Friday, March 2, 2012

The NeverEnding Story of Being Human

There is a great crossroads in life, a place described by two verses from the Bible.  The first comes from Jesus during his Sermon on the Mount, where he describes what righteousness looks like:  "Therefore you must be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48).  Crossing this road is another thoroughfare, this one described by St. Paul:  "There is no one righteous, not even one" (Romans 3:10).  We all find ourselves at this crossroads, desiring to be righteous but prevented by our humanity from getting there.  Consider this clip from the 1984 classic The NeverEnding Story:

Though the scientist phrases it differently ("aware of your own worth"), clearly it is righteousness that will allow a person to pass through the sphinx gate.  There's even a little shot at the "white-washed tombs" of pharisaism (Matthew 23:27) when the "fancy" looking knight gets his.

It is a staple of fantasy books and movies for there to be a "chosen one," who is pure, even though those around him don't know it.  Arthur is able to pull Excalibur out of the stone, Aladdin is a "diamond in the rough," and so on.  Atreyu, at first, seems to follow that mold...but then the Sphinx's eyes start to open!  Even Atreyu is revealed to be impure, and it's only his cat-like reflexes (and some pretty severe limitations on the eye-shooting abilities of the sphinxes) that allow him to escape with his life.

For the sphinxes, nothing less than perfection will do.  This is true of God.  The sphinxes can see right through a shiny (righteous-looking) exterior and see into your heart.  This is true of God.  No one is worthy, not one.  Not even Atreyu.  This is true of all of us.  Finding ourselves at this crossroads, where requirement meets ability, and lacking the quickness of Atreyu, we must rely on a savior from outside ourselves who, as St. Paul says, "at just the right time, while we were still powerless, died for the ungodly."


  1. I don't want to tread on your post (which I agree with) but Atreyu's passage through the sphinxes can be interpreted as slightly more dynamic.

    SPOILERS for those who didn't watch the clip and haven't watched the movie!

    Atreyu sees the dead knight's face and starts to walk backwards; the elderly scientist says "don't start doubting yourself now" but it's too late, the eyes of the sphinxes are opening. The elderly scientist and Bastion both yell for Atreyu to run. I think the implication is to run away, but Atreyu overcomes his doubt and runs forward instead. I think it can be argued that it was this decision--forward, instead of back--and not his catlike reflexes that caused the sphinxes to "miss" and grant him passage.

    Another explanation that I don't care for but I'll discuss anyway is that all children are pure which is why the sphinx is only calibrated to zap adults. That theory immediately fails because the scients could have slipped by out of range as well, unless he's not as smart as we think he is and didn't realize this (presumably because no children have ever tried to pass before, and/or he didn't bother to measure the angle of the laser beams to see if they were constant).

    Finally, because we're here, the Never Ending Story has one of the greatest expressions of apathy in my memory, when the gigantic turtle (speaking for the group) states "we don't care whether or not we care," said in his slow, turtle-voice that perfectly delivers this message.

  2. You think the sphinxes get him if he runs back? I don't know. Ultimately, of course, I'm not saying that the filmmakers are trying to make the point that I am...I'm just using their imagery for my own purposes. (Their point is probably something more like the totally hackneyed, "You can do anything as long as you believe in yourself") As for your second explanation, I don't care for it either; as a father of two, I know FOR A FACT that children aren't pure.


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