough through the dissolution of Shinji’s ruined world, what we see is unmistakably our own.



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