I’ve been writing about Evangelion for about a month now. I’ve likely crossed the 10,000-word mark, and I haven’t really needed to revisit an earlier post.
Until today that is.
A little more than a month ago, I wrote a post examining how Shinji and Gendo treated Rei differently because they saw her differently. I don’t think I was wrong in that assessment. Ritsuko slaughters the entire batch of Rei clones in an act of mass murder that her mother wasn’t capable of.
What I didn’t address is Rei’s relationship with herself because I didn’t have a good picture of it at the time. I think you can see it in how she interacts with Shinji and with Gendo.
In particular, it can be tracked through glasses and hospital beds. (I really want to make an Afternoons and Coffeespoons reference here, but I’ve got nothing.)
Rei as automaton
I don’t think it’s a mistake that the first two times Shinji interacts with Rei she is lying in a gurney. The interaction here though is largely unremarkable. It’s generally in passing and really is meant to create an atmosphere that Rei only cares about following orders.
We don’t really get to see her interact with Shinji until episode 5. In particular, it’s during the section titled Rei I.
This is where we finally get to look inside Rei’s apartment, we see bloody bandages, beakers turned into water glasses and in the center of it all, separated from everything else, is Rei’s singular prized possession — Gendo Ikari’s glasses.
How do we know it’s the only thing she cares out? Well, she isn’t upset that Shinji barged into her room. She barely reacts to Shinji touching her. She went straight for the glasses, and once she retrieves them, she secures them in a case.
We will never see this case again.
The glasses show up in the next episode after Shinji has been rescued. We see her holding them like a talisman. For her, they represent the one time anyone has treated her like a human.
Just after this scene, is where the hospital bed comes in. When Rei talks to Shinji at his bedside, she is unconcerned with his mental or physical state. When he asks if he really has to pilot the Eva gain, Rei simply says, “Yes. You do.”
I think the important thing here is that not only does Rei not see herself as human, she doesn’t see Shinji as human either. She appears to view herself as a tool to pilot the Eva.
There’s also a neat trick done with the lighting here. Every other time that Shinji has woken up in the hospital, it’s portrayed as a place without much color at all. In fact, there is so little color that it sucks the color out of Shinji. It’s a middle ground between oblivion and the real world.
In this scene though, it’s completely colored in. Rei is definitively not meeting Shinji half-way.
The next hospital bed scene of note comes during Episode 16. This is the same episode where Shinji disappears into the black void. We can start to see Rei begin interacting with the other two pilots in the middle episodes, which has led her to start asserting herself as a person.
But Shinji’s disappearance hits her hard. One of the most interesting scenes in this portion is an exchange between Asuka and Rei. Asuka tries to push off her concern by passing the blame to Shinji. I know I’m going a little outside of the text here, but that is how I interpret the dialogue.
Rei gets straight into Asuka’s face and shows one of the first legitimate moments of anger from Rei. Again I am reading into the text here, but that is how I’m choosing to interpret the look Asuka gets.
Anyway, when Shinji returns, we find him again in a whited-out hospital room, and we find Rei sitting at his bedside. What is interesting is that she is also whited out, and instead of being all business she gives Shinji the option to rest, saying that they will take care of everything.
This is a drastic change from the way she interacted with him in Episode 6. I think it’s important to note that she has a sense of self and places importance on others.
This becomes even more clear in the next episode when Toji joins Shinji on a trip to Rei’s apartment. Toji, who really is the only person in this show that sees things clearly, points out that she lives in horrible conditions, and her home is a mess.
Shinji though takes it on himself to clean her apartment. What is interesting is that we see the glasses again, this time they’re not in a case. They are just on top of the bookcase. They’ve lost some of their sense of importance.
And when Rei arrives she blushes when she realizes that Shinji cleaned up her apartment, and says thank you.
Later we see her lying on the bed thinking about that exchange. In the voiceover that plays over this, she says:
“Thank you. Words of gratitude. Words I never used. Even with him.”
We start to see that she is seeing herself as an individual and that she has some sort of connection with Shinji. We start to see that she has an inner life.
Rei as human
So this brings us to Episode 23. This is the episode where Rei sacrifices herself to save Shinji, NERV and Gendo. Her last image is of Gendo after he pulled her out of Unit 0. I prefer looking at that image as Rei realizing what it takes to sacrifice herself for another person.
Granted, you can also look at it as her having a fleeting memory of someone she cared about.
After the third clone is activated, we return to the hospital. The scene is a throwback to the scenes in the first couple of episodes. Shinji meets Rei outside of the room and she appears aloof and disconnected.
There are two points that are important. The first is that Rei says she must be the third one. This means she doesn’t have any of the old memories. The second point is that she seems to come into all of the memories and emotions of the old Rei after she confronts the glasses.
They are on top of the dresser, and grabs them and tries to break them. As she twists she is brought to tears and lets the glasses go.
I can read this scene two ways. One way is to assume that the unfeeling part of tried to get rid of the glasses. Then she regains her memories and realizes that she holds them dear. This interpretation says that Rei is somehow brought back by her “love” for Gendo.
The second way is to assume that Rei is trying to cut that chain, but it’s too painful to do. This assumes that she brought back by her anger at Gendo’s use of her.
Either way, what we see overall is a movement from a Rei with zero desires or feelings to a Rei who wants happiness, and wants to live. Even as the Angel was trying to fuse with her, she denied it saying that she is “me and not you.”
She is saying there that she has self-awareness, and that makes her human.
As always, thanks for reading.