'The Neverending Story' Is Full of Hope, Not Sadness
For anyone who's spent any amount of time on the internet, funny articles and videos about the 80's classic The Neverending Story are inevitable. Said articles are usually horrified reflections on how dismally depressing the movie was for a children's film and how the author was scarred for life.
Honestly, I never understood these people. As a child, I was never depressed or "scarred" from watching The Neverending Story. If anything, I considered it wonderfully entertaining.
I think the reason The Neverending Story never bothered me as a child is because I had it about as bad as Bastian (played by Barret Oliver) . My parents were as emotionally abusive and uncaring as Bastian's father. Kids at school bullied me. Two close family members died. And I spent most of my time moping, alone, reading, and doodling.
It isn't shocking in the slightest that I grew up to be a writer.
For people who have led very depressing lives, The Neverending Story and its joyous neverending contains a message of hope. Not sadness.
I Loved Atreyu
Atreyu (played Noah Hathaway) was a smartass, he was determined, and he was full of hope. He never gave up, even when Artex, his horse died, even when all hope seemed lost, even in the end when the Childlike Empress reveals that the point of his journey was the journey, not the destination.
Atreyu's bitter frustration throughout the movie was also hilarious. The way he yelled at people for not helping him -- Morla in particular -- always tickled me.
He was also clever and brave. For a little kid, he was a great hero to project onto.
Morla Was Hilarious
For some surprising reason, a lot of people found Morla depressing.
Me? I thought him sneezing Atreyu away through the air was hilarious, as well as how little of a shit he gave.
Atreyu had to yell at him, beat him down with wits and logic, and no matter how many times he was knocked down by Morla's overwhelming pessimism, he always got back up again.
There's a pretty strong lesson in that for children.
And I just like turtles.
The Southern Oracle Scene Was Pretty Great
Hugely inappropriate breasts aside, I always loved the scene with the Southern Oracle.
Atreyu's test, on the surface, seems very simple: he has to have the courage to face his true self.
Most people can't do this. Most people can't look in the mirror and recognize their own ugliness: that they are perhaps selfish, greedy, cruel, racist, sexist, homophobic, or just a plain grumpy pants.
No one can stomach the idea that they aren't such a great person after all.
Atreyu actually fails the test, and while people see this as a flaw in the story, I see it as something that makes him utterly human. Just like everyone else, he can't stand to look in the mirror and see that he's actually a lonely, loser kid up in the attic of a school, reading a book.
Aretyu can not handle that, in reality, he is not a cool warrior kid but nerdy, mopey Bastian. He begins to doubt himself at the sheer horror of this, and as this happens, the eyes of the Southern Oracle open to zap him. He dodges at the last minute and -- like a true determined hero -- demands at the top of his voice (as per usual) that the oracle help him.
The Southern Oracle doesn't want to disappear, so it's in their interest that they maybe not zap Atreyu after all and instead try to help.
They tell Atreyu that the Childlike Empress is sick and needs a name
Now Atreyu has a new goal. Plot moves forward.
Honestly, I liked this part. Even after reading so many articles tear it down over the years.
Gmork Was Always Freakin Cool to Me
After becoming separated from Falkor the luck dragon during a storm, Atreyu meets Gmork, the wolf that has been hunting him the entire movie.
That deep, gravely voice. That horrifying size. The way he lurked in the darkness and hissed out his villainous monologue. I thought Gmork was such an awesome character when I was a child. Not saying I'd be friends with him in real life. Just saying he was a good piece of writing to my six-year-old self. It's just a shame the technical limitations of the time made his fight scene pretty ridiculous.
As Gmork explains in his deep, gravely voice, the entire film could be interpreted as a battle against depression. The Nothing is an existential nightmare. It is literally nothingness, the terror of ceasing to exist, the terror of impending death, the terror of knowing that life is pointless.
As a child, you're not supposed to understand the immense gravity of what the characters are struggling against and fleeing from. If anything, you're just supposed to see The Nothing as a dark entity not unlike the villain or Evil Force of Nature in most fantasy adventure films.
The Nothing is literally hopelessness and despair. But still, even as a child, it doesn't fully register. It isn't until you're adult that you look back and go . . . damn.
I'll concede: this was grimdark for a kid's film.
Even then, we could say the same thing about a lot of Disney films. And anyone who knows the real version of most classic fairy tales -- which were written for children -- would not be fazed by this movie.
Tami Stronach Was Simply Amazing
The Childlike Empress (played by Tami Stronach) was, like, the goddess of Fantasia. She knew everything that was happening, both in Fantasia and the real world.
Atreyu gets to her palace and is pissed that she knew everything but didn't tell him jack-shit when he was there six days ago and instead let him go through all that suffering for nothing. He completely unloads on her, and -- once again -- it's hilarious.
I always thought Stronach was perfect as the Childlike Empress. She was so regal, serene, and composed. And her voice was lovely. You see the circles under her eyes and know she has been suffering a long time, and yet, just like Atreyu, she has never given up hope.
Hope that someone out there, somewhere still has the courage to dream and imagine and get wrapped up in a story long enough to reach her palace.
Because the empress doesn't give up hope, even in the face of her world's greatest despair, she and Fantasia are saved.
At the beginning of the movie, it's implied that Bastian lives in a world where people don't read anymore. No one knows how to imagine. They just play arcade games and watch television, which was a bit of an exaggeration for the 80's, I think. Lots of kids were still reading back then. At least, I was.
But kids today? Not surprising a story like this wouldn't appeal to people in 2018. No one today cares about creativity or dreaming and imagining. Most everything is a cold product and is cranked out mechanically with the sole purpose of catching coins -- even this article I'm writing!
I always loved the part where Fantasia is finally gone and there's nothing but darkness. Then a small wisp appears, and it's revealed that it's a single grain of sand -- all that's left of Fantasia.
Bastian still manages to save Fantasia, returns it to its previous state, and gets to make all the wishes he wants.
That's a pretty joyous, optimistic neverending.
© 2018 Ash Gray