Darren Carver-Balsiger’s review published on Letterboxd:
Fuck me. (both my initial reaction and a theme of the film). There is nothing I can really say to do justice to The End of Evangelion. This is straight up top 1% level cinema. The most meaningful art comes in many forms, in lasting pieces of literature, in painstakingly crafted paintings, in deeply profound arthouse cinema. It can also, as it turns out, be found in a fucking mecha anime.
Significant thematic spoilers (but no plot spoilers) from here on for both The End of Evangelion and Neon Genesis Evangelion.
The show Neon Genesis Evangelion blew my mind. It was philosophically dense and filled with complex characterisation. I'm not a television guy, but the only thing that gave me a similar reaction is a 1960s British TV show called The Prisoner; a show whose every episode was similarly crammed with allegory surrounded by a ropey genre plot, only for the final episodes to abandon plot entirely. Neon Genesis Evangelion was this, but more so. It's a show which lost its shape as it went on (much like the thematic element of losing one's shape and identity), and became completely formless. Its final two episodes were beyond ballsy and also genius. It's a show that was so narratively rich and demanded so much from the audience; no wonder its ending was controversial. To push the brains of your audience to the limit, and then end by asking them to push further without even guaranteeing answers, is incredibly rare in any media.
It is unsurprising therefore that this alternative ending exists, an ending which doubles, triples, quadruples down on what made the show's ending spectacular. It is more satisfying, inasmuch as it more explicitly wraps up the plot, but it leaves the same ambiguities. In fact, it draws out all the same questions, only it asks them slower. There is nothing here, no answers, no conclusion, no characters. It is ironic for a work so great with characters that the ultimate conclusion is that we should detach ourselves from them. There is no reality, as everyone has their own lives and dreams, and everyone is different in every person's reality. I could talk about how the show is the perfect depiction of introversion, and how I've never felt so represented by the many depictions of loneliness and insecurity, but that would miss the point entirely. We cannot lose ourselves in fantasy and we must choose to be who we are.
The End of Evangelion is deconstructionist beyond imagination, from the long credits that play midway through the film, to the mecha tropes ripped to shreds, to its fundamental message that you shouldn't watch it. It doesn't just deconstruct itself though, it also picks apart what it means to be human. It travels to a new beginning, via the end, which itself doesn't exist, and shows the fundamental fight at the heart of human nature. It is impossible to be an individual, but we must learn to become one. Pure, unfiltered collectivism does exist, but only in our mental reality where we imagine we know the world, not in actual reality where we are within the unknowable realities of others. To become a God is to know all realities, and this fight between the collective and the individual drives us all towards becoming one (although none of us get close at all). To refuse to connect, to refuse to understand others and their realities, that's what destroys the world.
All of this though is the surface of The End of Evangelion, a film filled with symbolism on top of symbolism. It isn't even well animated, but it doesn't need to be, it just needs to be imaginative. The fact it's a second ending is perfect for the show, which is so centrally about alternative ways humanity could have turned out (plus the endings fit inside each other, similar to how all realities are within all others). The film is very dark at times, so dark in fact that the central message that our world contains joy and hope is reduced to just abstract theory. But happiness is abstract, and we base our lives upon it, just like with so many other abstract concepts. As we sit there, melancholically masturbating into darkness, we're trying for happiness because it's only human to do so.
I've become obsessed with psychology and philosophy in recent months and The End of Evangelion beautifully depicts so many of my thoughts. It is an ode to life, obscured by endless ambiguity, and a deconstruction of what we value. It's very easy to imagine that it picks apart a genre, a character, our world, but it doesn't. The End of Evangelion picks apart what it means to be you, as in you as a person, you as someone who sat through the film, and you as an abstract concept. There are few things that have impacted me like Neon Genesis Evangelion and The End of Evangelion, and those that have are my very favourite works of art. When I say this is my favourite anime, those closest to me know how significant that is. I'm sat in awe, staring at a blank screen, tangled in feelings. If this were the end, I think I'd finally be happy.