7 Terrible Life Lessons Learned from 'The Neverending Story'
It's hard to find someone who hasn't seen 1984's The NeverEnding Story at least once, if only on cable. It's one of those movies like The Shawshank Redemption that didn't seem like a big deal at the time, but now is as much a part of our childhoods as playing with Legos or shooting people because we knew the courts couldn't prosecute minors.
That's why it's a little disturbing when we look back on that movie with adult eyes and see some of the fucked up lessons we were unknowingly being taught. Lessons like ...
Stealing is Perfectly Fine if You leave a Note.
The movie starts off with Bastian, an elementary school boy in the "real world," being robbed by three bullies. When they find out that he has no money, they throw him into a dumpster, and when he climbs out, they continue chasing him, presumably to slit his throat and bathe themselves in his sacrificial blood (again, 1980s bullies were hardcore). Bastian gives them the slip by ducking into a book store, where he finds an old man who scolds him for being a child.
"I did 14 years with good behavior because of teases like you."
Bastian is curious about a book that the old man is reading, and he tells him the book is not for him because it's "special." So when the guy gets a phone call and leaves the book unattended, the little bastard nabs the book and jets out the front door. But it's OK because he leaves a note.
So, right off, the questionable morals of this movie start to come into focus. Our hero is never punished for this act (there would be no adventure without it). Remember, that old man didn't run a library. He owns a book store. And judging by the fact that there are no customers, we're guessing that he's not making that great of a living to begin with, so every sale counts. And that's aside from the fact that he was halfway through reading it when this little pecker pulled a smash-n-grab.
"Oh, no. Go ahead. I was only 200 pages in, anyway."
Apparently this takes place in the same universe as role playing games, where if an item is needed to advance your quest, you take that shit.
Forget Calling Your Parents. You Got This.
So the thieving little asshole goes to school and breaks into the attic, skipping all of his classes to read this book. Keep in mind that even back in the archaic age of the 1980s, schools still took attendance. And when one of the kids was absent, if they didn't hear from the parents, they'd call to make sure their child was actually at home and hadn't been kidnapped.
Before he realizes it, school is over, but instead of packing up his shit and finishing the book in his room at home, he goes back upstairs, lights some candles and continues where he left off. He reads well into the middle of the night, never once calling his father to let him know where he's at and that he's OK.
At this point, it's a given that the police have been notified, and some poor officer is practicing several speeches to find the most delicate, sympathetic way to break the news that the search party they assembled to find his lost child is now the "recover the raped and murdered body" party. Not only has this kid induced a town-wide panic, but they would be searching for his body in a thunderstorm powerful enough to break the locks on windows.
That book had better have some hardcore fucking in it.
He will suffer absolutely no negative consequences for this. Remember kids, you are all that matters. The rest of the world can go fuck itself.
Always Go Unprepared.
At this point the film shifts to the fantasy world, where Atreyu (the main character of the book that Bastian is reading) is summoned to the Ivory Tower because he's the only one who can find a cure for the Empress's illness, thus saving their world from total annihilation. The illness itself is never revealed, but based on that description, we're assuming she has chlamydia.
"And on your way back, could you pick us up some beer?"
Then the guy who asks him to go on the quest tells him, "No one can give you any advice except this: You must go alone. You must leave all your weapons behind. It will be very dangerous."
Wait, what? Why does he have to leave his weapons? How would that affect his quest at all besides making it harder? If he takes them along anyway, will the quest fail? He does have that option, right? Because the guy just told him it was "advice" and not a rule. And advice can be taken or ignored at the person's discretion.
Regardless, Atreyu drops his shit on the floor and accepts, blindly obeying the judgment of this stranger. The quest-giver hands him a pimp medallion and sends him on his way.
"I'm tired of these motherfuckin' snakes on this motherfuckin' chain!"
With no food, no water and no weapons, he rides "aimlessly for weeks," as the narrator tells us. So evidently, he gets to take along no information as well. Yep, just blindly trust the stranger.
But that lesson seems downright sage when compared to...
Rely on Luck to Do All of Your Work for You
Here's where the moral of this movie goes from "the writers probably didn't think it through" to "intentionally ruining a generation just for the hell of it."
Atreyu winds up in the Swamp of Sadness where "everyone knew that whoever let the sadness overtake him would sink into the swamp." So that's a rule. Unfortunately, that's what happens to his horse -- Atreyu's only friend -- right off the bat. We guess this is supposed to teach kids not to let sadness and depression consume you? Is that something eight-year-olds have a problem with?
Anyway, we'll let them slide on that one. So, his horse is dead ...
"In a way, I'm actually kind of glad you died. I could have used you as a weapon, and that's not allowed."
... and he eventually succumbs to the sadness of the swamp.
The mud symbolizes alcoholism, little Timmy.
But fortunately, he's picked out of the swamp by a Luck Dragon -- a giant, white, flying, talking dog with pearly scales all over its back. He lies unconscious for a few days, and when he wakes up, the dragon explains to him that they've flown to safety and traveled the 10 thousand miles to the Southern Oracle, which just moments ago seemed impossible and hopeless for Atreyu. When he asks how all of this happened, the dragon responds, "With luck!" He then goes on to say, "Never give up, and good luck will find you."
Sooner or later, that thing is going to have to take an enormous crap.
Later, they find that they have to reach an "Earth child" outside the borders of Fantasia, but neither of them know where that is. The Luck Dragon tells him, "Don't worry. We'll reach the boundaries of Fantasia." Surprised, Atreyu asks, "You know where they are?" He then reinforces this horrible lesson with, "I have no idea." "Then how do we find a human child?" "With LUCK!"
That's right, kids. You can achieve any goal in life if you just blindly venture out and wait for it to come to you. You just have to keep on traveling aimlessly, with no goal in mind and no plan for the future at all. Just don't give up doing that, and good luck will serve you your dreams on a silver platter. And if that fails to happen, don't get sad or else the world will kill your best friend.
Again, all of this was done on the advice of an adult stranger, which brings us to...
Always Trust Strangers
At the same time that Atreyu is learning his lessons about luck, he meets an old couple living in the side of a cave in the middle of nowhere. They are literally the only noticeable signs of life living in this area from horizon to horizon. The man claims to be a scientist, and the woman claims to be a doctor. Keep in mind that the only thing our hero knows about these people is that the first 15 seconds of interaction with them shows that they are both clearly insane.
"Even I think you're fucked up, and I'm goddamn crazy!"
The woman steps forward and hands him a "potion." There is a thick fog boiling out of the top of the cup, and live wormlike creatures are trying to escape. He takes a whiff and recoils in disgust. Then drinks it without question. As he's gulping down whatever the hell is in that thing, the woman says, "There's eye of newt in there. Tree mold. Old lizard brains. Scales from a rancid sea serpent." The bacteria alone in that concoction is enough to kill him. But she said she's a doctor, right? Must be OK to trust her and just do whatever she says.
"Also, I shit in there."
Running Trumps Self-Worth Every Time.
So now he's off to see the Southern Oracle, but first has to pass through a gate made of a large set of titty-baring statues who judge your confidence. If your own self-worth isn't up to their standards, they open their eyes and fry your punk ass with lasers. The movie demonstrates this as an armored man rides through while Atreyu and the scientist watch from a distance through a telescope.
Someone could easily make a career writing the psychological breakdown of the director's mother issues from this one picture.
Atreyu decides that he has to try it himself. Everything seems fine, and he's made it halfway through before he looks down to see the charred face of the armored man that the tittymoms just lasered. Just as he's shitting himself, the eyes start to open. He has clearly failed their test. So how does he get out of this one? Does he summon the courage to defeat his inner doubt and regain his sense of self worth, thus calming the statues?
Nope. He runs like a bitch.
As it turns out, the statues rules became more defined that day. "He who shows true self-worth within his own heart -- or runs really fast with his own legs -- shall pass unharmed. Because it's really hard to hit a moving target." It just goes to show that confidence is nice and all, but if you're really athletic, you don't really need all that pansy psychobabble bullshit.
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Success Means Exacting Revenge Upon Your Enemies
The world is destroyed. Everyone is dead except for the Empress. Bastian has been pulled into the fantasy world. There is darkness.
The Empress opens her hand and a single grain of sand lights up their faces. She explains to him that this is all that's left of her empire and hands it over. She then tells him that he can make wishes with it -- as many as he wants. Each wish he makes will cause Fantasia to be rebuilt. So what does he wish for? Love? World peace? The end of disease and famine?
Nope. Sweet, terrible revenge. He and the Luck Dragon swoop down into the real world and dive headfirst towards the three bullies who attacked him in the beginning of the movie. Bastian and the dragon laugh and cheer as women clutch their children and scream in terror at the sight of the demonic dogmonster.
Look at all that delicious terror.
Look, we realize that this was a book before it was a movie. And we realize that maybe some things just didn't translate all that well from German to English, and from English to Hollywood. And maybe the book explained things a little better and taught lessons that were wholesome and practical.
But fuck you if you think we're reading it. After all, the final, convincing lesson of The NeverEnding Story is that books are twisted portals that will take you to an amoral universe and return you in a state of corrupted insanity.
We want no part of that.
Be sure to pick up our book and dive into the amoral universe of Cracked.
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