Mar 28, 2010
xxxxxxx (All reviews)
Preface: Angel's Egg is my favorite movie, animated or not, and I don’t expect everyone to like it as much as I do... this is just my opinion.
Also: Spoiler Warning.......

Mandatory ratings of "story" and "character" seem constricting, implying that anime must be a narrative art.. Animation especially seems to have the potential to release visuals from these constructs and to become a poetic association of images or a musical rhapsody of color and movement, which engage us on a subconscious aesthetic level.. Not to imply that Angel's Egg is a non-narrative work of art— it isn't— or that it has no characters— it does, and effectively uses them as emotional vehicles. However, the existence of these implies that in art we are looking for an engaging story and psychologically relatable, entertaining, or in some way likable characters. For most, Angel's Egg is not going to present those things, but I do not consider that to its detriment.
Angel's Egg presents a few images suggestive of something beyond themselves that in their significance beg to be taken as symbols— inevitably leading viewers to puzzle over them, to ask, "What does it mean?" To ask that question may in some say imply an answer, which there is not. There's no reason to think that an idea of clear authorial intent is behind every ambiguous work of art, that every image and symbol can be reduced to some concept, idea or word, and that the viewer should let this concept stand in for the image in his experience of the work. In other words, there's no reason to interpret Angel's Egg allegorically.
To sum up my view on images, I'll quote the poet Basho: "There is nothing you can see that is not a flower; there is nothing you can think that is not the moon." I think he is suggesting that all of our perceptions, thoughts, and words are images. We perceive images all around us and it is only through these images that we communicate. Abstract ideas have no existence outside of our ability to IMAGine them; we conceive of our feelings in terms of images; we conceive of ourselves in terms of images. Eventually these images become abstracted from present material experience and enter deep into the realms of our desires and subconscious, and as they are ingrained in our culture's collective web of meaning, they become archetypes.
I include this tangent because I think that Angel's Egg works directly with archetypes, casts them like a spell, and we as viewers want to make sense of what we experienced by assigning a meaning to them. I don't want to suggest that no meaning is present. However, I do want to inverse the usual understanding that some meaning in the artist's mind is the starting point, and the symbol is subservient to that. In fact, a pure image is the primary thing-in-itself, and this image may be suggestive of a whole shade of meanings, and like a word these suggestions can have ranges of connotations for different people. It's like in music, when notes and melodies and atmospheres can for a listener evoke specific memories or messages— but no one would say that such a message is the primary purpose of the music— which is nothing but notes. Rarely does one talk about what music “means.” Such would I say are the images in Angel's Egg.
So for me, what is the sum total of these images? I could shorten this whole review into a single sentence by saying that when I watch Angel's Egg, I feel like I'm viewing the dreams I saw when I was sleeping inside my mother's womb. The atmosphere is so dark, so delicate, that to compress it into some ideas and themes would be to collapse its subconscious delirious atmosphere. I feel like this story is something being played out in my mind, below and between my conscious understanding. The egg, the cross, the mechanical God, reflections, water... all of these and more are symbols in Angel's Egg. Yet rather than asking, “What does it mean?” I'd rather ask, “How does it make me feel?” And these images arrest me: feelings of lost innocence, holding on to a bit of faith, deeply buried memories, the unreality of experience, existential confusion, the fear of abandoning and being abandoned by God... all of these are contained in my viewing of Angel's Egg. Both characters start to embody aspects of myself which, for being on a screen, start to feel more real.
"You have to break something to find out what's inside."
The same could be said about this movie itself.
When I'm watching, the images become indicative to me of something larger, but I can't necessarily pinpoint this significance down into an allegorical understanding. I feel like I too am clutching this egg with so much passion. What it is could be a number of completely personal things to me or it could be something else personal to another. But that desire of clinging onto that fragility associated with maidenhood, and the converse questioning cynicism that seeks to break it, feel real, regardless of whether or not I can articulate whatever Oshii was "trying to say."
The Christian symbols don't become instruments to make some "point" about Christianity; they're just presented, and they can either start to mean something to you personally, or not. This movie isn't going to try to make you enjoy it. Its content in being itself and it's up to you whether it moves you or not.
Amano's artwork, with its exquisite delicacy and detail is perfect for the atmosphere of the film, and along with the score and pacing, /is/ the atmosphere of this film. There's not really anything else to add on the matter other than that I find the artwork gorgeous and evocative. The colors create a distinct world-- one of shadows and reflections, mirrors, and windows through which darkness is distorted and parallel worlds open up. In fact, more than almost any I've seen, Angel's Egg's "world" becomes almost self-consciously so-- one enclosed existence among many-- truly dream-like and expressionistic, as if these egg's dreams are projected onto a screen and a moment's sensation becomes a visual palette, and in this palette other realities converge-- and this world belongs only to the girl, and this strange nameless soldier is passing through from one world he can't remember, collapses this world, and under the malignant transcendent reality of the mechanical god who devours individuals, passes on to another.. The final shot reinforces this impression.
The interactions between the two characters take on a strange poignancy; in this desolate, unreal, left-over place, a persistent desire for contact and a deeply human curiosity become the forces that destroy the egg. Despite the work's expressionistic, unusual, or inaccessible nature, there's something deeply immediate about the sad look on the soldier's face at the end of the movie, as he stands alone...
In the end, this movie leaves me with the impression of a world abandoned by God, where, left with empty meanings, only suggestions of happiness and reality are contained elsewhere, a world haunted by promises and vague suggestions of fulfilment, yet left in the dark and alone. The score embodies this impression, alternating between beautiful melodies, waltz-like rhythms, and dissonant dissolutions; it feels like a transient dream always on the edge of being real and graspable, yet ultimately transient and unattainable in its distant beauty.
Rather than talk about how I choose to interpret every image in the film, I think it's best to leave it at that, as every viewer will have a different reaction and interpretation. Obviously this film moved me deeply. Maybe it won't move you at all. That doesn't make one of us right and the other wrong. This movie's images tapped into the subconscious reservoir of my fears and desires, maybe the images will mean nothing to another. It's an expressionistic work, that however exquisitely crafted, will fall flat for some people. What it means for others, however, has nothing to do with what it means for me.