WHEN: 9:43 pm EST, June 28th, 2013
WHERE: The living room of my apartment in Portland
FORMAT: Blu-Ray on a Vizio 32″ LED HDTV
PHYSICAL AND MENTAL STATE: Full of dinner. Full of spite and full of dread. I don’t want to do this viewing.
This viewing was… difficult. I spent the entire time stewing in my bitterness. I’m tired of this damn experiment, so I harbor unmitigated rancor towards anything related to it, especially my movie. What makes it worse it that The NeverEnding Story has a happy ending just like any other film. I just want to watch something that reflects my poor mood. I need something dark and depressing. Sure, Artax drowns in the Swamps of Sadness as Atreyu cries for him to fight against the sadness.
And the Rockbiter wants to throw himself into the Nothing because he’s finally realized his own mortality and the inevitable destruction of Fantasia. But I know that all of this is just a sham. Fantasia will be reborn, the world will continue in fantastical bliss and blah, blah, blah happy resolution for everyone. So, as I sat in my own personal hell, I envisioned a darker scenario, a bleaker reading of this uplifting family film.
My alternate reality goes something like this: Bastian, enduring the grief of his mother’s death and the general misery of his life, has a psychotic break from reality, believes that The Neverending Story is truly speaking to him, and, at the moment he calls out his mother’s name during the storm, is tragically struck by lightning, knocked into a coma, and is living out the rest of his vegetative life in Fantasia, the only place that his feeble mind could imagine being happy in.
Triumphant moment or mental breakdown?
Yes, my own mood is reflected in this interpretation. However, I like the challenge of infusing such an exultant conclusion with tragedy. I’ve previously discussed Bastian’s depression. He is a boy suffering from the loss of his mother, an emotionally stunted father, constant bullying, and anxiety about school. He’s lost interest in daily life and sinks further into the world of novels to escape the shitty life he’s living. Imagine this sad little boy who has no friends to turn to except books. He comes across a unique book that parallels the increasing depression in his life. Projecting his own troubles onto this “magical” book, Bastian disassociates and thinks that The Neverending Story is real and is speaking to him. The NeverEnding Story is a fantasy film, but if it was labeled as a psychological thriller, then the ending becomes ambiguous and Bastian’s experience becomes a dubious narrative.
Bastian’s projection onto the story would also include an obsession with the Childlike Empress. The Empress is a symbol of Fantasia and a maternal figure. She possesses extreme power, but is at risk of dying due to the slow destruction of her lands. As she cries out for help, Bastian thinks that the fantasy is actually talking to him. She is his mother in his own mind. Bastian already decided this when he chose his mother’s name as the remedy that could cure the Empress. Bastian now has the chance to save his surrogate mother and leaps at the chance to do in a fantasy world what he couldn’t do in real life. In a confused state, he runs to an open window that’s located in the attic of his school during a severe thunderstorm. The result: struck by lightning.
Didn’t any of your books mention the dangers of lightning?
Or something equally tragic. Maybe he fell from the window ledge. The important thing is that just after he yells “Moon Child” into the stormy night, Bastian is struck unconscious. The film cuts to black and there is only Bastian and the most important person in his mind at the time of his injury: the Empress. The two speak to each other in an ethereal darkness. This is Bastian’s broken brain piecing his random thoughts together in order to cope with its present situation. His mind must complete the story and ensure that the Childlike Empress and Fantasia are safe. Bastian remains in his fantasy novel, convinced that he is merely continuing the plot by engaging in adventures that are the balm for Fantasia’s existence.
Viewing The NeverEnding Story through this alternate lens adds an uncomfortable creepiness to the climax. Instead of the Empress breaking the fourth wall to talk to Bastian (and the ceiling by talking to the audience), her pleas become the record of Bastian’s psychosis. She is a delusion in a boy’s brain pleading for him to save her by engaging in dangerous activities.
“Save us. And put on a silly hat.”
The Empress becomes the embodiment of Bastian’s mental break. If he can save her then his world will be fixed and he can be happy again. Bastian’s first wish is to ride a dragon and survey Fantasia, the symbolic “body” of the Empress. Fantasia is more beautiful than he imagined, meaning that the Empress’s body is healed and will never suffer from the Nothing attacking again as long as Bastian remains there, making more wishes. Bastian has no reason to want to return to his glum life, so he will remain in Fantasia as long as he thinks he’s needed. The end.
The NeverEnding Story has many layers of symbolism and an under-appreciated meta twist. Finding another possible reading of this film gives me a bit more hope for future viewings. It may be a case of schadenfreude, but finding pleasure in the imagined psychological pain of a young boy means that my brain isn’t completed bored. It does mean that I’ve hit an emotional low for my viewings; hopefully my mind won’t suffer a delusional breakdown. Riding a dragon would be pretty sweet, though.