Every once in a while a movie comes along that forever entrenches itself in the memories of its viewers, making an indelible impression that stays with them for the rest of their lives. Somehow, in some anomalous fashion that is inexplicable through the avenues of logic, all the pieces come together at just the right time to form a gem that fits perfectly into the puzzle patterns of the minds of its audience — particularly if that audience is composed of children.
Kids are nascent stars of potential. Their sense of awe and wonder at the world is still very much alive and malleable. As Shel Silverstein once said, “anything can happen, anything can be”. The world is a marvellous place full of potential, and they know it, intuitively. So when a movie happens along that speaks to this same feeling, intuitively, they absorb it effortlessly, and most likely for life.
While there are assuredly examples of such movies in the past couple of decades, it is only the test of time that will truly tell, and no decade as yet stands as a more prolific example of these types of kids movies than the 1980’s. E.T, The Goonies, Back to the Future, The Princess Bride, The Dark Crystal, the list goes on…
No particular movie from this time period, however, hit the fantasy nail harder on the head than The Neverending Story. It is hard to get any more fantastical than this. And, while the film definitely has its detractors — both humorous and depressingly cynical — it is important to remember that it was a movie built to fit into the minds of children, something that it did perfectly. Here, then, are 6 life lessons we learned as children from the Neverending Story.
Books are portals to other dimensions.
Number one on the list, and with good reason. If there is one thing any child will take away from this movie, it is this, and it remains true to this day. When you walk into a bookstore, you are, in reality, walking into an inter-dimensional central station, with any number of destinations awaiting your arrival. As soon as you open the cover, you are buying a boarding pass to an exotic and brand-new world that could possibly be the most mind-blowing place you’ve ever been to. This is an incredibly important lesson for kids to learn.
There are many layers of reality we are only vaguely aware of.
Following on the first point, The Neverending Story blurred the lines between its audience and characters unlike any other childrens’ film before it. Ever heard of ‘breaking the fourth wall’? It’s a dramatic term for when a character acknowledges and sometimes addresses the audience directly, breaking the ‘wall’ between the stage or movie screen between them.
While The Neverending Story never actually breaks this wall, it kind of pushes through it, in both directions. The characters in the book The Neverending Story that Bastian (the main character in the movie) is reading, slowly become more and more aware of his presence as the film moves forward. Yet at a certain point, Bastian is subtly alerted to our presence when his mirror character in the book, Atreyu, is told that there are “others” who have been with him since he took the book.
Confused yet? (If you haven’t watched the movie, do it. It will make sense then.) What all of this does is confirm to the children watching that there is, and always will be, more mystery than anything else. We are a speck of a speck in the blackness of space. There are 11 known dimensions, parallel universes, dark matter, dark energy… the list goes on. Keeping your minds open to this as you grow is a great lesson to learn.
Depression will kill you if you let it.
Spoiler Alert: Everyone remembers when Artax, Atreyu’s horse, dies. It’s devastating. Especially when you’re 8 years old. The scene is slow, and terrible, and soul crushing, especially because it happens when the horse is unable to overcome the heaviness of life as they trek through the Swamp of Sadness. He literally becomes too heavy and sinks into the swamp, simply because he can no longer find the bearing of lightness it takes to continue — the strength to believe in their ability to make it out. If this isn’t a stark reminder to kids that our perspective creates our reality, I don’t know what is. Let life get too heavy, lose faith in yourself and your ability to persevere, and sadness will swallow you. Pretty simple.
The scariest and most important thing we can do is look within.
Remember the Mirror Gate? “Kind people find out that they are cruel. Brave men discover that they are really cowards! Confronted by their true selves, most men run away screaming!” This ties eerily in with any number of eastern and spiritual outlooks on life, most of which can be perfectly reflected in the old adage from Lao Tzu: “Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.” And how do we do that? We look within.
To lose your sense of wonder and imagination is to die while you’re still alive.
At a certain point in the film, we find out just what The Nothing (the dark force that is swallowing up all of Fantasia) actually is. Gmork, the terrifying werewolf dispatched to eat Atreyu before he can find the cure, reveals that the world of Fantasia is the actual landscape of the human imagination, and The Nothing, of which he is a part, is the cynicism and bitterness of the non-believing adult reality eating it up. So here is an entire, fantastical world being consumed by nothing — by what turns out to be an inability to play, be spontaneous and have fun — while the adults responsible for it’s destruction have long forgotten it even exists. Is there any better argument for retaining your creative abilities as you get older?
Even the most massive failures make room for massive new beginnings.
MAJOR spoiler alert: Fantasia gets destroyed in the end. Both Bastian and Atreyu fail. What we are left with is, well, nothing. Nothing but a grain of sand from which the new Fantasia — now Bastian’s responsibility — can be built. Out of the most massive failure an entire new world can be grown from a single grain, if the main character but puts to use his incredible powers of imagination.
Do we really need to explain how this relates to life in this world?