Beyond its amazing visuals and memorable soundtrack, Avalon
is almost impenetrable. There's little or no attempt to
make you care for the characters or their personal develoment.
The film puts you in a position very few films dare to by
defying initial expectations. You're initially given some
amazing action sequences and CGI, but the film quickly settles
down and brings up metaphysical questions. It creates a
world that's dark and pessimistic. It's more interested
in giving you food for thought than shocking you with fantastic
battles or special effects.
Ash (Malgorzata Foremniak) is one
of the best, most respected players in an underground virtual
reality game. She was part of the "invincible" group Wizard,
which is now disbanded. There are rumors going around the
community that she caused the break up, "resetting" the
game for the first time among the members of the group.
She's now going solo, and lives day-by-day with the profit
she makes from the game. She hardly connects with anybody,
and her only decent relationship is with her dog. It's a
relationship with very little emotional demand, though.
The dog doesn't complain, and just greets Ash and asks for
food whenever she comes home.
Her first challenge in a long
time comes when she sees a Bishop level player (players
are ranked by levels, like any respectable RPG) perform
better than her. She tries to find information about him,
but it leads to nothing. It seems like he's operating from
inside the game, and is searching for partners to venture
into the ultimate level of the game, Class Special A. For
the first time since the Wizard incident, Ash decides to
work in a team. She wants to know about Class Special A,
and what that will bode for her future. She also wants to
find out about the truth behind the "unreturned"
(players who accessed Class Special A but returned with
nothing but a coma), as it will help her understand what
happened to one of her friends.
Mamoru Oshii's decision to shoot
the film in Poland (entirely in Polish) might not have been
just because of budget concerns. The locations better represent
a feeling of desolation. The physical setting of Avalon
looks like a future with no escape, where people hardly
connect with one another. The film style (predominantly
sepia tones and filters) is used to make everything look
darker and adds to the overall pessimism of the picture.
The decision to use color for food and animals might be
to show that the game also creates a void in the players'
mind. Everything except food and pets feels secondary, alien,
or even pointless.
Avalon is an incredibly
demanding film, and most will give up after watching it
two or three times. It's an intelligent piece of filmmaking,
but it's up to you to answer the film's questions, to ask
yourself what the end means, and to understand Oshii's messages
behind the more inaccessible aspects of the film. The film
works better if one isn't looking for something to top the
first ten minutes, and watching it more than once certainly
helps that. Oshii is more interested in creating a world
that resembles an apocalyptic version of what we're experiencing
today. He seems to give us a warning that's social (youth
is clearly trying to escape a world that gives them no space
to move), political/economical (there's no freedom even
in Avalon, and only the best survive) and at the end even
metaphysical (Oshii asks you what is reality after all).
It's probably too much to handle
for just a film, but this is nonetheless an amazing achievement
by Mamoru Oshii. His work shouldn't be overlooked just because
the film is emotionally impenetrable and so difficult to
understand. Avalon is something that's hard to digest
at first, but it confirms Oshii as something more than just
an Anime director. He clearly wanted to separate himself
from the belief that Anime is something for only kids or
fanatics. If Ghost In The Shell wasn't enough to
make you believe there can be Anime arthouse films, Avalon
will certainly do the job. (LunaSea 2002)