Upon my sofa the other night I found myself mindlessly perusing the myriad of movies available for instant viewing. Choosing to ignore my ever-growing Netflix queue, I opted to watch The Neverending Story for the umpteenth time.
I had not seen the film in a good many years, and especially not since being a child/young teen. I was disheartened to see that I had forgotten several meaningful and profound sequences, but while thinking about my selective amnesia, I rationalized that perhaps I had forgotten them because as a child I wasn’t capable of actually perceiving them.
It was these newly discovered segments of the film that made re-watching it a completely new experience. While yes, the story does indeed take place in a fictitious, story-book type world replete with colorful characters not entirely out of place in any Pixar movie, with plot elements representative of the human psyche on various levels. It’s a film about hope and the epic journey of redemption, but it’s also much more than that. Sitting on my couch, I was surprised to see Bastian, the boy who is reading the magical library book that post-modernly tells the story that the film is visually illustrating is merely a stand-in for the modern person. He is always being reminded to ‘keep his two feet on the ground’ by society, school, and by his own father. But it is these constant reminders by patriarchal societal figures to stay grounded that nudges the adult viewer to understand that it is when we begin to take things less seriously and to be aware of the magic of life then we can begin to truly soar.
The various characters that Atreyu meets on his epic journey with the goal of saving the Empress and Fantasia itself are profound in their symbolism. Morla, the enormous Turtle in the Swamps of Sadness, represents those figures in society who have essentially given up and resigned to the lot they’ve been handed in life. The sadness that emanates from the Turtle encompasses all of the surrounding swamplands which unfortunately take the life of Atreyu’s beloved horse Artax. The scene in which Artax is slowly sinking below the muddy surfaces is at once both heartbreaking and eye-opening. A part of Atreyu’s hope is also dying because of the sadness that is surrounding him.
The film is full of flying imagery. Fantasia seems to be in and of itself an orb endlessly floating in space. Falkor, the luckdragon that saves Atreyu’s life on more than one occasion, is luminescent and beautiful in his commanding of navigating the heavens above. Even the two gnomes that help Atreyu to understand the oracle are depicted as alone in space with the quest for discovery being their key motivation to survival.
What had completely gone over my head as a child viewing this film was what The Nothing, the awful state of destruction threatening to eliminate Fantasia completely, truly represented. The strong winds, the majestic clouds, the vastness of its powers make The Nothing nothing short of a commentary of patriarchal society’s goal in keeping things complacent, consistent, and orderly. The Nothing is trying taking away all of the imagination and beauty of this supernatural world, much like the modern world ingrates humanity to believe that storytelling and the power of imagination is something that is to be lost once childhood ends.
My one favorite moment in the film as an adult viewer occurs near the end when the large Stone Man encounters Atreyu as The Nothing is completing its goal in eradicating Fantasia and all of its inhabitants. The Stone Man is shown looking forlornly at his enormous, human-like hands, Atreyu miniscule in his stance near him. “Look at my hands,” the stone man says at one point. “Such strong hands.” The Nothing begins to swirl around the Stone Man, causing his stone structure to begin to deteriorate.
I find that little piece of dialogue very, very profound. As a child, you feel like you can accomplish anything. You can fly to the moon or swim through the Amazon River. Your possibilities are endless and know no bounds. However, as you grow up, you cannot help but become more and more complacent in what life can actually provide you. You lose your own personal Fantasia, and your hands, much like Stone Man, are looked upon symbolically as the ‘could-have-beens’ and the missed opportunities. If there’s one thing I learned from watching The Neverending Story again as an adult is that you’re never too old to be hopeful and to imagine a better life for yourself, even if it seems no one else shares the sentiment.