WHEN: 6:09 pm EST, February 24th, 2013
WHERE: In the living room of my apartment in Portland, ME
FORMAT: Blu-Ray on a Vizio 32″ LED HDTV
COMPANY: Cinemanaut Bill is working on the computer in the same room. He’s not watching, but he is present.
PHYSICAL AND MENTAL STATE: Snow is falling outside. It’s the last day of my vacation and I’m thinking about how work will go tomorrow morning.
REACTIONS OF NOTE:
- The opening theme song is pretty upbeat, but it’s being played over ominous clouds. It seems like a poor choice to me, editor Jane Seitz.
- I really wish there was more merchandise for The NeverEnding Story. Things like a plush Falkor, an AURYN replica, and some figurines. Also, sweet T-shirts so that I could advertise my nerd love. But I did find this.
- Again, I wish there were some special features on the visual effects. The scene where Atreyu and Engywook share the telescope while observing the Sphinx Gate is amazing. Is it green screen? Forced perspective? These are things I need to know.
- I don’t understand how, even in a fantasy world, Falkor and Atreyu are flying through space. I don’t think the atmosphere would last long enough.
“Lucky anaerobic respiration to the rescue, right, Atreyu?”
The tests to get to the Southern Oracle always seemed a bit odd to me. Even now, the Sphinx Gate and the Magic Mirror Gate are puzzling. So, I decided to have a really good think on what they are and if the Gates or the Oracle symbolize more than just tests for Atreyu to pass. After digging deep, wracking my brain, and doing some reading, I have decided that the Gates and the Oracle are all about duality. The tests themselves also reveal deeper layers to the movie and raise more questions about the mysterious nature of The NeverEnding Story.
First, there’s the number of gates; only two. Usually, when a hero encounters a series of tests, the tests occur in sets of three. Three is a sacred number from the Christian Trinity, to the Greek and Norse Fates, to the Buddhist Tripitaka, and so on through a myriad of cultures. However, Atreyu encounters only two tests. His destination, the Southern Oracle, offers no test and immediately begins speaking to Atreyu. Further duality is seen by the physical structure and configuration of the Gates and the Oracle. The Sphinx Gate is constructed of two sphinxes facing one another. The two are reflections each other. The Southern Oracle is the same, two sphinxes facing each other. The Magic Mirror Gate separates the Sphinx Gate and the Southern Oracle, so the first gate and the final destination are also reflections of one another. The myriad dual images are too prominent to be overlooked.
Looking at the tests also reveals further themes of duality. At the Sphinx Gate, only someone who can “feel his own worth” may pass. This means that what a person truly is and what they appear to be are different things. Atreyu and Engywook watch a contender fail at the gate. Engywook remarks, “Fancy armor doesn’t help much. The sphinx’s eyes can see straight into your heart.” Atreyu then encounters the Magic Mirror Gate where he must “face his true self.” Again, the test is about showing the difference between a person’s outward actions and appearances and their genuine character. The Sphinx Gate is also opposite of the Southern Oracle, revealing another example of appearance versus truth. The Sphinx Gate is made of stone, located in the desert, and destructive, while the Southern Oracle is made of ice, located in the tundra, and benevolent.
Why should I care about all this duality, right? It’s interesting. It’s interesting because the duality motif reflects the meta nature of the story. The two tests are supposed to be for Atreyu, but I theorize that they are also tests to see if Bastian is ready to be the true savior of Fantasia. When Atreyu faces the Sphinx Gate he sees the charred remains of the dead knight and begins to doubt himself. As the eyes open, Bastian begins to yell aloud, “Be confident! Run, Atreyu!” We know from earlier in the film that Bastian can be heard in Fantasia. At the Swamps of Sadness, Bastian screams in fear as Morla appears. Atreyu and Morla are confused, but continue with their conversation. With this in mind, it’s possible that Bastian’s yelling could be heard and is what spurred Atreyu into action and ultimately aided him in passing through the Sphinx Gate. I like to think that the test is designed to kill anyone who tries to pass. Nobody is truly confident in themselves in the face of death, but having the courage to attempt to cheat it, plus Bastian’s help is what allows Atreyu to make it through alive.
The Magic Mirror Gate is the true test for Bastian. Atreyu finds the gate, but he doesn’t know what the test is about. Atreyu passed through the Sphinx Gate before Engywook could warn him. To Atreyu, the mirror shows him a boy reading a book in an attic. Bastian knows that the Magic Mirror Gate is supposed to reveal Atreyu’s “true self.” So, when Bastian reads that Atreyu sees a boy reading a book in an attic, Bastian solves his existential crisis by throwing the book across the room. The test then becomes whether or not Bastian will decide to keep reading. If he does, then he is the hero Fantasia needs. If he decides to forget about The NeverEnding Story, then Bastian is not what Fantasia needs and another child will read the book and be put through the same test. There is sense behind why Atreyu sees Bastian reflected in the mirror. Primitive beliefs assert that mirrors hold the soul of the viewer (this is why breaking a mirror is considered bad luck). Bastian is Atreyu’s soul since Bastian created Atreyu. Bastian read a description, but he also filled in all the blanks, creating the Atreyu we see. The film tries to hint at this more by cleverly lining up Atreyu’s AURYN with the symbol on the front of Bastian’s book.
“My soul is a nerd?”
Finally, Atreyu reaches the Southern Oracle. The Oracle begins speaking to Atreyu and tells him it/they “have been waiting for you a long time.” This line inspires a few theories for me. For example, the Southern Oracle may have been constructed just to test Atreyu and the human child needed in order to save Fantasia. The Oracle could have been built thousands of years ago with the foreknowledge that Atreyu would arrive when Fantasia was in danger. Morla, the oldest being in all of Fantasia, does not know what will save the Empress, but she tells Atreyu to ask the Southern Oracle. Morla may know that Atreyu has to pass these tests and sends him on the correct course. The other reason that the Southern Oracle has been waiting a long time is that Atreyu has attempted the journey before, but the human child was unable to pass the Magic Mirror Gate test. Atreyu and Fantasia have been stuck in a loop as each child has read and failed to complete The NeverEnding Story.
Then there’s the fact that IMDb credits Tami Stronach (the Childlike Empress) as the voice of the Southern Oracle. She is not listed as the voice in the film credits, but if she is the voice, then another layer is added. The Childlike Empress is theoretically omniscient and possibly as old as Fantasia since she knows all about the human child, her new name, and Atreyu’s quest. The Southern Oracle may be an avatar for the Childlike Empress. She may exist in multiple forms. Whatever the case, the only beings that know about the cure for the Empress is the Southern Oracle and the Empress herself. The Oracle is also affected by the Nothing. Much like the Childlike Empress, the destruction of Fantasia is causing the Oracle to crumble. The physical link between Fantasia, the Southern Oracle, and the Childlike Empress is evidence that the Oracle and the Empress are the same being.
The thoughts above are just my own speculation and theories. However, the layers of meaning that are accessible is nothing short of impressive. The NeverEnding Story continues to reveal more and more layers and the layers are becoming more complex. This movie is becoming a personal challenge to rip through the veneer of “children’s fantasy film.” If the Southern Oracle contains so much additional information to sift through, then I have plenty of work for the rest of the year. And I love that.
While writing the above article, I consulted Dictionary of Symbols by Jack Tresidder and Dictionary of Symbolism by Hans Biedermann. They’re pretty awesome books to own. I suggest them to any fan of mythology, dreams, or Jungian psychology.