Wait, Wait…That’s Not What I Meant! – Matthew Schott, Tuesday Thoughts

At this week’s creative rehearsal the question of perception was brought up. How sometimes we perceive or interpret a piece of work in a certain way and something happens that completely alters your perception of that piece. Sometimes it changes with age. Sometimes new information comes out about the crafting and development of the piece that shines a new light on the creator’s intention.

Sometimes, and this is a real rare one, the creators themselves go back and alter the piece to help better send the message they intended, or because they are unhappy with the original product. In all these cases the question I keep coming back to is when is our personal interpretation rendered invalid by all this?


A very recent time in which I experienced this phenomenon was in finishing Hideki Anno’s masterpiece Neon Genesis Evangelion. For those unfamiliar, the show builds up complex story-lines and incredibly fleshed out and damaged characters for 24 episodes and in the final two episodes throws all of that completely out the window for what feels like a rushed and totally unrelated finale. The finale was so shocking and controversial that one year later Anno released The End of Evangelion, a feature film which served as an alternate ending more in line with the rest of the show that actually takes the time to resolve a lot of the character arcs introduced in the show up to that point. The movie is a poignant and powerful finale to an incredible show while still maintaining a certain amount of ambiguity that Anno originally wanted to end the series on.

We’ve seen things like this plenty in fiction with more recent things like the Star Wars remasters and Mass Effect 3‘s altered ending. I, for one think that, in the case of Mass Effect and especially Evangelion the changed endings are a huge improvement over the original. A terrible ending can alter your entire perception of the events leading up to it and taint your view of the entire series. But what about people who (for whatever reason) liked the original endings? Their perception of those stories has now been forcibly altered. Can we hold on to the versions of a story that we like the best? I think so. Especially with something like Evangelion which maintains the intentions of the original ending but in a more satisfying fashion. In fact, just recently Anno began releasing what he called the Rebuild of Evangelion, 4 movie series intended to re-tell the story. I have about as much interest in that retelling as I do in the stupid special editions of Star Wars.

Darth Vader
Stupid? NOOOOO!

Those stories mean something to me on a personal level and so I am going to stick with the versions that affect me personally. Anno and Lucas may have felt that they weren’t done telling those stories but that doesn’t mean I can’t be done with them. I think sometimes we need to look at these things like David Lynch. Lynch refuses to tell anyone what his films mean to him because he feels that it removes something special from a narrative that comes from your own personal perceptions of the piece. At a certain point in experiencing a piece of art, we gain a sort of ownership over our own perception of the piece.

But what if we do know the original intention of the creator? How do we remove that from the experience if it alters our perception of the piece in a profoundly negative way? Unfortunately I don’t really know how to reconcile these things. While, as I said before we do need to respect an artist’s original intentions, we can’t lose our own interpretation. I wish I could give you an easy answer that just kind of solves this problem but I think that this is a problem we are going to be dealing with more and more in the years to come, especially in the digital age where creators can so easily alter their own work after the fact. I guess we can just take comfort in wrestling with this issue together.

Sorry this ending kind of stinks, I’ll have to go back and re-work this blog somewhere down the line.

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