PG for repetitive childhood trauma. This is a movie I watched a thousand times as a kid. I'm sure that my parents got mad at me for how many times I watched this movie and how many times it messed me up. I mean, Artax dies. I'm going to be specific because you need to be prepped for the saddest animal death scene you've ever seen. Gmork is terrifying. There's bullying. Actually, at one point, everyone dies but Atreyu, Falcor, and the Childlike Empress. The sphinxes are also topless. They are statues, but extremely buxom statues. I'm also terrified to see if my kid is going to skip school and read in the school's attic during a major thunderstorm. Also, Bastian's dad eats a raw egg. That's just disgusting. PG.
DIRECTOR: Wolfgang Petersen
I showed my kid this movie and now she's obsessed. She's looking over my shoulder as I write this, despite the fact that I tell her that it drives me nuts and that her dad is going to spit in her dinner next time. (Okay, she ran away.) When The Neverending Story moment got dropped in Stranger Things season three, yeah, I got really nostalgic. See, I'm in the prime time for nostalgia. My demographic is getting represented pretty hard in popular culture right now. But I always thought that the version of the '80s that we see is a pretty generic version of the '80s...until they did The Neverending Story bit. There's something so important about this movie and I didn't think that it would hold up. Besides having the slowest opening three minutes of any movie, it's still so good. Mind you, now that I watch it as an adult, it is even more amazing than I thought before. Maybe my parents didn't actually mind watching it a billion times because it is so interesting.
I never realized that the story that Bastian is reading is not only calling him to intervene and interject himself into the story, but all of the issues are metaphors for what Bastian is going through. None of Atreyu's trials are ever physical. Okay, he stabs the wolf, who lunges at him. Whatever. That wolf had to die someway. But he just kind of stands there as the wolf impales himself on a sharp rock. But Bastian's issue is that he is bullied. When Mr. Coriander confronts Bastian, he accuses him of not reading. In that moment, Bastian passes the first test. He spouts off a litany of book titles, all pretty impressive reads. He then steals the book. I want to look at that moment later. But he is a character's whose first reaction is to flee. He flees the bullies instead of fighting back. He flees Mr. Coriander's with the book. He avoids his math test and hides in the attic. His dad talks down to him and tells him that he practically doesn't really believe in him and that horse lessons seem to be out of the question. The Nothing, as explained at the end, is a manifestation of the end of imagination. I can't believe that I didn't pick up on the fact that the land was called "Fantasia" and that it represents fantasy. I feel real dumb right now. But the first real trial that Atreyu encounters is losing Artax in the Swamp of Sadness. It's called "The Swamp of Sadness." Of course, it is an allegory. The way that you fall in the Swamp of Sadness is that you allow your sadness to consume your thoughts. On topic, I guess, but was Artax depressed? Atreyu watches his horse die and he begins to sink. But Artax just falls like a lead weight. Did the swamp take Artax to make Atreyu unimaginably sad? In the Swamp, Atreyu meets the wise turtle, who fills him full of despair. He tells him that there is an oracle 10,000 miles away. Sneezing on him, Atreyu falls. Looking at the turtle, it is the despair of the real world. Atreyu technically fails this quest. Instead of making a plan to cross all of Fantasia in an attempt to save the Childlike Empress, he breaks down and succumbs to negative thoughts. Bastian, for what parts of the movie we see him, is constantly down on himself. He doesn't believe he can pass his math test. He doesn't stand up to his dad. He allows failure to overwhelm him. Coriander said that the book doesn't let him be safe after the book is done because it calls him out on his crap.
Then, the sphinx will not let anyone pass who doesn't believe in himself. Geez. It's right there. Like, it's right there. (Note: I never had nightmares about the wolf or the Swamp of Sadness. That messed everyone else. Real truth is that I was terrified of the sphinx. Perhaps it was the violent sexual imagery going on there, but I really have to analyze that.) Atreyu passes by running. The eyes open for the sake of building tension, right? (Also, for those people who are mad at The Lord of the Rings and the Eagles, why are you not citing The NeverEnding Story and Falcor for completing most of the journey for Atreyu?) I don't know how I let this movie not beat me over the head with the message. The second trial of the oracle is Atreyu's reflection. Whatever you see in the mirror is your true self. It sends people screaming. What does Atreyu see? He sees Bastian. I always read that before as a way to get Bastian into the book and scare him a bit. But Bastian Balthazar Bux (I REMEMBER HIS FULL NAME FROM PART 2!) is an avatar for all inquisitive children. We know very little about Bastian at the beginning of the story. We know that he's very creative. We know that he likes horses. We know that he's bullied and that his mom died. But it really seems, from a quick look, that Bastian is a framing device for the whole movie. He's not. He's the audience, assuming that the audience is the bullied and marginalized and not the bullied. When Atreyu sees Bastian in the mirror, yes it is a cool moment, but that moment is telling. Outside of the fact that it is some of the best meta storytelling that I have seen coming out of the '80s, it shows that Atreyu is the reader. Coriander spells it out with the Captain Nemo reference. You, as the viewer / reader, are the protagonist. The changes that the protagonist experiences are the messages for the reader. It's why authors have themes. We assume that, when Atreyu sees the mirror, he's going to see something terrifying like it is discussed. It is terrifying, but in a way that we're not really prepped for.
The viewing in the Mirrorgate is terrifying not just because Bastian doesn't expect to see himself in the book he is reading. But rather, the Mirrorgate is a call to action. It is easy to grasp onto an adventuring hero like Atreyu when there is no responsibility. But the Mirrorgate is saying that Bastian has the potential and the same qualities to be Atreyu. I know. I'm stretching, but I'm really not. Atreyu is an adventurer. But none of his trials involve violence or special skills beyond riding a horse, something his father has forbidden him to do. Bastian already claims that he has an affinity for horses and unicorns. There's nothing that really stops Bastian from becoming the hero of Fantasia. Note that the two people who are cynical about the end of the naming of the Childlike Empress are Bastian and Atreyu. The Childlike Empress looks at the screen and begs Bastian / the viewer to name her. Sure, "Moon Child" isn't the name that I would have picked. It is implied that Bastian's mother was named "Moon Child", which is a bit of a stretch. But Bastian is given the Auryn and control of Falcor. Yes, he waves to Atreyu at the end because it was literally Atreyu who did the acts contained in the book. But it is through Bastian's focus on the pages that allowed the story to happen. If Bastian had stopped reading, the Nothing would have won. The closer he got to the end of the book (The...Michael Ende of the book?), the less of Fantasia was around. Of course that the only thing left was the Ivory Tower. Bastian had explored everything else. It is through Bastian's wishes that Fantasia is reborn. He wishes to see more of it, so the Fantasy of his mind now exists. That's what stops the Nothing from completely wiping everything away. The naming of the Childlike Empress makes the story personal for him. By naming the Empress after his mother, he makes Fantasia his own.
It's so odd to see a movie that I knew so well when I was a child again as an adult. It's been a really long time. I watch trailers every so often and I didn't realize that this was a German movie when I was a kid. I don't think I really understood dubbing, or ever noticed that a lot of the creature characters were clearly done in ADR. It looks a little dated, but I still think it looks pretty epic. I couldn't help but think that I could watch The NeverEnding Story back-to-back with The Fountain. It think that both metatextual narratives would play well with each other. Also, the aesthetics of both movies would probably resonate pretty well. What's really weird is that the kid who plays Atreyu (and, apparently, Boxey from the classic Battlestar Galactica) is a pretty good actor. It always bothered me in the sequel that a Native American kid played him. But I should be way more mortified that they got a white kid to play Atreyu because he's straight up supposed to be Native American. Either way, the movie really holds up. I showed my wife and kids the trailer for The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter and they thought that the special effects got better. No thank you. I don't think I'll ever take Part 2 as the better visual treat. I adored this one so much. I said I wanted to come back to Mr. Coriander before the end. Did Coriander want Bastian to name the Childlike Empress? Is the book unreadable for anyone but Bastian? Who is Coriander? It's so bizarre. I want to explore this.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.