Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Neverending Story: Film Platypus

Following our successful viewing of Labyrinth, my wife and I moved on to another fantasy film classic, The Neverending Story.  Once again, this is a film that I grew up with but that my wife did not.  Since she doesn't bring a wealth of nostalgia to the viewing, her insights are fresh and astute.  Speaking for myself, they help me see far more about the film than I would otherwise.  This is to tell you that this blog post owes its best features to my spouse even though I'm the one who roomed with film majors for six years.

The Neverending Story isn't as complex a film as Labyrinth in its plot, art direction, or moral.  This isn't a defect, merely an artistic choice.  The plot especially is quite thin and serves merely as an excuse for creating a series of highly evocative tableaux.  These set pieces are masterfully crafted with all the rich glory of pre-CGI special effects.  The recurring motif of slowly unfolding clouds and music is worthy of Disney's Fantasia.

Now think.  When I say The Neverending Story, what images come to mind?  For me, it's Bastion reading in the attic of the school, the Gmork waiting for the Nothing in the ruined city, and the reveal of the Child Empress.  Each of these scenes could be removed from its original context and reworked into a new story all its own.  I don't think this is accidental -I think its form following function.  Just as the characters in the story, through a series of vivid images, inspire Bastion to courage and hope, so the vignettes of Bastion's responses to the story are meant to inspire the audience to courage and hope.  The movie as a whole is meant to encourage further tales: a never-ending story.

There's a larger goal in attempting to set up this imaginative chain-reaction.  The message of The Neverending Story seems to be that humans are at their most human when they are allowed to dream.  In the world of the film (1984 West Germany/United States), however, dreams are presented as on the wane.  My wife sees this as a requiem for the cultural revolution of the '60s.  Bastion's mom, after all, is named Moonchild.  How much more hippie can you get?  At the beginning of the film, we find that she has recently died and her husband is in the process of burying his grief in the corporate grind; what he calls "keeping your feet on the ground."  He urges Bastion( short for Sebastien, but a fortuitous nickname implying a refuge or a fortress) to do the same.  One can hear the confusion of a generation: "I thought we did something at Woodstock, where did it all go; how did we become our parents? -I guess this is all there is."  The problem, as the Gmork so articulately puts it, is that people without dreams of a better world are easy to control.  When hippies became yuppies the Man won.  The last hope, or bastion, of the Revolution becomes the rising generation of Xers and Millennials.  It is these children that the film seeks to reach with its series of inspiring images.  If the young people can be taught to dream, to give the eternal child-empress a new name, then the Man hasn't won and there is hope for the Revolution and ultimate human flourishing.       

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