Thursday, June 8, 2017

[Anime] Angel's Egg

Tenshi no Tamago (Angel’s Egg) - ??/10

Angel’s Egg is a surreal Christian Rorschach test that submerges the viewer in a gallery of meaningful, but uninterpreted, images.  It is one of the most fluidly alien works I have ever consumed.  What follows can only be described as my own attempt to find the bottom.

First, the relevant facts:
Oshii (the director) had extensive training in Christian theology
Oshii had a sort of falling out or crisis of faith prior to the production of Angel’s Egg
Oshii himself stated he didn’t know what the film was “about”

When first diving into Angel’s Egg, the first thing one needs to do is prepare to look for meaningful, religious symbolism in every scene and event.  The second is to then abandon the thought of specific interpretations being the “right” ones.  The best way to describe the design of the symbolism is “archetypal.”  Water, trees, eggs, shadows, bones…all are so universal in human thought that one can hardly call them uniquely Christian or even religious in nature.  This causes each of the scenes to have multiple valence levels, wherein the part of the observer is no longer passive in their meaning.

Every scene in this movie is a piece of art in its own right.

Take for example the men chasing the shadows of fish.  Fish have an obvious link to Christianity, both in the fish symbol and the “fishers of men” phrase.  Using this iconography, it has been suggested that this scene represents those of blind faith chasing after an ever-elusive true belief, only to damage the world around them.  A secondary interpretation in the same current is based on the identifiably ancient structure of the fish.  In this case they are not elusive but extinct: the shadows representing the belief that used to be, and the men are futilely attempting to reclaim it.  Finally, yet other commentators suggest that by virtue of being shadows the fish must represent the negative of faith, the fallen angels that lead men to destruction intentionally.  There is no clear consensus.  But in all cases, the irreducible nature of the situation is unchanged: there is something that cannot be caught, yet men seek after it with all their might, even to the detriment of what is around them.  A theme universal.

This brings me to an important point that is often sailed over: while there may be many “correct” interpretations, there are most certainly many wrong ones.  For instance, the scene above is emphatically not about man’s lust for power and the subsequent spoiling of the world.  Nor is it an allegory about the continual search for ultimate scientific truth, and the resulting horrors that it has caused.  There are bounds to the interpretation.  It does not take the shape of every container.

Because of the nature of this work, I feel it is only proper that I also descend from the position of author to get my feet wet in explaining what I experienced personally…and the truth of it is, it meant nothing to me.  I have floundered for days, reading explanations and watching reviews.  Cognitively I can explain what Angel’s Egg is, and emotionally I can sense the potent longing permeating its core, but these two things are not soluble with my own character.

Perhaps an example will do.  Near the end of the film, the two journey to a building replete with bones.  They wind around the columns and are embedded in the walls.  Clearly, if any place is to be called a mausoleum, representative of death and the passage of time, this is it.  My first response?  Oh, it’s a museum (why else would the skeletons be mounted in the walls?).  What a curious, but harmless, place.  Dead?  Yeah, they’re dead; so what?  Dead creatures aren’t horrific, tragic, menacing, or a failure…and I wonder what species they are…?

"Here is the bird."
...that's not a bird...
I don’t intend to be flippant with my remarks, but truly the symbols one after another passed me by as unnatural, with hardly a ripple.  It was like deciphering another language, one I did not speak natively.  Intellectually I could grasp the literal meaning, but there was a palpable sense that their deeper impact was flowing through my fingers.  I drew some solace from this review:

“This movie’s images tapped into the subconscious reservoir of my fears and desires, [but] maybe the images will mean nothing to another.  It’s an expressionistic work, that however exquisitely crafted, will fall flat for some people.”

Because of this, I have decided for the first time to not award a rating to an anime.  Angel’s Egg is pregnant with meaning to those who are attuned to it.  It will drown you or baptize you, and I have been both surprised and humbled that I cannot encompass it through my intellect alone.  I depart from Angel’s Egg, returning to more familiar seas, with the realization that there exist in the deeps things I cannot take the measure of.

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