WHEN: 12:35 pm EST, January 21st, 2013
WHERE: In the living room of my apartment in Portland, ME
FORMAT: Blu-Ray on a Vizio 32″ LED HDTV
COMPANY: Cinemanaut Bill
PHYSICAL AND MENTAL STATE: I’m about to eat a delicious meatball sub. I also have Bill with me to finally watch this movie. He hasn’t seen it in years and I’m a bit nervous to see what he thinks.
REACTIONS OF NOTE:
- Bill couldn’t stop his reaction to Giorgio Moroder’s music credit. The PTSD from the Top Gun soundtrack is apparently why Bill can’t stand to listen to anything with synthesizers anymore.
- The NeverEnding Story encourages stealing, according to Bill. Don’t forget truancy, hiding from your problems, and using your powers to get revenge on those who bullied you. Bastian has the makings of a super villain.
- I just realized, thanks to Bill, that Teeny Weeny and the Night Hob are actually smaller than average. I always thought that they were human-sized. The Rockbiter, being so large, confused me. But when the Night Hob and the stupid bat peer into the Ivory Tower, they’re looking through small holes, not large windows.
- Bill is pretty impressed with Noah Hathaway’s acting during the Swamps of Sadness. Bill thinks he’s “bringing it.”
- In retrospect, Falkor is kind of creepy. His dialogue is supposed to be reassuring to the kiddies, but, taken out of context, it sounds perverted.
- Bill insists that there is a video on the internet of the bullies in therapy after Falkor rampages through the city.
The term “meta” gets thrown around quite a bit these days in popular culture. Self-referencing and breaking the fourth wall are becoming a common trope in cinema and television. During my last viewing, John was surprised by the revelation that we are part of Bastian’s story, which is also part of the book The Neverending Story. It is a stomach-flipping moment, for sure, but I didn’t think much about it because John hadn’t seen the movie before. Then Bill, who has seen the film, had the same reaction. Allow me to explain for a bit.
The Childlike Empress needs a new name given to her by a human child. As we reach the climax and the Nothing is about to end Fantasia, she reveals to Atreyu that the human child is very close. He has shared all of Atreyu’s successes and losses in order to bring him to this moment. Bastian, meanwhile, is having an existential freak-out. Then the ball-kicker: “Just as he is sharing all of your adventures, others are sharing his. They were with him when he hid from the boys in the bookstore… They were with him when he took the book with the AURYN symbol on the cover, in which he’s reading his own story right now.” Bam! Inception! And for you ’90s kids, bam! The Matrix! And for you Classical Greek fans, bam! The Cave!
“I’m an allegory? Whoa!”
As a kid, I always loved this reveal. I got to be part of a kick-ass adventure. Every time I popped in my VHS, I helped Bastian help Atreyu save Fantasia. During my viewing, Bill turned to me and said, “Oh, shit. Is she talking about us?” Yes! Yes, she is. The Childlike Empress knows we exist. So cool, you guys. While we’re reeling from the awesome, Bastian is yelling at the book, telling it it’s “only a story. It’s not real!” Well, screw you, kid, because the Childlike Empress looks straight into the camera, right at Bastian, and pleads for him to save them all.
There are plenty of clues along the way that Bastian will be playing a bigger role than little Fred Savage does in The Princess Bride. Bastian isn’t there to make cute comments and think that kissing is gross, he’s there to participate, whether he likes it or not. First, there’s the creepy but wise Mr. Coreander who baits Bastian into really wanting the book. He does this by the tried and true method of telling Bastian the book is dangerous and not for little boys. However, Mr. Coreander is unsurprised, amused even, when Bastian makes off with the tome. We, the viewer, are in on some secret, but we’re not quite sure what it is yet.
A misdemeanor on Bastian’s juvenile record.
The next few clues are a bit subtle. They are the beginning of the link between Bastian and Atreyu. When Bastian reads that Atreyu is of the Plains People, he finds this analagous to the American Indians and references a picture on his backpack. Thus, Atreyu is created from Bastian’s imagination. The next, less obvious hint comes when it’s time for Artax and Atreyu to eat. There is some very clever editing to aid in the parallel. Bastian gets out his lunch and as he bites into his sandwich there is an immediate cut to Atreyu taking a bite of his food.
Clues that the book is more than it seems become increasingly more obvious and more difficult for Bastian to ignore. As Morla appears, Bastian screams. Atreyu and Morla are briefly confused by the yelling they hear in the Swamps of Sadness before realizing that there are many reasons to hear screams in a place that kills anything that trudges through it. It’s also the first time Bastian reads about his world seeping into Fantasia.
Then we have the Magic Mirror Gate on the way to the Southern Oracle. The mirror is supposed to show Atreyu his true self. As Atreyu peers into it through the swirling snow, a vision of Bastian reading The Neverending Story slowly appears. Bastian’s reaction is to throw the demon book across the attic in a fit of disbelief. The reaction is a bit overdone, but then I’ve never read about myself appearing in a book before, either. At the Southern Oracle, the audience, and Bastian, learn that only a human child can save the Empress. The viewer should be all “oh, I get it” by this point and smugly watch as Bastian founders to keep a grip on reality.
From this point on, the atmosphere in Bastian’s world becomes more like the book. The storm gathers closer and Bastian becomes more isolated. His world is disappearing. The big reveal occurs at the Ivory Tower and solidifies what the audience already guessed: Bastian is the savior. Then we get the double reveal that we were part of the story, too. Brain cramp. Then maybe we’re part of another story. And there are probably stories in Fantasia about being part of a story. It’s turtles all the way down, people.
Cantankerous, delusional turtles into infinity.
The NeverEnding Story isn’t known for its meta twist, but it should be. Children get to appreciate it because they want to be part of the adventure. Adults can appreciate it because they can analyze the philosophy. Yes, it’s billed as a children’s fantasy, but The NeverEnding Story has some meat. There’s more than a simple adventure, another good versus evil plot; it’s red pill, blue pill; it’s Schrodinger’s cat in a box; it’s a spinning top that may never fall. The meta can drive you mad, but that’s what makes this film excellent.