As I mentioned on the main page, it was 2002 when I first saw Avalon. It immediately fired my interest and imagination, and I wanted to know more (not least where I could buy the DVD!).
This proved more complicated than normal since Avalon has not had a Hollywood release as yet (although Miramax have bought the rights). So far Avalon's fame is almost entirely based on showing at film festivals such as Cannes. Even though I saw it at the Cambridge film festival this wasn't its premiere in the UK - the Sci-Fi Channel's London film festival showed it first. In December 2003 Miramax finally released a US Region 1 version, complete with English dub. Click here to jump to my thoughts on that disc.
In October 2004 the UK Region 2 edition of the DVD was released by BlueLight (part of the CanalPlus group). It's far from being a definitive version, so have a careful look at the DVD versions page to see which version is best for you.
NEW! Click here to see comments about the accuracy of the subtitle translation. Eventually I hope to have comments about the whole soundtrack here.
That's what inspired me to set up these pages - I'd like to save the next person who's entranced by the movie having to do as much digging and research as I had to do to track it down.
Why does the film do so much for me?
That's not an easy one, but I think I revel in the questions that it poses, and the whole lack of certainty it encourages. When the film ends the temptation is to stay there, watching the credits (and absorbing the stirring music) trying to think things through. That's my kind of film - I like to have to think a bit, or be presented with questions.
The rest of this page discusses the various questions that the film raises and leaves for the viewer to ponder. By its very nature this is spoiler material. If you don't want to read it click here!.
The notes discuss the various questions and anomalies of the film in chronological order. It is NOT a detailed review... there are plenty of those elsewhere on the web. This is more for the person who's seen the film and is beginning to peel the layers of the onion that represents the questions this film raises and leaves the viewer to ponder. Section headings follow the chapter points on the Memorial Box movie DVD (though I think the other editions share the same chapter points). Since the dialogue of the film is in Polish and the original text in Japanese there's some question of accuracy of translation. The Anime Cartoon edition of the DVD scores particularly badly here - I've noted one of its worst errors in the commentary below. My reference in writing this commentary has been the English subtitling on the Memorial Box DVD, though the subtitling of the single disc DVD is very similar. Section titles are my own unless drawn from a film reference.
1. City 13
(This is never identified as such in the movie, but the title comes from the name of the CD track which I consider can be taken as authoritative). Major points here... a heavy sepia cast so we are definitely in VR (as well as other VR effects like the fragmentation on death and 2D explosions). Ash has her silver streak of hair. Bishop is observing, but in combat gear and not wearing a clerical collar at this point. When the helicopter is destroyed 'Misson Complete' is superimposed, and then we are into the titles, followed by 'Log Off' as Ash leaves the VR battlefield.
2. Heading home
After the titles we see Ash in a VR helmet, still experiencing the tail end of the experience. The Game Master tells her that she only needs two or three more completed missions to advance. She is currently a Level 11 fighter with 94 missions completed, 32 failed and 17 reset (aborted). Although we see Ash's "character data" several times more in the film it doesn't change - continuity error or deliberate? Another thing to think about.
When Ash leaves the Avalon terminal (or 'branch' as the subtitles call it) she passes several people, none of whom move at all, and only a dog turns to follow her progress. While this could mean she's still in VR, another meaning would be that we see this from her perspective where she has no time for real people but does have a love of dogs (as evidenced by her own). Note also that the sky is totally still - something that is a theme of the movie. Hinting at unreality? Or just hinting at disconnection from reality? Once Ash gets home we both hear and see her dog as she pets it. Indeed, this is one of the few times that we see pleasure in Ash's otherwise mundane life. While the dog tucks into a prepared meal of meat and rice Ash snacks on dog biscuits. (That the Chrupku are dog biscuits is not apparent in the film, but comes from one of the photos in the 'Making of' book.)
3. Bishop, and earning a living
Ash enters the terminal and sees someone doing a much more classy version of the City 13 helicopter destruction than she did; she managed 10 minutes, this was in under 4. After the destruction the soldier turns to the audience and crosses his fingers. It is the same person who had been watching Ash before. Ash tries to get information about him, but finds little beyond his character class (Bishop) and level (13). Here we enter one of the language problems... the character classes are inspired by D&D and mostly match - Fighter, Thief, Mage... however the character class called Bishop in the movie would more normally be Cleric or Priest. However it gets more confused... while the film uses Bishop as a character class, it also uses it as name - we never find out the name of the person watching Ash; he's always just referred to as Bishop or 'a bishop'. There's probably a nuance that's been lost in the translation.
This is where the Anime Cartoon translation misleads the viewer. There's a sequence that goes 'Just like Ash...' 'He's faster, and surer' (referring to Bishop). The AC subtitles get this totally wrong, saying it's Ash that's superior. They also refer to reset as restart, and other confusing errors.
The next few minutes of the film show Ash in a bewildering sequence of scenes, compressing her life into a few minutes as she spends her life around playing the game. The full sequence is: riding home on the tram; shooting inside Avalon; swiping her Avalon card; leaving the terminal; inside Avalon; at her home; collecting her winnings; inside Avalon; on the tram; stroking her dog at home; an empty VR chair; her dog; trying to buy some meat; the VR chair; in a battle; getting off the tram; typing at her keyboard; passing room 3 in the terminal; seeing a statue as the tram passes; in the VR chair; on the tram; walking to a terminal room; a tank in a battle scene; coming out of room 7 at the terminal; her Avalon card; her character status (unchanged); inside Avalon; taking off the helmet; walking out of the terminal; buying the meat; on the tram; a broken statue; walking home; the VR chair. In all, at least seven Avalon sessions, probably many more.
One anomaly here is that her character data hasn't changed; not even the time spent in the game. I don't know whether that's a continuity error or intentional. Chances are that the filmmakers didn't expect a viewer to pause the DVD and check the character sheet each time it's shown :-)
4. A break in the rountine - Stunner
Ash leaves Avalon, much as before, but this time Stunner is waiting on the steps for her. They go to lunch, and it's here that Ash finds that Murphy is now Unreturned. Although most food in the film is coloured to emphasise its importance it's notable that the rather uninspiring mince slop in this scene isn't. Stunner tells Ash about Murphy which continues as a voiceover as...
5. Ash visits the hospital
The hospital sequence raises many questions. First there's the slow motion of all the doctors and nurses, indicating some sort of disconnection with their reality. More significant still is the appearence of the little girl - the ghost - just as she is described by Stunner. What's she doing there? Is she there, or is Ash in VR or imagining it? The ghost's colouration is important; note that it's the same sepia used for the VDUs and VR sequences. The ghost is VR for sure, but why's she at the hospital? Although whole movie scripts often rely on improbable coincidences, Avalon is too thoroughly thought out for this, and there's a significance to seeing the ghost at this point...
Ash sees Murphy and this triggers a flashback memory. She comes out from it in the hospital grounds (we last saw her walking through the ward until she found Murphy), and she is being watched again by Bishop, this time wearing a clerical collar, but still using a rifle sight. Bishop walks away through the wheelchairs of the vegetables that represent the Unreturned. Significant? Probably.
6. Searching for the hidden level
Ash is at home, and starts searching for references to a special level beyond Class A where it's impossible to 'reset' to get out of the game. Her dog is seen again in this scene. Most of the results of her search are barred (blocked by the authorities, or defunct groups?) but one result stands out - 'Nine Sisters'. She makes contact and they tell her to meet them at Ruins C66.
Ash goes to the Avalon terminal ready to meet them. When she talks to the Game Master, we get a clear shot of him wearing a clerical collar too, hinting that in some way the clerics do run the game. Before entering the game Ash discusses the nine sisters with the game master. While the game master knows the legend of the nine sisters, Ash counters with the legend of Odin who was given a gold ring, immortality, eternal youth, but also made to wear a crown of oblivion that makes him forget about his homeland and the world outside. Just as Ash says this, she dons her own crown of oblivion...
7. Ruins C66
Ash has the white streak in her hair once again. She is met by Jill of the Nine Sisters, and then Murphy of Nine Sisters, their leader. However as seven more soldiers materialise it's revealed as an ambush. However Ash is "rescued" by one of the time-lags she was warned about as a combat helicopter suddenly appears and starts firing. Ash prepares to counter-attack but another time-lag means that the missiles are upon her before she can react. She does however manage to call 'reset'.
8. What is real?
This is one of the most confusing segments of the whole movie. Ash travels home from Avalon. Once again she passes a group of people who are immobile, with only a dog that moves, following her movement. She gets home, and we hear her dog approaching. She bolts the door, and we still hear the dog. She then moves to her kitchen area and begins to prepare a meal for the dog. Again, we hear the dog snuffling around. Ash then prepares a meal better than most people eat for her dog, the colouration of the food emphasising its significance. Yet when Ash puts down the dog bowl there's no sign of the dog anymore. Confused Ash looks outside, and hears the sound of a helicopter overhead (cf City 13). Her face also has a yellowish tint at this point - a suggestion of VR and real life becoming confused and intermingled?
There is no logical explanation for where the dog has gone. That we heard it probably means that Ash heard it, but it wasn't really there. So where did it go? There's no answer to that, and my best theories are that it either died of neglect (unlikely) or that we are shifting through multiple levels of VR rather than the black and white of inside or outside of Avalon. Either way this, like the girl at the hospital, is one of the questions this film leaves the viewer to think about.
9. Seeking answers
Ash is in a bookstore buying books about Arthurian legend - pursuing her research about the Nine Sisters. We see her look at a red covered book with black inner and outer flyleaves, but we don't see whether there is text on any of the pages. She buys several books, and finds Stunner waiting for her on the steps to the bookstore. Somehow, Stunner convinces Ash to go for breakfast, though in fact it turns into Ash buying breakfast for Stunner whilst she has a tea/coffee. Stunner tells her more about the Special A level; that it needs a ghost, and the ghost only appears when a bishop who has completed level A and is above level 12 is present. Ash doesn't miss the fact that this matches the bishop she saw ace her helipcopter destruction in the City 13 mission.
Why does the film major on Stunner gorging himself on a true-colour breakfast? Perhaps the coluration is showing the value of food again, but I also wonder if there's some sort of transference from the messy eating habits of her dog to Stunner.
10. Seek and ye shall find
Ash is drying her hair after being caught in the rain when there are two distinctive knocks at her door. She uses her computer to see who is at the door - Bishop - and instictively reaches to her right hip where her handgun would be - except of course it's not there. The exchange as she opens the door to Bishop is significant - 'How did you find me?' 'Seek and ye shall find' suggesting that her quest has got his attention. Bishop looks at a different book to the one we see at the shop; this is black with a red spine, and has wholly blank pages.
It seems that Ash had already made up her mind and wants to form a group/party with Bishop. Even Bishop seems a little surprised at her readiness.
The book is the big poser here. Are all the books blank? Where they ever otherwise? Have we slipped a VR level between their purchase and this point?
Bishop tells Ash to meet at Flak Tower 22 at midnight.
The terminal manager wants to shut down the terminal but Ash explains that she's going to meet someone who can take her to Class SA. At first the terminal manager denies such a thing exists, but then qualifies her statement by saying that a level that you cannot reset from is no longer a game; implying that it does exist after all. When the terminal manager asks why Ash wants to go there she says that Murphy is there.
Why is this a motivation? Some summaries of the story suggest that Ash is on an emotional quest to free her lover, but I find that at odds with the cold hard Ash that we see. Alternately it might be envy. However it does seem to have been the sight of Murphy as an Unreturned that's driving her, either through some loyalty as a past member of Wizard or something more.
Unlike other times, Ash dons the VR helmet and sees the GM inside it on this occasion. Until now he's only been seen on the large screen in each room. The GM says that he'd rather Ash didn't go to SA, but won't intervene. Once in she locates Bishop who explains that he works for the game, keeping balance in its missions. He's not a creator of the game, but works within it. He holds out the possibility of Ash joining this group.
Since Stunner turns up to join the party, and Ash didn't seem to be expecting it, this adds credence to the theory that Stunner was being used by Bishop to both prime and watch Ash.
12. Ruins D99
Everything seems quiet until a Citadel - a mighty battle tank - appears. However, Bishop knows it's vulnerable to attack from its rear and sends Ash there. As Ash is moving into position we see various digital "noise" effects around her movement. These are quite different to the shadowy blurred movement in the City 13 sequence, though I'm not sure what is being hinted at here.
Ash destroys the citadel using a mortar gained from one of the opponents she shot. With the destruction of the Citadel 'Mission Complete' is shown. Stunner shoots the ghost but is shot by a couple of surviving opponents. As he 'dies' he tells Ash how to enter the special level - shoot the ghost as she leaves a wall.
The odd thing here is how much Stunner knows. Maybe as a Thief he's just good at manipulating information, but that's more of a cleric/bishop's territory. With Stunner gone Bishop encourages Ash to pursue the Ghost.
13. Class Real
Ash manages to shoot the ghost and passes through the gate. The VR surroundings fade to black, and are replaced by swirling data patterns all around. Ash's body then segments, to be replaced by more numbers. Is this Ash being assimilated into Avalon? That's certainly the way the visuals look.
We next see Ash in her own room, but the room now has a VR chair. As she takes off the helmet her computer monitor is showing 'Welcome to Class Real'. With the helmet off the surroundings are notably brighter than before. Curious, she opens the shutters and finds the window bricked in.
Bishop appears on the monitor and explains that she has only one thing to do - finish off the Unreturned (singular or plural?). There are neutrals operating under free will who must not be harmed, and no time limit. The only exit is completion (ie no reset allowed). Bishop then adds 'If you get back you can be one of us.'
A thought provoking exchange occurs when Bishop asks Ash if she has any questions. She asks 'Why did you send me here?' and he replies 'Surely the answer to that lies within you' . Two simple lines, but opening up a lot of questions. Has her life, her room, her existence become Avalon? And then there's the poster for the concert with picture of the dog...
14. On a mission
This sequence needs careful watching. Ash was in her room. She opens a door and comes out of one of the VR rooms into the corridor of the terminal. The digits can't be read, but could be 09 - the same room she was assigned before. At this point she is barefoot, with a handbag that will later hold the gun. There is no silver streak in her hair.
Between leaving the Avalon terminal and travelling through the full colour world she gains high-heels and a ring on the left third finger (cf Odin earlier). As she tries to find out more about the performance of Avalon she doesn't seem to notice a dog like hers watch her from a passing car. She has also gained earrings at some point. The first clear shot of the ring is on the train, but I think there's a glint from it as she's walking away from the column with the adverts for the performance.
The train journey is notably different. There is eye contact with other passengers, and whilst still aloof, she seems more part of the whole here.
As the interval bell rings, the crowd thins and Ash sees Murphy (who doesn't wear a ring). Ash asks Murphy if he did this just to be a vegetable in a hospital bed, but Murphy defends the reality of Class Real - 'Reality is nothing but an obsession that takes hold of us - why shouldn't I make this my reality?' As they continue to debate the reality Murphy says that when one of them dies, and the body doesn't vanish, the other will know (this is real).
Ash shoots first, but as Murphy falls he drops ammunition from his left hand. Was his gun not loaded? Probably. So, if he was so convinced about the reality, why was he ready to be shot?
As Murphy dies he says 'Don't let appearances fool you. This is the world where you belong'. A comment on Ash's willingness to kill?
However, Murphy's assertions that this is real are disproved when his body vanishes in the customary effect - how much of what Murphy said can be believed? Probably none of it.
Another question raised here is just what happened to Murphy. His body isn't connected to Avalon any more, Presumably he just failed Class Real because he couldn't bring himself to kill. It goes further still though. What would have happened if Ash were shot? Although outside a VR helmet she's inside Class Real.. At this point her body is still in the Avalon terminal and could be returned to, or would she become an Unreturned; if she hasn't already? How long does a body have to be hooked into Avalon for it to be judged 'Unreturned'?
Thomas Kessler has been looking carefully at the Ghost and the dogs in the film (yes, the one in the poster is not Ash's pet, though the one in the car does look like hers). When the Ghost smiles and lowers her head Thomas is convinced that there's a deliberate parallel to the appearence of the dog in terms of light and shadow. Take a look at these pages and see what you think. Knowing Oshii's fondness for dogs I think Thomas is onto something here. Of course this then raises questions about why the symbolism is made. Perhaps Ash's one true anchor to any reality lies in her dog, and she now sees the Ghost as a replacement (in which case we can probably assume Ash definitely doesn't come out of Avalon).
16 Log In
(Again the title is from the CD soundtrack; the name of the closing titles). Ash reloads her clip with Murphy's ammo and walks to the concert hall. Applause is still audible as she opens the doors, but the hall is deserted as she looks in. Deserted that is apart from the ghost. Ash approaches, gun at ready, and the ghost smiles. Between Ash and the Ghost's smile we see a brief flash of one of the statues seen in the film, but this time unbroken... I'm sure that holds the key, but I haven't fathomed it yet.
What happens then... does Ash shoot and end the level? Is that even the right resolution in Class Real? Shooting Murphy didn't bring up a 'Mission Complete' message. The movie doesn't answer these questions - we see 'Welcome to Avalon' and then the end credits roll. Has Ash gained her entry to the team that manage the game? Has she become an Unreturned in the process?
As you can see from the above, Avalon raises many more questions than it answers. It also deserves to be watched many times to see the sort of detail above. If you have ideas about any of these please email me so that I can add other perspectives and ideas to this commentary.
(Update - 15 Dec 2002) I've recently discovered Xavier Amet's site for Avalon, though unfortunately it's entirely in French. He has an analysis page in the very similar vein to this page. He also has a theory about the movie that certainly seems a very credible interpretation. It goes likes this...
He discusses the film in terms of three worlds, the first is the Avalon war game, the second life outside the first, and the third is Class Real. The first is clearly within the game, and I think that's beyond anyone's doubt. Class Real is also within the game - the disappearence of Murphy's body confirms it. That leaves us considering the second. There are many anomalies in the second, and careful use of colour to carry suggestions. Xavier concludes that this second world is also within Avalon - a sort of lounge away from the war zone. I won't summarise his whole justification, but will just echo four of his points.
First, the blank keyboards, and the empty pages in the books. Xavier reasons that if we are still in game at this point then they do not need any detail. From a game player's perspective all you need to is "use keyboard" or "read book" - it's not important whether you see the key legends or the individual words to accomplish the action and advance the gameplay.
Second, the Ghost at the hospital. Xavier reasons that this is Avalon either having a little fun with Ash by inserting the Ghost there, or I would add the alterative idea that it's all part of Bishop's plan to have Stunner get Ash hooked on Class SA - with Bishop knowing Stunner would send Ash to the hospital, the Ghost's appearance could have been planned.
Third, the disappearing dog. Xavier notes that the noises of the dog are exactly the same as the previous time when Ash returns to her apartment the time that the dog is about to disappear. He concludes therefore that Ash's growing interest in Class SA simply causes the dog to slip out of her interest in the game.
Finally, there's the repetitive nature of the outside world... always the same tramcar, the same people, people and sky unmoving... Xavier makes the point that they do not move because Ash is not showing any interest in them but then takes the idea further suggesting that the game has only a limited simulation of the outside world, and with the meat of the game in the war game, and Class Real in development there's no reason to make it any better.
Having developed these theories, Xavier is then able to put forward a theory about the statues seen in the final flashback which leads to his take on the film's ending. When we first see the fighting cherubs, there is a clear victor for only one has its head. He reasons that this represent's the game's control over its players. In Class Real we see two heads, which he suggests is now symbolising that in Class Real there is a second source of power in rivalling the game. He considers that this is Ash after her epiphany of realising that Class Real truly is still part of the game, for all its vivid colours and ambient life, and that at this point she knows she inside the game and can make the choice to leave it or remain in Class Real.
There is no completion of Class Real as such... if Ash stayed there she would access the war game from the terminal in her 'apartment' (like Bishop) retiring to Class Real to rest instead of the older lounge level of the game. However, Ash realises it is a game now, and can choose to exit Class Real and return to normal life.
Even with this interpretation, the final 'Welcome to Avalon' is open to debate. In Xavier's hypothesis it's one more twist on levels of reality as Ash leaves the game and enters a level she left a long time ago... or perhaps cannot return to having long since become an Unreturned - with this interpretation Ash has been in VR for the whole film. If we assume that Ash does leave the game, this looks like Oshii having one more shot at making us question just how real is the world that we are leaving Avalon (the film) and going back to.
If your French is up to it, Xavier's analysis page (and indeed the rest of his site) is welll worth a visit.
After reading this page Martijn van Troost (email address on request) sent these comments in. They make a lot of sense to me, and brought about something of a revelation. The key point in Martijn's take on the film is that we are seeing it all through and not just from Ash's perspective - an important thing to keep remembering as the non sequiturs are presented; for instance this explains why we see the Ghost in the hospital just as Stunner is talking about her. We are seeing the world as it is perceived by Ash, not the world around her as is typical in filmwork. Martijn's whole email is presented here with permission.
"I saw Avalon last week in Amsterdam and read your thoughts on the movie with pleasure.
"I think one of the key elements in the movie is the relationship between VR and reality (R). In the first part of the movie (before level SA) the audience is witness to the struggle of Ash to distinguish between VR and R. It is clear that she knows that VR is just a game, but on the other hand she feels more alive in VR than in R. This is apparent in her mundane routine colorless life. She craves more and more to be in VR. The link with real life fades and the dog is one of her last lifelines (links to reality). The significance of the food is that eating is a typical R-type of behavior. The eating scences show the limitation of humans as physical beings to exist in VR. In this way we are equal to all creatures, such as the dog. Note that Ash tries to sever this link with reality by refusing to eat.
"Whereas Ash knows deep down that R is real and VR isn't, the second part of the movie (Ash in level SA) shows Ash to percieve VR as more real (shown by the colors) than R. An interesting detail is the Avalon posters which read "stop Avalon" in the first part, but are transformed to "Avalon" posters showing the dog promoting an opera. No longer have bad notion of Avalon a place in the mind of Ash. The dog being her life line in reality has become her lifeline in VR. The disappearence of the dog symbolizes the journey of Ash from R to VR.
"I think the last text of the film "Welcome to Avalon" tells us Ash now has become one of the unreturned. She has crossed the border of killing in a game or VR context and killing in reality (She killed murphy in VR, but this has become reality for her). This is the most important theme of the film I believe, because it is a metaphor for choices we make in life every day. We can think about a lot of things, but doing it is a totally other matter. Ash is one who actually did it and wil find herself changed in the process as she no longer can return to what she was.
"This film is a protest against war as I see it. As VR is shown as a place of warfare, everybody knows that R is also a place of warfare. In a fact we are already in VR and we have already crossed the border between R and VR. Society is itself an unreturned and will remain unreturned, or can we leave Avalon and return to reality as we still await the return of the legendary King Arthur.
"(This theme has a parallel with William Golding's The Lord of the flies, where the childeren are rescued from the island and the horrible society they themself have crafted by some passing marines. The children return to normal, but who is there to safe the marines from the horrible society they have created.)"
Another perspective, this from Kovac: Most viewers I'd imagine focus on the Game, VR, imagined and actual world aspects, but the film is loaded with religous and after life similies,such as Ash's journey to true Avalon only happened with the aid of a "holy man" well to be exact "bishop", the two angels in the avalon centre...one with the head missing, but then complete when she goes to Avalon (that tiny flash at the end when the angelic girl smiles, maybe seen as her acceptance to a world of peace, the "nine sisters" no longer a threat), The priest who is Ash's advisor or games master, The "babel" like tower where Bishop reveals the truth, the unreturned; being the truly "damned", Avalon being the island where all warriors rested in peace, the game being a test to attain "class real"...all could be a pointer to a struggle through purgatory to achieve spiritual peace.... I believe the "game" aspect is used as a metaphor for differing realities...After all the only "real" world we see is at the very end where it says "Welcome to Avalon" (and we dont see that)
Another perspective, this from from John Graley: I think there may be another angle on the film, apart from the VR vs R and religious interpretations. That is the economic movement from a communist or traditional society toward an Americanised society which has taken place in both Poland (fall of global communism) and Japan (move toward industrialisation).
In this interpretation, the sepia sequences outside the game would appear to imply the old way of things (probably exaggerated and stylised to avoid any specific political suggestions - I don't think this is a political film). The Game Real would be the new western ideal. Possibly the earlier sequences within the game reflect the struggle to improve things: like many computer games it is set in a war, but real wars are only fought because the participants hope for peace afterwards.
Any big change in lifestyle provokes questions of reality in our minds: we can only accept one reality, and must therefore dismiss as unreal either what went before or where one has arrived now. This forces us to interpret any change as being a journey either into or out of the real world.
Ash's rationale in the first half of the film could be as follows: she takes pleasure only in simple things like making tasty food for her dog, who she loves (hence colour). But her life is still too empty and uninspiring (hence sepia tones). She believes that entering the game and fighting is the only way to improve things, and this is why she does it (she doesn't enjoy the game, hence more sepia tones).
As the film progresses, she first sees how her society regards those who have escaped (as vegetables). She is also warned of the cost of making a change when her dog disappears (did it go on ahead of her or just vanish? I don't know). However, the need to progress is within her and it is inevitable that the film will take her to Game Real.
When she gets there, she questions her new reality in the way we all do once we complete a major change in our lives or social cultures. She is given compelling reasons to believe in the reality of the westernised Class Real - reasons that would give the film the "happy ending" that both protagonist and viewer hanker for. But ultimately we find that this utopia is equally virtual to the world she left behind. If you think about it it has to be that way: because every society is nothing but the invention of men.
One might imagine, then, that there are other worlds still, and that to progress from one to another is to progress through the levels of a VR game, perhaps violent, perhaps competitive, perhaps unfair. And that the VR doesn't really end when the journey is complete. And what happens to the memories of the way things were before - the old life skills and knowledge of a world newly abandoned? Well, we write them off as unreal, kill them, and make them vegetables within our otherwise healthy minds. Or something.
Alex Seltsikas has been drawing parallels with the early computer role-playing games, and in particular one called Wizardry. He writes...Anyway I wanted to write to you about my revelation after watching the "Gate to Avalon" behind-the-scenes disc and also reading your "thoughts" page (which I avoided to save any spoilers or have it plant ideas into my head). In summary, I completely agree that the entire film of Avalon occurs in the game. You never see the real Ash in "real life". Maybe she looks just like the Technicolor version you see at the end. But here's why I'm convinced it's all in the game. It's a very common structure in RPG games to have a "lobby" or an area outside the actual game area, where players can meet, chat (on-line), see data & stats, and of course go warp to a location to start another adventure. THAT I believe is what you see when she's not in the game.
There are even more strong matches with RPG computer games that support this. The idea of using some kind of in-game credits system to buy weapons, etc... that is evident in the game. OK I know in Avalon you only see Ash buy food with her credits, but bear with me. The whole business of different character "classes" (fighter, mage, bishop, etc), experience points that when accumulated to a certain point, will let you go up a level - again, that is a classic RPG mechanic.
The key for me was seeing the computer game "Wizardry" shown quite clearly several times in the "Gate To Avalon" special. My Japanese is nowhere near good enough to pick up all of what they were saying but it's obvious that Oshii has clearly been inspired by Wizardry when he made Avalon. I don't know if you've ever played it, but let me give you a quick historical run down and explain the uncanny parallels:
I used to play Wizardry many, many years ago, around 1981/2 or thereabouts. The original Wizardry game was written for the Apple 2 computer, running off a 5.25" floppy disc, in 48K of memory, and total written in Apple Pascal. It was revolutionary for its time and it ran on to a number of sequels. The descendants of the game now run on the PC (Wizardry 8) and have been ported to the PS2 and even a few handheld consoles. Anyway I digress. The thing that you need to remember is this game was immensely addictive and compulsive, much like Avalon is supposed to be if your read the back story to it. Wizardry, well first of all, think about the name... is it any co-incidence that Ash used to belong to a party call "Wizard"?
In terms of game play similarities, it gets better. Wizardry started you outside the "dungeon" that the game ran inside, and when you were outside there were a number of locations you could visit. You'd start off in your "home" although it was never called that, it was simply the main menu, but from there you could travel to various locations (remember it was all text descriptions at this point). There was a tavern where you could "meet" other adventurers, a shop to buy weapons & provisions, a magic "shop" to go get healed. My point is all this is analogous to the "city" outside Avalon, the game. When you were outside the dungeon in Wizardry, you could assemble your party. Yes it was called a "party" just like in Avalon. You could have 6 characters, and you gave them whatever names you liked (so if you wanted, you could have Ash, Stunner, etc). As you created each character, you could pick their type, and the choices were things like fighter, mage, thief, priest, etc. Fighters were the battle characters, the thief would steal treasure and spring traps (that last one is mentioned by Stunner in Avalon), and mages would cast magic spells to either attack your opponents or heal members of your party.
The game would play out like this: you'd enter the dungeon, you'd explore your way around, you'd encounter enemies which you'd fight, and as you won (ie: you survived!) you were awarded experience points! Your characters would all start out Level 1 characters, and as they gained more experience points, they went up a level and were able to take on new abilities, spells, etc. Ok I hear you say, all standard RPG stuff, but remember this hadn't been done before on a computer; it was all pen & paper stuff (D&D) before then. But think about the overlaps with Avalon. There is more: as your characters gained experience levels, you could have them PROMOTED to a higher class which you could only gain access to through accumulating enough experience and reaching certain levels. So you could promote one of your priests for example, to BISHOP. Alas it wasn't an advanced enough game that a bishop character could go do influence the game design (although that wasn't confirmed in Avalon, it was hinted at). The other parallel is that in Wizardry you spent a good deal of time looking for the entrance to the next level. The dungeons were usually 10 levels deep, and each level was larger, more complex and far more dangerous, so if your characters weren't a high enough level, they wouldn't survive. Sometimes your characters would die in battle, but so long as some other members of your party survived, you could take them out of the dungeon (provided you made it back out... or you had this very powerful spell that would INSTANTLY teleport you back out (yes like calling a RESET!) and that would save a lot of back tracking. You'd then take your dead character to the magic shop, pay them a LOT of credits, and they could try cast a spell to resurrect them, because after all you didn't want to lose the character and all the experience they had (and weapons they'd bought). Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. Anyway, here's probably my favourite bit of Avalon vs Wizardry trivia... sometimes your character would not get killed, they'd have something WORSE happen to them... they'd have such a hard spell hit them, that they'd VANISH and when you got out the dungeon their status would not be listed as "dead" it would say.... "UNRETURNED". Usually there was no way to get them back either! Think that's cool? It gets better. Sometimes if you were on a very high level and you were a bit out of your depth and losing the fight really badly, you might be unlucky and have ALL your party killed. There was a little "workaround" that you could do, you could actually do a RESET on the computer and if you did it quickly enough, the game would not have the chance to update your status back to the floppy disc. Then when you restarted the game, it would load the last save game on the disc, which would probably mean it had no knowledge of your last game, but hey, you saved your party! The cool parallel with the game is that you'd execute the reset a LOT like Ash does when she's running a search on her computer at home, and she's finding all the avenues to the information are being "closed" to her, and just before she gets completely locked out, she does what we in the IT business call the "three finger salute", which in modern PC terms is a CTRL-ALT-DELETE (which in the old pre-Windows, MS-DOS days, would REBOOT the computer). On the old Apple 2 computer, it was CTRL-APPLE-RESET. It looks strangely like what Ash does at that point too. Ok, I know she's not doing a reset in the middle of a battle using her keyboard, but you can see the influence is there.
Ok, I'll leave it there. I could go on and on about Wizardry vs Avalon, but I think you get the idea. There are just so many similarities, that it really does convince me not only of the old computer game's influence on the game play mechanics of Avalon but of the fact that the "world" outside the actual battlefield of the game is still part of the game.
Ian Miller has been thinking about the Bishop puzzle - is it a name, a character class, or both? Here are his comments, though now I think about it a little more, this seems slightly at odds with the Ash/Stunner conversation where they talk about changing to Bishop from Warrior Earlier in this page I wrote: " however the character class called Bishop in the movie would more normally be Cleric or Priest." Ian writes:
I think this is quite deliberate, and a correct translation. I do not think Bishop is a Cleric class, rather it is the 'class' of the game master.
If I understood this correctly, this is explained by the Bishop when Ash arrives to join his new party (in D99). I forget precisely what questions she asks, but it was something about what his role is. He replies that he is not one of the "Apostles", the original creators of the game, but one of their successors. This makes sense as in the Christian church the bishops are the successors to the apostles. (See the Catholic Encyclopedia entry on bishops http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02581b.htm which reads: "They are the successors of the Apostles, though they do not possess all the prerogatives of the latter.") [I suspect that unless you are familiar with this point of church lore, the reference is too fleeting to notice. I don't think he mentions the word Bishop at this point, so you have to know.]
Of course, this does not tally with Stunner's comments in the cafe which implies that enough experience points would buy the class bishop. However he also comments that special A earns you lots of experience points, which seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding of what special A is about. I conclude that Stunner is repeating inaccurate rumour.
I have heard the word 'Apostles' used to describe the original creators of games. I think using 'Bishop' to refer to individuals that while not being in the original group have inherited control is an innovation of Oshii's but is a logical extension of the metaphor.
Personally I don't think his name is bishop; his title is bishop; his name is never mentioned.
Stuart Bray has noticed something interesting about the names in the movie. He writes:
Did you spot the cyborg references in the character names? I didn't see anyone mention it on your site, but I think it's true... "Ash" and "Bishop" were the cyborgs in Alien and Aliens respectively (Ian Holme and Lance Henrikson). That might just be a coincidence, but they are pretty unusual names, and it would be a relevant theme. Then it occured to me that "Murphy" was the cyborg in Robocop. Still coincidence? I don't know. Is there a famous cyborg called "Stunner"? Hmmm...
Mart Kont adds to the Alien theme as well as adding some other ideas...
1. About Ash's stats, and them not changing. My conclusion - Ash does not do any missions in between. Her first mission we see is in the beginning of the movie. The next one is the meeting with the Pseudo-Nine-Sisters. We do not see her stats after that.
2. The English translation that is circulating (e.g. http://dvd.box.sk), probably from a DVD, and the one you are probably using ("Seek and ye shall find") is horribly erratic. I don't speak Polish, but I speak Russian. Those languages are quite similar (many words have same roots &c.). I've seen a Russian dubbed version (and the original Polish one, and the subtitles), and my guess is, that the English translation was done by a translation program, and was edited by a person with a good imagination, but no knowledge of Polish language. The basic concept remains intact, the details are mostly wrong, more often wrong than right. For example: "Seek and you shall find", what the Bishop really says is: "If you wish something hard enough, you'll get it.", probably a quote from Peter Pan, and the Bishop concludes: "And it seems, that you have wished hard for me." The conversation is echoed later - the briefing at the beginning of Class Real. Ash asks: "Why did you send me here?", Bishop replies "Nobody else wished for it." There is no "Crown of Oblivion", no "Archbishop" &c. &c. &c. In my very personal opinion, that is not the way a translation should be done. I don't know if the Russian translation is precise or not, maybe it isn't. But it's far more right compared to the English one, that's for sure.
3. Murphy is the name of a prisoner in Alien 3 (the first one to die in the movie). :) I would not give it much significance. What is significant, in my opinion, is that the computers beep and click in an old-fashioned way, almost exactly like Alien (1979). It seems authors of Avalon have liked Alien, have liked the sounds and the sounds of the names.
I've always been quite suspicious of the quality of the subtitle translation. If you can speak Polish or read Japanese and would like to help with a new translation, please get in touch!
Tom Box thinks that both Ash and Murphy are AIs. Here's his reasoning...
I believe only "Class Real" happens in the real world. Ash and Murphy are experimental, sophisticated AI entities. The culmination of the project that they are part of is in bringing them into the real world to participate in it among ordinary people. Murphy disintegrating showed that he was VR or holographic, but not necessarily that the world was.
Why Ash could be AI: The world in Ash's daily life, not just in the game, looks relatively simple and the color is washed out before Ash goes to Class Real. That was the first reason I thought that world might be a Virtual World. So Ash's whole world, all the time, is a Virtual World, and the game would be an artificial world within an artificial world. And why bother to go that far unless Ash, too, was artificial? She has never seen the "real" Real World, but she couldn't know that. I expect that, if you were sufficiently sophisticated as an AI, knowing you were artificial would seriously affect your psychology including your outlook on life. This could make it more difficult to prepare you for actually living in the real world when the time came, if you follow me.
If Ash was AI, then she proved herself through competition as one of the very best, and therefore most ready to handle challenges and complexity, and earned the chance to enter Class Real. She then saw the Real World for the first time. She saw the complexity and color and was surprised. Then when she started talking to Murphy, he pointed out that her hair didn't look like it always had when she was inside a game. Then he talked about feeling real pain in a real body.
In the Emotion English subtitle, he says, "Ash... dont let appearances confuse you. This is the world... where you belong." The Japanese used in that last sentence was "Koko ni ... omae no genjitsu non da." Genjitsu means "reality" as opposed to a dream. So to me, it sounds a bit more like, "This is ... your reality (not a dream)."
If we accept then that they were at that point in the Real World, then what happened to him next would prove that he at least was still artificial, as people's bodies don't usually do what his eventually did, in the Real World, when shot.
He had already decided to sacrifice himself to give Ash the opportunity to live in the World that he had given up everything to experience, if only temporarily.
Chris Pope has been drawing comparisons with Ghost In The Shell...
I don't know if you've watched much Japanese Anime, such as Mamoru Oshii's "Ghost In the Shell" (which is well worth seeing if you liked Avalon). But the interesting thing about the scenes of Ash travelling home (walking up the steps, and the tram ride), is they look exactly like an Anime. An Anime often has "static" background scenes, since it's a lot of work for them to be otherwise in this media. Ghost in the Shell has some city scenes with very static people standing around, with the exact same dog as in Avalon turning to watch the passing character. (btw, Oshii has a pet dog the same as this). So, though the movie is live actors, it looks exactly like an anime movie in these scenes.
My comments on the new Miramax Region 1 DVD
It's been a while since I watched Avalon end to end. The Miramax disc is a very clean transfer, with no cuts that I noticed. There are more details about this disc on the DVD page, but the most significant thing is that this is the first English dub of the movie. It's not certain whether any of Neil Gaiman's work made it into the dialogue - in an item on his site he says that he was working on improving the subtitles on the Polish language version rather than an English dub. Lip sync is generally very well done, with minimal changes to the dialogue as it appears in the subtitles on other DVD editions. There are a number of additional voice-overs by Ash which put a slightly different slant on the film - the text of those follows.
One change that was noticable is that the Arthurian references have been toned down. There's no subtitling of the books that Ash buys, although one of them does have some English in its title. The lyrics for the climactic orchestral piece are not subtitled. Most telling of all is that the conversation where Ash is about to enter Avalon to meet the fake Nine Sisters is changed completely. On other discs it dwells on the legend of Odin, introducing the ring and the 'crown of oblivion'. This is replaced on this disc with a more general conversation about the dangers of being solo and pursuing Class SA. 'Seek and ye shall' find is still mentioned. Although I'm highlighting details here, it shouldn't be forgotten that as a whole this is a pretty good job of and English dub, and does stand on its own - although some things, like the appearance of the ring on Ash's finger - never get explained.
Since the voiceover is unique to this edition, I'm including it in full here:-
1. 5:52 As Ash arrives in the battlefield: I am called Ash. I have been playing Avalon for a long time... I know this game as well as anyone, but I couldn't tell you when or how it got started or who controls it... or how it's supposed to end
2. 6:33 After the first battle: Some people think it has no end; you could play for ever and never see the last level. It seems pointless - a game without a goal - but there is a goal; to go beyond the game - to something more
3. 12:42 Walking away from the room towards reception at the terminal: It's no wonder they encourage us to team up. A team is easier to keep track of than a solo player. Solos make them nervous. One of them could get lost in the grid or wander off behind a firewall somewhere and mess up the system. The point is I've been there, with Team Wizard, and how could you join any other team once you've been on the best that's ever played the game
4. 14:20 Walking up the stairs towards the tram stop: Team Wizard... Murphy, Stunner and the rest. We were unbeatable. As it turned out that was our downfall. We'd gotten so tough, so invincible, that all it took was one failure to tear the team apart. Just one player panicing and calling Reset happens to other teams all the time, but for Wizard that was the end
5. 15:22 On the tram going home: No more teams for me. I prefer playing Solo. I do miss Murphy though...
6. 17:50 At home, right after checking for email: Real life... is that what it is? I suppose there must have been a time when this seemed more real to me than the game
7. 1:39:46 As Ash walks to confront the Ghost in the auditorium: Murphy was wrong about a lot of things, but there is one thing he may have been right about. Reality is what we choose to believe. As for who controls the game... I choose to believe it's me
So... for the most part the voiceovers contribute to the story, providing exposition that's there in the subtitles but takes more putting together or comes later in the film. The one exception is the last voiceover, which firmly takes the option that Ash is about to shoot the Ghost and end the level having convinced herself she is not in reality. While that can be debated, the dub script, including the voiceovers, have been done by people who do understand the film - which is something to be respected.
This from a correspondent who prefers to remain anonymous, but has some interesting thoughts around chivalrous behaviour... the correspondent writes:
I'm wondering if it is the case that Ash is on a quest similar to the search for the Holy Grail in her virtual reality gamescape. I came across some discussions of honor and requirements for Knighthood the other day. Basically, a knight only proves his purity when he is presented with an opportunity for personal gain in exchange for pursuing his ultimate goal. It seems that Murphy abandoned the quest and betrayed his fellow "knights." Even if Ash loved him, and it finally isn't clear, she would have had to sacrifice her care for him to bring him to justice -- at least in the honor systems of the Crusades, and so forth.
"The man who, fighting for a crown he fiercely desires, yet accepts without dispute the blow that ends his hopes, is in truth honorable - the more so when no soul but himself would have known the blow was true had he said otherwise. He who refuses to accept the blow until until he can no longer do so without open shame is no honorable man, howsoever gentle and courtly he may appear in other lists, where there is nothing to be won or lost save that reputation which men miscall honor." Concerning Knighthood (page 18) David Friedman,Chronique: Journal of Chivalry
It seems that Ash cannot give up her quest for Avalon, even if she has to start over again in the game, which isn't clear from the ending, but is suggested. Is there anything in common between the statue that she damages at the end, and the Holy Grail? Is the (possible) game conclusion at the end an indication that she is dead? Has she made the ultimate sacrifice for her quest, accepting the mortal blow? If any of this makes sense, it is fairly well disguised in the story. If it does make sense, then does her quest have any merit? Or is that like asking if life itself has any merit, or people's religious beliefs, or their careers, and so forth? Also, does her VR situation in the Hungarian "Prague Spring" have any bearing? It would seem that she could be fighting on the "wrong side" since she rolls with the tanks and kills Hungarian militia as well as regular army. I think it's pretty clear that these fire teams are basically out for themselves, and not aligned with any real faction except profit. Perhaps that is a stab at the Crusades. I do not see Oshii as a director sympathetic to western civilization, despite his obsession with its legends.
One of my friends, who recently watched my Memorial Box set en route back to me after James' translation effort, came up with an interesting thought. The world "outside" the game in sepia starts to show anomalies after the 'reset' - the dog disappearing, the sound of combat aircraft above her apartment... Perhaps a reset does not represent a return from the game to the same level of reality that it was entered from. Developed further, this idea adds further nuances to the theories already set out earlier in this page. I need to think about this some more, and watch the film again with this mindset, but it's definitely worth thinking through...
Avi Gaponoff sent this in: At the end of the film, Ash says that she will choose to play the game by her own rules. Before that, she only played the war game (VR) by her own rules (playing solo, and controlling which scenarios she played. I think it's symbolized by the grey streak in her hair) But the Bishop not only played the VR game by his own rules, but included reality (R) in his game, manipulating Ash and Stunner both inside (VR) and outside (R). Special A (SA), also known as Class Real, is presented to Ash as yet another world she can exist in. This is where my ideas kind of split. If you believe that R is the real world, though stylized, you can stop here. Ash realizes she doesn't need the game (VR) anymore, and chooses to play in R.
But, what if SA is the real world? And really AI's, suggested by Tom Box? I would not be at all suprised if this was Oshii's intention. Remember, he did direct Ghost in the Shell, which questioned the definition of life and humanity. Other films, including Dark City, The 13th Floor, and The Matrix ask the same question. For this argument, I will focus on The 13th Floor. WARNING: SPOILERS FOR THE 13TH FLOOR FOLLOW. That film also showed 3 different worlds: the character's world (R), the virtual world (VR), and the real world (SA). The protagonist, living in R, has created VR. He then discovers that he is merely a "player character" (forgive the RPG lingo) in his own virtual world, and that the man the plays his character has been using him to play in VR. Our protagonist escapes R by entering the body of his player in SA. The 13th floor could almost be a prequel to Avalon. Ponder this: After events similar to The 13th Floor, the people of SA outlaw the playing of VR while in the world of R, as it makes the AI's (including Ash, Stunner, and Murphy) concious that they themselves live in a game. Bishop, who probably an admin of R, acts like he's playing a game while in R. After this you can pretty much follow the ideas Tom Box laid out.
Still following the above paragraph, there is another scenario. The world of R and SA are almost indistiguishable from each other to the casual observer (like Ash who's mind in preoccupied with VR). Perhaps Ash is ALREADY one of the Unreturned, and has gotten lost in the "waiting room" of R. That is why the Avalon VR is illegal, is keeps the players from being able to leave R and return to SA. The Ghost is a loophole in the system that allows her to get back out.
And working with that idea, compare it to the film Brain Scan. WARNING: SPOILERS FOR BRAIN SCAN FOLLOW. SERIOUSLY, THE FILM'S AND EXCELLENT THRILLER, AND WILL ONLY HAVE ANY IMPACT IF YOU DO NOT READ THE REST OF THIS FIRST!!!!!!!!!!
So, now that you've watched Brain Scan, I don't have to bother summarizing it for you. The game doesn't end, it keeps going all the way to the very end of the film, yet only lasted a few hours despite lasting several days within the game. Perhaps the entire film Avalon is the game, and Ash has been playing it so long that she has forgotten what reality is? The uncanny assotiations between the different worlds (R, VR and SA) exist because they're all being played inside her own mind, and the game uses her memories to craft the world (See Brain Scan). And the game is trying to get her to complete it [the game]. It gets rid of her dog, hinting to her that she isn't in reality yet. It creates the Bishop to guide her. She finally gets to the last level, SA, and returns to the real world when she shoots the Ghost. Wrap your minds around that!
This last is the plot that I am going with, although I can say with certainty that Oshii intentionally made the film's "reality" vague. He has given us the freedom he gives Ash at the end of the film; we can play the game by our own rules, now. With Avalon, there are no wrong conclusions, as long as they're our own.
For reference, you should watch Oshii's early live action film trilogy. They consist of Red Spectacles, Stray Dog, and Talking Head. I don't think Avalon would be as good as it is if Oshii hadn't experimented by making these films. And of course, Ghost in the Shell. I also mentioned Dark City, The 13th Floor, The Matrix, and Brain Scan. They are all along a similar vein to Avalon, though The 13th Floor and Brain Scan are closest.
From Michael Cho: Thanks for the nice job on the web site. I liked the film, although the ending had me puzzling for a while until I started reading your site.
In any case, I feel that the movie DOES have a lot in common with the Matrix in the sense of "minds" being "trapped" within a computer matrix. However, I believe the "minds" in this movie are all AI computer programs who do not realize that they operate as part of a software-created universe.
There are several mentions throughout the movie about the "stability" of the game, how important Ash is to maintaining such stability, and the importance of keeping the rest of the players content and satisfied within the confines of their universe (the game and the virtual world outside of the game). There are also mentions of how long the game has been going on, the balance between having a game you cannot win versus one that seems impossible but has an ending, etc. In effect, this concern appears to the concern of the programmers in making sure the programs strive to exercise their functions, instead of "giving up" after realizing that they "live" within a never-ending artificial world. In effect, it may all be one grand experiment in artificial intelligence and the struggle for free will.
When Ash asks the Game Master if he is real, he responds "Does it matter?" He is perhaps the programmer, or merely another program within the AI universe performing its function.
Class Real I believe is as close a replica of the "real world" where the programmers live as they could create. Their desire to eliminate Murphy comes from the fact that Murphy, by remaining in Class Real, has refused to play the game any longer. Murphy has perhaps realized that he is merely a program, and has chosen to remain in a virtual reality universe that most closely resembles a place he can never reach (Avalon).
Ash, by killing Murphy, has chosen to perform her function. She has "debugged" the program ("Murphy") which realized it was a program, and in effect, given the programmers what they wanted. She arrives at Avalon, the end of the game. What happens at that point is anyone's guess. Perhaps she is told the truth? Perhaps she returns to the AI universe to function a guardian type of program (a la Bishop)? Perhaps she is given "life"?
Sorry to ramble a bit. I know there are a lot of holes in my analysis, but I gotta run!
Like many people, the film kept Paul Beentjes thinking for some while after seeing it - he writes...
Compliments on the site. I had never heard of this film Avalon until I sort of watched it by accident. This movie did what very few others could: keep me thinking about it for days to come. Here are some of my thoughts.
Stuart Bray thinks the names Bishop and Ash are taken from the Alien films and speculates on Murphy and Stunner. Not only is Murphy the alter ego of Robocop he is also a minor character in Alien3. As for Stunner there is a character in the Spiderman comics called that. She is the result of an experiment and is the enhanced virtual body of herself. Bishop and Game Master are also comic book characters but there is nothing relevant about their stories though.
I truly believe all three realities presented are not real. The prize after completion of Class Real is the real Avalon, is being brought (back?) to reality. (Hold that thought!) One of the reasons for this is that no-one has a real name. Ash is called that because of the streak in her hair, Bishop is simply his character class, Stunner and Game Master are clearly not real names. The names of the other three remaining Wizard members are Cuisinart, Copper and Masher. Sounds like kitchen appliances to me.
Alex Seltsikas sees numeral links to the game Wizardry. I have found one more: The party during the attempt to get to SA consists of Ash, Bishop, Stunner and three other characters. They are Makanito, Zilwan and Badi which all three happen to be spells in Wizardry.
The only name that keeps puzzling me is Murphy... I do believe he is somehow the key to all this. Here is my first theory: All three realities in the movie are virtual and part of the game. The real reality IS Avalon and can be entered after completion of SA. When Ash enters Class SA it is suggested there is only 1 unreturned left but the hospitals in "reality" are filled with them. Murphy was a level 12 bishop so he could fulfill the requirements to enter Class SA all on his own. Perhaps Murphy is the first unreturned (the "one" - if you will) and discovered that dying in SA will end the game for that person. In other words: return to the real reality of Avalon where heroes are taken after they die (in the game). Dying could be a problem since SA is so much better and more "alive". It becomes a personal heaven to whoever enters it. This takes away the wish to complete the final level. Somehow Murphy figured all this out and has taken it upon himself to "liberate" as many people as possible. He caused Wizard to break up and went after the ghost on his own. Once in SA he can help others fulfill the requirements to transcend into SA. He can do this by descending to the game world using a disguise as, say, another Bishop. So Murphy IS Bishop. Bear with me on that. Clearly has Bishop been manipulating Ash, Stunner and other characters to guide Ash to where she is. I see no other motive for him to do this: Once a person is inside Class SA Murphy would complete the "liberation" by killing them thus erasing their character data leaving them catatonic in the game-reality. I can imagine his yearning for liberation would eventually cause him to find someone to take his place. Someone who is one of the best. Someone who could resist the temptation of staying inside SA. Ash. Ash is no Bishop and changing class would cost her much more experience points. This doesn't have to be a problem since it is stated that inside Class SA there are a lot of experience points to be earned. This theory has many holes and is far from complete. It does, however, raise a lot more different questions. Which is exactly why we like this movie so much. It does still leave the ghost... Have to think about that some more....
And on to my second theory: Another way to look at this is to perceive the world as it is presented in the movie: A bleak world where some are involved in an illegal game called Avalon. After the unexpected reset of a game an entire party is "unreturned" and hospitalized. However one member is still playing out her life in her mind. This would explain the unrealities in Ash's real world. The only place she felt some joy was inside the game with her lover Murphy so that's where her exit must lie. Apparently the thing with Murphy didn't work out causing her to deal with some issues regarding this Bishop guy. She conjures up a hidden level which leads to some sort of heaven (exit out of her coma). Entering this level her mind transcends closer to the surface of her consciousness. In the end she manages to recognize her private heaven for what it is, rejects it and by shooting Murphy and the ghost once more she not only makes her peace with the breakup of herself and Murphy she also comes out of her coma. All worlds portrayed are Ash's memories of the real, real and virtual worlds. Sounds rather good too huh?
[Alan: There is a possible problem with the theories around returning from coma after a long time - the unreturned we see at the hospital have been detached from the VR equipment so there is no longer a route back. Of course as usual we cannot be sure that what see through Ash's eyes is true for outer levels of reality anyway!]
Gérard Kraus has submitted two in-depth articles about the film written as coursework. They take the form of two PDF files - click here for the outline piece, and here for the main essay itself...
Kathy has noticed the discontinuity described below - is it just a simple continuity glitch, or is there a deeper meaning?
In the scene where the bishop shows up at Ash's door ..... When Ash is bending down to get the dog dish before the first knock there are two cabbages in the basket on the kitchen counter..... later in the same scene there is one cabbage in the basket, and a piece of meat on the cutting board. I am wondering if there is a symbolic connection between the missing cabbage and the missing cherub's head, or if it was a goof.
Two more comments from Kathy, this time thinking about the significance of the dog(s) and Ash's acquisition of clothing and accessories as she leaves the terminal in Class Real. Both these seem to explain things that are otherwise quite opaque in the film
Symbolic and Mythological Animals by J.C. Cooper on page 78 "Ainu mythology has watch-dogs stationed on the road to the otherworld at various points so that they can direct souls on their way and see that they go to the rightly deserved place. The dog is also considered psychic and can detect the presence of any ghost."
This could give some explanation for the reason why the dogs are watching her, and why her dog seemed mildly agitated when she logged onto the nine sisters site at 00:35:46. I believe Thomas Kessler's is on the right track about light and shadow on the dog being a clue. If you look at the posters on the wall at 1:26:10 look at the capital A with the line on top of it and then look at the dog. The shape of the light area on the dog's head is almost identical. Especially in the bottom row of posters where the title has been cut off at the dog's brow.
There are some similarities between the story of Inanna or Ishtar's descent into the underworld and Ash's ascent from the terminal into class real.When Ishtar descends through the seven gates of the underworld at each gate she must give up an article of clothing or jewelry each is symbolic of her authority, power and beauty.When she goes through the seventh gate she is naked... Later in the story she is rescued from the underworld and on the way out reclaims each of those items. Likewise as Ash ascends from the terminal. and at along the way attains various items.... gun, dress, ticket, earrings, purse, shoes, ring.
Some thoughts from Ollie McDaniel...
First line of text in the movie sets the stage: "Some young people deal with their disillusionment by seeking out illusions of their own."
You could say that Ash is running deeper and deeper into illusion, trying to escape disillusion. In real life she says, "Is this all there is?" so she goes to the game. In the game she reaches a certain point and then asks, "Is this all there is?" and moves to the next level. She gets to Class A and she asks again, "Is this all there is?" and she then learns of Class Special A. She reaches Class Special A but keeps going...to where?
I think one thing the movie is pointing out is that all illusions eventually lead to disillusionment. Or maybe it's hinting that you won't find satisfaction within the illusions of others, but instead you should take control and form the world yourself.
On one level the movie is a comment on games that already exist, like MMORPG's that some people get so involved in that they ignore reality. And it's a comment on games that will undoubtedly exist in the future, and that will be even more addictive.
Also, though, on another level it's a comment about human nature. Our desire to find meaning in the world (escape the bare facts of the world, the system of the world) through religion, through belief, through fantasy...
Definetly a strong vibe of escapism. That's why I think that the 'real world' in this movie is real.
You can't have a movie about escapism, about illusion, if there isn't something to escape from...can you?
Some thoughts from Gordon Clason with my comments in italics (the first part of this was originally an email before getting permission to include it here)
I love your web site. I have just a few comments for your "thoughts" page, you may have already considered these.
1. Ash states in the beginning that her aim is to "go beyond the game". At the end, she gets ready to shoot the ghost, presumably to enable a gate to a yet further level (several references to solo players being able to get "behind the fire wall" hint that this further level is unknown to the Bishop and the programmers of the game).
Watch out for being misled a little by the R1 English dub. That initial piece of Ash's monologue is only in the R1 version, as is the idea of solos being able to penetrate the game in some manner
The ending refers back to the beginning with the line "welcome to Avalon". Is this Oshii's way of returning our attention to Ash's stated intention of "going beyond the game"?
See above... that intention is unique to the R1 voiceover. I think what Oshii may be trying to do here is make us doubt our own reality by ending the film and welcoming us to the virtual reality.
Earlier in the movie the cherubs had a head shot off. At the end the cherubs are intact, but Ash is aiming a gun at the head about to shoot. Is there a temporal or chronological anomaly here? Is this scene earlier in time than the scene with the damaged statue?
Hard to say.. there are various ideas about this on the Thoughts page. I've not seen a theory I really believe yet.
2. Ash treats Stunner like she treats her dog. She feeds him while she drinks a beverage and watches him. The dog's eating is sloppy, scattering rice on the floor. A big deal is made of Stunner's sloppy eating. The dog doesn't disappear until after Stunner has attached himself to Ash in a very canine-like way.
Yes - I think you've hit on the point here about Stunner's eating.
Indications that the "real world" is virtual include: scene in hospital. Bishop uses a game-type weapon scope to watch her. And, of course the appearance of the ghost. scene in her apartment. The books (title on front cover in English, title on spine in Japanese, neither in Polish) are blank, and the dog disappears.
Yes - have a read of some of the Wizardry notes on the this page... the idea coming out of there is that the books don't have to be read, but more in a classical adventure game mould the important thing is to "get book", "read book", "use keyboard" etc...
The dog is clearly part of the game. When he disappears from Ash's apartment, he has gone on to "class real" because that's where Ash finds him when she gets there.
The ghost only appears when there is a level 12 Bishop present. In the hospital "the Bishop" is there watching her. In "special A", Murphy is there.
Here's Gordon's reply, with newly added commentary
I understand what you mean about the English dub and Ash's narration not being in the original Polish version, but I think this is Miramax's way of summing up the anomalous urging of the Game Master, first to join a group, and later to avoid special A, even though he has also told her that she is beneficial to the game as a stabilizing influence. Why would the Game Master both encourage Ash and discourage her? This is explained by the narrative distinguishing between ordinary play and the presumption that special A is a glitch or area "behind the firewall". It's not a necessary explanation, but it is possible that this is the work of Neil Gaiman, certainly a man with enough insight and access to Oshii's thinking to make some shrewd guesses.
It's possible, though I've not seen any confirmation any of Neil's ideas were used for the R1 version - he was originally hired to do a new subtitle version. I think (though would need to double check) that the idea of the stabilising influence is unique to R1 too.
By all means , use my thoughts any way you want. I have also just realized that there are two bishops at the hospital, since Murphy is there in a sense. Does the Polish version have the introductory written text about the unreturned and the illegality of the game? Or is that in the English language version only?
Yes, this is common to all versions. So far, every version I have seen (and that's quite a few) has had identical visuals - it's only the subtitling and the sound that may vary
Have you had the opportunity yet to see Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence? I saw it last week, and it's remarkable. The same dog, of course, as you mention. The dog is used in a symbolic manner to establish Togusa's humanity and reality at a time when Bateau has begun to wonder what is real and what is VR.
It hasn't been released in the UK yet. The UK Premiere will be at the Leeds Film Festival in November. After that I'm hoping for a regular theatrical release.
I also think that the Bishop doesn't expect the ghost to appear in special A because he has failed to take into account that Murphy is a bishop. This is why I think that when Ash kills the ghost again, she is going to open a gate to a level beyond anything the nine sisters are aware of, or at least beyond what the Bishop is aware Ash is capable of.
Interesting... as is common with this film, it's hard to prove or disprove this idea (...which is why I generally put people's thoughts here as originally written and just add commentary like this)
I also agree with the correspondent who compared this movie to The 13th Floor. In The 13th Floor there is the implicit awareness that final reality might not be the end, there might be yet more layers. In Avalon, there is some implication that Ash in going to find something beyond the third level of reality. Maybe I'm seeing implications that aren't really there.
Another possibility I've considered is that Ash is a NPC and the audience is the player. In that case, the final "Welcome to Avalon" is a temporal loop that would have taken us back to the beginning of the movie if we allowed it to continue. A friend who watched this movie and Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence with me thinks that Ash is the only player in the movie, everyone else are NPC's and the entire movie is within the game.
That's not too far away from Xavier Amet's take on the movie, which is one I also ascribe to.
All in all, it's a lovely movie. Possibly the most thought provoking movies I've seen in a long time.
And one further thought from Gordon...
I thought of something else I wanted to bounce off of you. Two things, actually, first a point of information. Are you aware that Ogier the Dane is one of the twelve Paladins of Charlemagne? It's been thirty or forty years since I read Bullfinch, but I seem to remember some "Avalon" like adventure ascribed to him. Poul Anderson did at least one novel with Ogier the Dane as the lead character. Three Hearts and Three Lions, I think. (It's also been thirty or forty years since I read that.)
Second, consider an off-the-wall possibility. When Ash calls "reset" is the moment she becomes "unreturned" and looses her mind. Everything after that is a hallucination. Bishop says he appeared because she wished for it, and indicates that special A was created out of her dreams. Wish fulfillment: her mind creates the thing "beyond the game" that she has wished for. It's not too consistent, because Bishop and Stunner both actually appear before this, but it is typical of Oshii that you can see his plots in more than one way. I'm still having trouble understanding all that is there in the first Ghost in the Shell.
This is a very nice theory, and is one that really alters perspective on the film if it's true, but is it true? Much as I like it, I suspect it is not true. My reason is that on the personal data for Ash (see commentary on Chapter 2 above) she already had 17 resets before this one. Of course, this might be adding more weight to the theory that Ash is already Unreturned, but it would mean the transition point is not within the film even though the boundaries do become more blurred after she calls 'Reset'.
Some further thoughts from Cathy on the significance of names in Avalon
I believe that the grey streak in Ashs hair is a distraction from the true meaning of her name. Everyone else in the movie has a name associated with battle or that implies violence in one way or another. Most are obvious some are not.
Murphy -Irish for sea warrior
Gill (or in some subtitles Jill)- Irish for servant, which would explain why she was sent as bait to meet Ash. She was probably new to her fighting group and was earning her right to a battle name.
Ash - a European tree the favorite wood for making bows, arrows,and spears. The Norse word for spear (ask) and ash are almost identical. Vikings were referred to as the Aescling meaning Men of Ash.
The name also fits well as a reference to her character. Ash wood is very strong, tough and elastic, and it is written that ash will bear more weight than any other wood.
Here is where I think Oshii is getting Sneaky
The ash is also called Yggdrasil it is the tree Odin hung himself on to seek a vision. It is The World Tree , aka the tree of life. Ash trees trunk reached up to the heavens, and in the Underworld, below Yggdrasils roots, where the realm of the Dead could be found. Ash is seen as the axis of the Universe. Ash trees also have a strong connection with flowing water, another favorite symbol of Oshiis
As to the noble warrior Ashs stoic demeanor and limited food intake some clues can be found in Bushido texts see below.
chapter IV p.31
"What a coward to cry for a trifling pain! What will you do when your arm is cut off in battle? What when you are called upon to commit hara-kiri?" We all know the pathetic fortitude of a famished little boy-prince of Sendai, who in the drama is made to say to his little page, "Seest thou those tiny sparrows in the nest, how their yellow bills are opened wide, and now see! there comes their mother with worms to feed them. How eagerly and happily the little ones eat! but for a samurai, when his stomach is empty, it is a disgrace to feel hungry."
chapter XI p.104
It was considered unmanly for a samurai to betray his emotions on his face. "He shows no sign of joy or anger," was a phrase used, in describing a great character. The most natural affections were kept under control.
Another cryptic reference to who or what ash really is can be found on the soundtrack. Grey Lady is a reference to an obscure Arthurian legend. She is a ghost lady who protected Arthurs 13 treasures, haunts Moel Arthur. I am not quite sure what to make of this one just yet.
Thanks to Wojciech Kosmala for helping clear up one aspect of the mystery. He writes that in the Polish language there is no distinction at all between "We met Bishop" and "We met A Bishop"... which helps to make some of the ambiguity more understandable
Ian Miller has noticed another point where the Ghost appears - in the picture that is seen on-screen once Ash has found the false Nine Sisters team. Ian believes that the sister on the far right is the Ghost. From memory, this sounds likely to me too.
From Vadim Solomonik: First, I want to thank you for your website that allows me to get more from the visual masterpiece by Mamoru Oshii.
Second, let me add few thoughts about it. After watching the film, comparing subtitles and reading your site, (a) few things are clear for me. Ash is a character. We don't know if she trapped in a VR (unreturned) or she is A.I., but I don't think there is a difference for the creator of Ghost in the Shell. We have to play for her. The game and the outside world are the parts of the same VR, there are too many confirmations of that, and they all have been noticed by viewers and listed on your page. Class Real is our reality, how real is it - is the question that Oshii asks in all his works. Ash completed the mission in Class Real by killing Murphy, a bishop, therefore a program. Murphy's body disappeared, because he belongs to another reality, and there are no "Mission Complete" messages in our world. Now she has an option to enter the next level, next reality, and we don't know what is it, probably, another game, or the same old Avalon. And that I want for everybody "Welcome to Avalon", to see the movie.
There's a lot to think on, and for me this gives yet another perspective through which to consider the film. Let's start with the central point - Class Real is where we are.
Think on that a moment... Avalon shows us that Class Real is one more layer of reality, layer of illusion. Thus all of our reality is suddenly called into question. Is there an exit from Class Real that most of us are unaware of, or going further are we but constructs like the support team on Ash's mission with Stunner and Bishop? Just when I thought I'd seen all the angles on Avalon this comes along... Thanks to Vadim for sharing this idea
A couple of people have mentioned Ghost In The Shell: Innocence. It appears to have had a very low key outing in the UK though it's readily available on DVD (which is more than could be said for Avalon at the time of its release!). In usual Oshii fashion there is a lot of layering and double-takes at reality. I've watched it twice now and need to see it a few more times before I feel ready to write a commentary on whether it has common links with Avalon beyond those links that Oshii likes to thread through the majority of his films
Some thoughts from Steve Franklin. One note of caution though... although the additional dialogue in the R1 version is certainly sympathetic to the original script, I personally wouldn't consider it a canon reference
Something else occurred to me. There are two ways of changing level in Avalon, the VR chair and the Ghost. The VR chair goes down, into a lower "less real" world. The Ghost goes up, into a "more real" world. Ash's normal reality has a Ghost as well as a VR chair. So she can either go up or down. In the VR world, there is a Ghost, which is very difficult to find, but there is no chair. One simply returns--springs back--to normal reality. This is a trivial exercise and can even be accomplished in the middle of a battle by calling "Reset." So the "Opera" world, as I will call it, is approached by traveling upwards from the VR world via a Ghost. The streak in Ash's hair is gone, as Murphy points out, yet this is not the world she left when entering the VR world. The conclusion is obvious. This is *another* reality. If you watch the entry sequence to this other reality, you see Ash being rotated. She is literally being transported to an orthogonal world. That is, a world at right angles to her normal real world, yet real enough in itself. This Opera world also has both a chair and a Ghost. The chair is the way back to the VR world, or some VR world. Remember, she got here by being rotated as she leveled up. There is no guarantee she will return to the same VR world she was in before. Ash has the option to use this chair again to travel back down, but she doesn't use it. From this, it is obvious that her use of the Ghost in the final scene is not to return to her original normal reality. It is another ladder, another jump upwards, analogous to her using the Ghost in the hospital to travel upwards, yet not to the same place because she is rotating from an already rotated reality. She is most definitely NOT returning to her original reality. This is quite clear from the internal dialogue in the dubbed version. She is making her own reality. This reality will be even more real than the one she is in. Will it be Avalon?
From Aniket Jaaware
Very nice site. many thanks.
I saw the movie with Polish/German subtitles, and though I didn't understand a word (I dont know these languages), I loved the movie. Your site helped me understand some of the things that depended on language.
Reading the various thoughts on your site, I decided to do what all of you must have done, I am sure, but in case you haven't done it, here goes: check what the word Avalon itself means. It is the island paradise where King Arthur goes when he dies.
So I think we could say Ash is 'dead' when she sees "Welcome to Avalon", and she sees that because she has reached Avalon, presumbaly. and that would further mean that she has won all the games (whether VR or R, etc.), and has nothing more to do.
Just sharing my thoughts. Thanks for the site again
Nicola Micheletti sent in the following perspective. Ordinarily I do not edit items before posting them but on this occasion I have reformatted the text and corrected the more distracting errors to a native English reader. I have tried to preserve the original piece as much as possible, so it may still read a little awkwardly in places. Persevere - it's worth reading...
Hi, I'm an Italian fan of Japanese anime, and very fond to Mamoru Oshii works in particular way, since I saw Ghost in the Shell years ago.
First of all I want to excuse in advance for my awful writing, hope you can understand the general sense in spite of my errors in writing...
I saw Avalon 3 days ago and I was very very impressed by the complexity of this film, by its deep meaning such a criticism of our society, and in general for the sense of wonder and mystery that pervade the entire film.
Have a lot of problems at the end 'cause ...I've said "what the hell means the whole thing?", but I was lucky 'cause after a bit of searching I've found your nice site on Avalon.
After reading the many opinions, I've worked out my opinion on the meaning of the film...
I agree with many guys who have written that both the wargame and the life in the apartment of Ash are in VR.
There are many particular that suggest this point, the more important, in my opinion , is the strong meaning of "fake" you feel seeing the scene in the apartment, or whatever scenes outside the wargame.
It could be that this sense of freeze of the people, and the feeling of sadness are only "stylistic" means for suggest the disillusion with the world in which Ash lives, but in my opinion the key for understanding the film is think about it like a film on computer and technology, and how they can change (in a better or in a worse way) our world.
In this perspective it's clear that the apartment of Ash is a kind of virtual lounge, in which player rest after a mission, write to other player, and simply take rest and relax. But what is Class Real?
I've taken my opinion mainly from 2 very famous videogames, The Sims and Grand Theft Auto...I'm sure that Mamoru Oshii is a fan of RPG, but I suppose that, writing a film on videogame, he took inspiration from the videogames he could play.
The fact is: in these videogames you have to create an avatar for playing. The computer hardware nowadays is enough powerful to let us set an enormous number of options, like the colour of the hair, the muscular mass, the clothes, even the general behaviour (you can create a peaceful , a furious, a romantic avatar, e.g. The Sims).
My assumption is: in the future world of Avalon you create your avatar in a VR reality world, and you feel on your skin the result of your choice, so you can be very accurate on setting the characteristics of your avatar, from the simple one (clothes) to the more complex one (behaviour).
The computers are more more powerful that nowadays ones, so you can set a higher number of options, for example the latency of fear in a scary situation. More you can set this parameter, more your avatar can stand and play in a danger situation.
For the advance of level, in the wargame of Avalon you have to be a perfect soldier, for sure, but maybe you have to develop your avatar in a more complex way...you have to shape him more an more like a real person.
But in a VR world you couldn't shape an avatar with a mouse and a keyboard, you have to live and react in some way to achieve some results.
In conclusion, people in Avalon world create their own live in the game, instead of in the normal world.
When you achieve to 12 th level, you have created quite a perfect avatar. He reacts, behave, feel in a way similar to the human way...he fear, he has some ambition, some love, has a house, cook for himself and for the dog.
I think that way it dangerous for the human brain...actually, sometime a people become an unreturned, but I suppose that this long process of create an avatar could impair the brain, in the way of spoil it, because the only way you have to create your avatar is to give him yourself: the game acts like a sponge for you brain.
In the first level you can lose only some non-essential brain feature, but more you play, more you lose your deep, essential brain function...in the exact way it can happen using a drug. Creating your avatar drains your brain richness to shape him. Something like "everyone can create his own creature", that is a very common concept in the videogame nowadays.
But we are talking about the 13 th level: when you achieve this advance, the creation of the Avatar is complete: your brain is brain dead, not in the sense of a death from a damage, an inflammation, but in the sense of the exhaustion of its capacity.
The fact is that you are brain dead, but your avatar is quite live. Actually you have donate him quite everything you could, except a real body.
He "lives" an independent life, because his profile, his virtual brain is so rich that he, even if it is not an intelligent being, can guide him in a lot of different situation, like an "automatic pilot" always power on.
So on entering the 13 th level you become an unreturned, in my opinion. And then , in the 13 th level we see the avatar of Ash starting to live without anything of the master (actually Bishop says that she has lost every weapon or equipment she have before...like she has been "disconnected" from the master)
But, why the 13 th level is so different from the others?
Well, Bishop says this: there is more powerful hardware. So it resembles a trend that is very common in the nowadays game: the simulation the more precise of the reality.
Actually even if the world of the 13 th is very different from the other before, Ash doesn't have many problems adapting. I suppose that the world we see in the 13 th is like the real world in which Ash lives: the game simply is a more simulation of the same world we've seen in the level 12 th, but more technically advanced.
And why she has unlimited time? In my opinion this is like Grand Theft Auto: you have your mission to accomplish, but you can behave how you want, you are free to make other stuff: the dreams of a living world in which you can make whatever you want, without fear of suffering anything. I believe that in the theatre Ash, instead of killing Murphy, could have listened the concert and then could have gone to have a walk in the street.
At the end, by shooting again the Ghost, she advance in the last level, Avalon. What is Avalon?
I think that, like the 13 th level is a quite perfect simultion of the real world, the 14 th (Avalon), is in some way a world beyond the reality, a sort of Heaven (actually they say that Avalon is a fabulous island, populated by gods and mythical people) In a way, in the film we see the advance in the game of Ash, that coincide with the lost of consciousness of the girl who is "behind" Ash, and her death in the reaching a, fake, better world.
In my opinion a desperate criticism of our world...
Here's Nelson Giron's take on the film. Nelson's first language is French, and I've chosen to include it here completely as written.
I have found very interesting the commentaries and thoughts published in Nine Sisters. Every one of them have added something else to the way I look this picture.
I want to contribute like someone else said with my "two cents":
I consider the movie narrated entirely from Ash's point of view. The (VR) is the first we know, the game's world, thrilling, interesting, a world where you kill and nothing happen, you even enjoy it. The second world we know is the real one, pale colors, cold, lonely, especially for Ash who thinks animals are more interesting than people (she doesn't even receive emails). For her, the game is everything and so she has to know the next stage, always. Who could blame her? In time video games are only getting better and better, every time. They are each time closer to be better than reality. I think that's Ash's reaction when she enters in Class Real almost at the end of the movie she almost fell down when she looks this new level: the colors, the sound, the environment, etc. Who wouldn't prefer to live that "reality" instead the other boring one? Who wouldnt prefer to live playing? Like Murphy says to her: This is the world were you belong At the end I think thats what she prefers, the next level Avalon, she has found what was lacking in her life, she has found her place, (symbolized by the broken angel now restored or repaired). So she became an unreturned for the other reality.
These are two extra thoughts:
Scene 1: Books with japanese titles and empty pages.
When you look a book (and I am not saying "read a book") like Bishop does, you are not getting any knowledge, you are not reading, for you there are letters, lines but you are not learning or understanding anything, the book is "empty" without "real letters", without "real knowledge" plus if you are not familiar with the book's subject, let's say for example the title of the book is: "Ninsolato Molecular Composition" and if you are from Poland, well you might say the title is written in "japanese" because you don't understand a thing.
Scene 2: Dog's disappearance.
I think the relation between the game system and the player is so close that a reset could cause some kind of brain damage (temporary or permanent, I dont know), but thats the reason why she couldnt see her dog. After all, all our perceptions the way we understand our environment is through our senses (eye, ear, taste, touch, smell) these perceptions are electric impulses traveling to the brain which is the last place where we actually live our experiences, if you can reproduce this electric impulses and send them directly to the brain you could make a person to live another reality (I think you could have only a brain without a body living a real life) you would be fooling this person but for her or him all would be real, cutting this experience in a very rude way could make severe damage to him (her).
Some thoughts from Linus Kerley follow. I've corrected a couple of typos, but this is otherwise unedited.
In order to appreciate the questioning of reality aspect of this film I think it helps to also consider the cultural background it has emerged from.
Avalon is a modern re-presentation of ancient philosophical wonderings about the nature of reality, of our selves, and the extent, if any, of free will, and thus of our imagination, motivation, dreams and desires.
Writer Kazunori Ito and director Mamoru Oshii are adding to the rich heritage of uniquely Japanese interpretations of the ancient Hindu and Buddhist ideas of a soul, life, death, reincarnation and maya.
Of course, many cultures traditionally imagined these same concepts, which are just as contemporary today, including the Celts, whose myth of Avalon underlies this film, as does the reference to their Norse and Germanic cousins versions of myths of Odin.
Ancient myth has it that Avalon, where the sea met the land, was the meeting place of the dead; the point where they passed to another level of existence http://www.glastonburyabbey.com
The creators bring the setting of these ancient questions up to date, by including and examining contemporary Japanese and world cultural developments such as VR, online role-playing, shoot em up gaming and its obsession with exaggerated WW II type weaponry, something that not surprisingly, still haunts the modern psyche, and finally, by portraying an otaku - distrusted and derided in mainstream contemporary Japanese culture - as anti? heroine who, like every other hero in myth and literature a la Joseph Campbell, is motivated on her quest by her inner drive to experientially investigate these ancient questions.
Who is she? Who are you? What is reality? Well, philosophy is the art of asking questions, and zen is one tradition of investigating for yourself. Avalon is a modern koan pointing the way, asking you the same questions and demanding an answer! Enjoy!
ps kudos to the guys who pointed out the AI aspect. shes still a classical heroine, though the question now is, does she have any free will in that heroism?! ie do we?
From Craig Tallentire:
You don't seem to mention Oshii's original plans for the making of Avalon (some of which are summed up in the leaflet that comes in the UK DVD). He says that he had the idea for a person with the uncanny ability to travel between realities. If the 'real world' is as it seems then what he said here would be null and void...
The thought I am sticking with now is that the real world IS the real world however Ash is not in it for the duration of the film. It looks how we see it except it is in full colour with everything behaving normally. She is becoming so addicted to the game that the lines are becoming blurred to her viewpoint. Her final entry into class real is representative of the game steadily becoming more and more real, the final failsafe (or just conincidance) of the utterly unreal citadel is not enough to stop her decent into being convinced the game is real and so she sees it as real and enters class real. Something else to consider is that the 'real world' is clearly a bad place, looks like it has been through some rough times, the main game is going through some tough times- it is a war zone. Whilst class real is the modern world. I believe there is a backwards tl of sorts here. First there is our world represented by class real, then there is the war which the game is about (much in the same way we have countless WW2 games) and the real world is post-war. Class real being the modern world could be Ash striving to escape the crap reality in which she lives, her madness making her somehow believe by setting the war right she can reclaim the glory days of civilization.
Welcome to Avalon I am utterly confused about. One part of me says that this is her accessing the main 'source code' of it all if you will , she has completed it all and reached paradice. Another says though that the rather nasty look on the ghost's face combined with her growing madness means she has died (or become unreturned) and been wisked away to Avalon/heaven.
One thing I forgot to mention [in the first email; this paragraph is from the second] and doesn't seem to be mentioned though it could be significant- When Ash first enters the real world she wears glasses and has the typical film 'nerdy girl' look. When she checks Bishop's data after seeing him do the helicopter mission though and its revealed there is no data she takes the glasses off. I can't remember ever seeing them again. Some kind of referance to realities blurring and her believing herself to be her in game character (as per later in the film with her looking for her gun and other minor instances)
From Kalmar Nagy Andras
I discovered Mamoru Oshii's films through the band Wamdue Project's videos which featured parts from Ghost in the shell and Patlabor 2. Here in Hungary(Europe) it is very hard to get his movies legally, but I've been able get some of them legally on DVD during a journey to England). After seeing those films, I googled Oshii extensively and heard about Avalon and did a search for it on the internet. I found a Polish version with Hungarian subtitles (probably translated from the "Ash is faster" bad subtitles. It also suffers a lot from being translated 2 times and the Hungarian translation is mediocre at best.)
After watching it, I too was full of questions, thoughts and ideas. I went looking on the internet for more info about Avalon and found your site. I spent the last few days reading bits and pieces and your site is a really good resource and a very good read!
Here's some of my thoughts on Avalon with references to some of Oshii's other films: The part where Ash enters SA/Class Real she is shown in a sort of virtual space where text/glyphs are spinning around her just like in the intro to Ghost in the shell when Major Kusanagi's shell is created. I think the process is similar, as the/a ghost in GITS is uploaded into the shell. My theory is, that the ghost/spirit/essence of Ash is transferred from her body (Which is left behind as a vegetable in the "real" world) into Avalon/VR. This way (Just as in GITS2:Innocence, with Motoko Kusanagi) Ash becomes a ghost that is embedded into the system itself and is able to appear in the game without a terminal just like bishop (or the puppet master in GITS).
As for the colour changes and the significances thereof: There is an excellent book by Alvin Toffler called Future Shock, in which he says that because of being faced with a huge amount of data the human mind compresses and eleminates data that is not crucial. For example, do you remember all of the people you saw on the street today? Do you remember what kind of clothes they were wearing? No, because if you did, your head would explode by the end of the day. In my opinion, the immobile/ grey people are how this compression is represented in the film (Dogs move since they are significant to Ash). OR, as Bishop says (And assuming that Ash's apartment/the city is also some sort of irreality/simulation), the game/city environment is still in development, and the animations and textures that make up the NPCs aren't quite complete yet (You can sometimes see stuff like this in early tech demos/leaked alphas of games).
So, here's my two cents on Avalon, I'm still digesting most of the film and I might have some more ideas later, for now these are the main things that I noticed. Keep up the good work on the site!
From Simon Bird...
Great website! I'm very new to this great movie, but I thought I'd take the time to put down a few thoughts/theories/observations that occurred to me after a few views.
First I should probably mention that I'm kind of strangely hung up on the possibility of the symbolism of the firearms used in the movie. Sounds pretty odd, I know, but it was one of the first things I stumbled across when reviewing the movie, but I'll come to that.
Like many others, I'm pretty convinced that the entire movie is VR. There is some pretty convincing evidence for this that has already been presented, so I won't recap, I'll just plough into my theory.
I'm pretty convinced that Ash is herself an AI game sprite (the hero, or central character) and that the game player is, in fact, Oshii.
The object of the game is guide/manipulate Ash through the levels (home/battlefield/class real/Avalon/beyond....?)
I believe that Oshii is controlling Bishop to this end, either through a first or third person interface. And so to the first weapon reference. Bishop uses a broomhandle Mauser, Oshii's favourite weapon (Red Spectacles/Stray Dogs/Jin-Roh)
Notice that Ash appears to actually need this specific weapon to shoot the ghost and proceed to Class Real. Stunner fails using an automatic, and Bishop ensures that Ash replaces her Walther PPK with the Mauser before her attempt on Class Real. Clearly a special weapon/powerup.
About that Walther...hardly a practical weapon for the battlefield...It seems that only the central Characters in Avalon - Ash, Bishop & Murphy, carry handguns. Perhaps they are status symbols and mirrors of the central character's personality. Certainly, the small, sleek & deadly Walther matches Ash as much as the Mauser matches Bishop/Oshii. Murphy may carry the powerup weapon of Class Real...
Anyway...when Ash awakens in Class Real, her new weapon is a Mauser HSC - the personality of a Walther PPK with the status of a Mauser. Interestingly, this scene mirrors very closely the scene in Besson's Nikita where Nikita is presented with the gun to carry out her first assasination, following her training.
After Ash 'kills' Murphy, she fills the clip with his discarded bullets, and takes HIS gun.
So what does this signify? Perhaps that Ash realizes she needs a 'special' weapon to progress to the next level?
A few things elude me completely. The dog - another Oshii avatar? Murphy's place in the Nine Sisters - is Murphy able to travel between Class Real and the Battlefield at will? Of course, some games allow you to return through previous levels once they have been completed. But if he is so keen to stop Ash from achieving Class Real, why does he allow her to Kill him? Perhaps he knows that he has to take her out while her stats are lower than his, that ultimately she will always defeat him in Class Real.
Doug Richardson has noted more parallels between Wizardy and Avalon:
There are more apparent connections between Avalon and the c.1981 computer game 'Wizardry' that Alex Seltsikas and Paul Beentjes have already noted.
Just as the names of the characters of the party attempting to get to Special A include the Wizardry spells Makanito, Zilwan and Badi, the names of three members of the Wizard party may also be based on Wizardry - Copper, Cuisinart, and Masher. In the computer game, the armour that could be worn by fighters included copper gloves, while the high-level weapons included a Mage Masher, and a sword named Cusinart.
Even more intriguing was the name of a Wizardry monster who was worth hunting down and defeating, since his death would earn the party a large number of experience points - a bit like Special A (It's dangerous, but you can earn a hell of a lot of points - Stunner). This monster was named Murphys Ghost
Murphy's Ghost could always be found at a specific location in the game - useful information that an experienced player would be able to pass on to an inexperienced player. That location was on level 1 of the game's 'maze' (playing area), so would be accessible to a player whose newly-created characters had only basic beginner's equipment. (In practice, a party of newly-created characters would have been unlikely to survive a meeting with Murphy's Ghost.)
Andrew King has been thinking about the Arthurian aspects of the movie...
Have enjoyed your site since first seeing Avalon. I don't have anything to contribute to the 'which real is real' debate, but here are a few other thoughts which might prove entertaining:
The Japanese angle: Warrior ethics have been mentioned, but I also feel as with so many anime, the belief system of Shinto is driving the plot here at a deep level. So imagine you are Japanese (maybe you are!) and playing Wizardry. You may not be a Shinto believer, but as with Christianity in the west it still has a role as the basis of many of your assumptions about the way the world works. I am no expert, but it seems in Shinto, anything remarkable or worthy of attention can be a 'kami'. (Without a direct western equivalent translation things get ambiguous. Kami is translated in different contexts as 'god' or 'spirit' or 'ghost' . . . ). So surely a computer game character, with a seeming life of its own, is a 'kami'. Now consider also: In Japanese folktale and in modern-day faith, the 'angry ghost' is an important figure, to be respected, placated or otherwise dealt with. So what is happening to all the angry ghosts/kami of the Wizardry characters you are happily murdering or allowing to be killed in this unreal but disturbingly intense otherworld? To my mind Avalon is a queasy meditation on the ethics of vicarious killing from a Shinto cultural perspective. For a start, is the problem that the real world is beginning to fill up with the ghosts (Murphy's Ghosts?) of all the characters killed in computer games?? . . . over to Japanese friends . . .
King Arthur and co. What the hell is he doing here? Western religion and folktale are often drawn upon in the anime tradition simply for exotic effect. (Think Neon Genesis Evangelion and the Bible.) Here however there is an interesting link. The books Ash buys and which so mysteriously prove to be blank, appear to be actual books on Arthurian legend. One of them at least (working from memory here) refers to a theory which has emerged in recent years for the origins of the Arthur myths, which appear to have a wide distribution in world cultures. This theory holds that they originated in the Caucasus region and spread to the west via the Roman empire, mingling with local celtic motifs in Gaul and Britain. The spread also apparently went the other way, one author even hinting that parallels to the story of the return of Excalibur to the Lady of the Lake can be found in Japanese legend . . .
Anyway, although a serious historical hypothesis the theory has achieved something of a cult status, and seems likely to be something that would be current in Oshii's otaku-world. Incidentally, one of the tribes identified as carriers of the Arthurian material to the west are the Alans -is Mr Glover part of the conspiracy? (^_^)
Finally, am I alone in finding the way the film borrows from recent Polish and central European history highly disturbing? The imagery of the 'Prague Spring' and the Hungarian uprising is very uncomfortable for me to watch, especially also having visited Warsaw where the film is shot and seen the monuments on nearly every street corner to the terrible events of the WW2 siege of Warsaw and its Ghetto. The 'making of' video 'Days of Avalon' includes scenes of the residents watching the filming of the street tank battle. Many of the older ones may well have seen the same thing for real. I get the feeling that Oshii either doesn't understand the moral resonances of these scenes in a European context, or . . . well. Anyway, this is not an attempt to start a political debate, but just to remind myself that once again japanese cultural perspectives are probably important for understanding a film that superficially looks like something familiar -a European art-house movie of the late cold-war period- but is actually something quite else . . .
And finally, finally. Check the scene of the first cast-meeting in 'Days of Avalon' where the actor who plays 'Bishop' points out that his own surname is . . . 'Biskop' -Polish for Bishop . . .
From Arkadiusz Danilecki
Just a fast few thoughts on Avalon. Most have been already said, but I wonder whether Oshii is familiar with works of Stanislaw Lem? I mean Oshii said he knows at least Wajda's movies, so maybe also Lem's work, they were translated into Japanese, I think - and he is old enough to remember them...
In few Lem's works there is an expression of strong Lem's belief, that once you get into VR [Lem didn't use the term VR directly], you can never return - since the "returning" can be also part of VR. Once you log in, you can never log off, so to speak. So Ash may live in VR all the time - and she in fact has no hope of ever returning to real life...
Some excerpts from Gérard Kraus' dissertation on the Quest For Interactivity as part of MA in Science Fiction Studies
The treatment of interactive narratives in film, much like the aforementioned representations of the analogue gaming mode of classic role-playing games can be split into the same three frames of performance; real world, game rules and mechanics and game-diegesis.
At this point a couple of films that made MacKay's fantasy film list prove useful as the list he established is chronologically located around the early days of computers and videogames alike. As with many new technologies in the past, the rise in popularity of arcade games, Luna parks, the advent of personal computers and videogame consoles in the home, have given rise to warnings about these new, often incomprehensible machines.
Tron, The Last Starfighter and Explorers all deal with the potentials and dangers of computer technology, especially of the interactively entertaining kind. One of the masters of the Japanese Animation business has taken on this problem recently.
Mamoru Oshii's Avalon portrays a future in which a very popular worldwide interactive game allows its players to earn their keep by playing. Following Ash, an elite player on a quest to discover a legendary playing level called "Class real" the film transgresses many levels of reality to the point where, in the resolution, the audience is left unsure what is reality and what is not. As with the example of analogue gaming,
Avalon depicts the three frames of performance, even though, through the above mentioned confusion one cannot be sure as to where exactly they apply. Considering that the fabled class real coincides with the player being released from his trappings inside the game, we see the real world for only a short while.
The game's rules are represented by the elderly game-master that appears on-screen before and after Ash's forays into the game, additionally we see Ash's game character statistics on screen as she modifies them and is being paid for her efforts. Oshii deal with the recent phenomenon of Mass Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) and warns that too complete an immersion in them can lead to loss of reality.
Ash's "awakening" into the real world and her discovery of a coloured, populates world pulsing with life, opposed to the sepia-toned and empty world she was trapped in before parallels the exploration that a young child goes through.
Some thoughts from 'Dr'. One thing to note particularly - the take on why the statues have their heads in Class Real
Thanks for the Avalon website! I've been a fan of Ghost in the Shell for a long time, and recently been looking though Oshii's other works, what a film! I have read a lot of the thoughts on the film people had, some interesting stuff, I had a different take on it to a lot of them, and I thought I would share it with you.
I feel the film is all about reality, and what feels real for us. What is 'real' and what is not is entirely down to our perception. Ash is somewhat lost in this sense, for her the game is as real as the world outside it. This is represented by the colour of the film. It starts inside the game, in there everything has an unusual yellow glow, which highlights the fact that this place is unreal (from the viewpoint of Ash, whose view we follow throughout). When we get out of the game however, the unreal colour carries through. This highlights that Ash's feelings of reality are as absent outside the game as within. In her mind, her reality, she is as much the Ash people know inside the game as she is a person outside of this ingame persona, maybe more so.
When Ash finally gets to class real, the colour changes. I think this is showing us that she has finally found her 'reality'. Murphy remarks that she no longer has the silver steak in her hair. The people who play the game call her Ash because of this streak. The absence of this shows us that here, she is no longer just 'Ash' the ingame persona, but she is finally herself at last, someone outside of the online persona. She does not have the streak outside of the game, she is real there, but the world around her does not feel real to her, hence its colour. Now she is finally real, and so is the world she is in, she has finally found her place. This is reinforced by Murphy saying 'Don't let appearences confuse you, this is where you belong'. He had taken the bullets out of his gun because he didn't want to win. He knew this is where Ash belonged, and he had to make her kill him in order to achieve this. I believe at the end, she stays in this world, in class real, where she and the world she exists in finally feels like reality to her. This is also shown by the statues, outside of class real the statues were incomplete, they were missing their head, their face, who they were, at the end she sees the statues whole, as she now is.
So the film is about finding your reality. You must find out who you feel like you are, but also the world around you, you must find what feels real to you. You cannot let the appearence of yourself or the world confuse what you feel is real. You must strive to find whats real to you, and let go of both what you think you should be and what others think you are. You must find a reality that makes sense to you.
Those were my thoughts anyway, I found it hard explaining myself there (as always with Oshii films, he reminds me of David Lynch in this respect). Thanks again for the site, I enoyed reading it and I am sure a lot of others did too.
I wrote: Ash tries to get information about him, but finds little beyond his character class (Bishop) and level (13). Here we enter one of the language problems... the character classes are inspired by D&D and mostly match - Fighter, Thief, Mage... however the character class called Bishop in the movie would more normally be Cleric or Priest. However it gets more confused... while the film uses Bishop as a character class, it also uses it as name - we never find out the name of the person watching Ash; he's always just referred to as Bishop or 'a bishop'. There's probably a nuance that's been lost in the translation. Artur comments: Just to add to the confusion, the actor playing Bishop is Dariusz Biskupski . His second name is related to Bishop in Polish language. Biskup = Bishop. So you could translate it to Dariusz Bishopski.
From Scott Butler
Thoughts: As noted by Simon Bird, I think there is more going on with the weapons than meets the eye. His descriptions - specifically, Ash taking Murphy's gun, reminded me eerily of playing S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl (based very loosely on the Russian movie Stalker), where I'd check my own gun's state (durability, range, rate of fire, damage) in the inventory screen, then comparing that to a newly-acquired weapon, and discarding the inferior of the two. Just looking at a gun in the game or knowing its real-world performance is useless, you have to check the underlying statistics before picking a replacement firearm. I think this is what happened here: Murphy's gun may not have any truly special properties, but it had better statistics than the one she was given.
Also his note about pistols as status symbols or powerups: I'd like to pose a counter-example. Ash is using a sniper rifle, unwieldy at close range. Thus, she needs a backup weapon for when the enemy is in her face. None of the other characters are shown wielding their pistols, possibly because either:
A) They didn't need to draw them, having assault rifles or SMGs, which would be fine for the close-up combat we see most of the time in Avalon; or
B) They simply didn't have one, trusting their primary weapon to do all the talking. Someone with such a specialized weapon as a sniper rifle, though, would require some other weapon to compensate for its weaknesses (low rate of fire, not designed to be fired without using a scope).
I think Bishop gave Ash his gun simply because she expended bullets from her own pistol (and had no other gun), and Oshii wanted his heroine to use his favorite weapon.
Anyway, other points, which I don't think were raised:
1) During the starting scene, we see Ash's sniper rifle (listed as SDV in her gear list). We also see her equipment list - note that it only contains her SDV and pistol. However, later in the movie when they fight the Citadel, you'll notice that her rifle has a much larger scope. When she shoots the soldiers in the back in the Citadel fight (Right after Stunner says "Bishop's throwing away his front line men"), you also see the scope's crosshair is different from when she shoots the cockpit of the bomber helicopter at the start, so this change is intentional and not a prop mix-up on the set. She somehow gets the scope between Ruins C66, and Flak Tower22 (since you can see the edge of the bigger scope on her rifle just at the start of this scene). This begs the question: Where did she get the new scope from?
Unfortunately I have no answer, so on the the second observation:
2) When the bishop ("noname") destroys the helicopter and Ash looks up his stats, it has his gear listed (Only an M1910, which I assume is Mauser 1910, but that pistol doesn't look like the gun he has, which is a Mauser C96). I assume that someone could look up such info on Ash. This leads to the following question: Why do the fake nine sisters try and sell info on her gear? Anyone could look it up on the terminal, unless there is more to the gear list (and her gear) than meets the eye. My observation above seems to confirm this: no scopes, laser sights, night vision goggles, ammunition or other miscellaneous equipment is listed under "gear" in the player profiles, so I assume this kind of thing is what the fake nine sisters really wanted.
Pet Theories from D Burnham...
I'd like to offer a few ideas as an alternative to the powerfully persuasive concept that Ash's dog represents her last hold on reality and disappears as her mental attachment to the actual world fades. I will refer to Ash's daily life outside the war games (and before Class Real) as her "normal reality," although that mundane life is perceptually distorted or is a virtual reality construct.
Assuming that "Avalon" takes place entirely within a virtual reality game world, I get the impression that Bishop---or some anonymous controller---removed the hound from Ash's "normal reality" and relocated the animal to Class Real so that it (or its image) could act as a clue to lure Ash to the opera house and her rendezvous with Murphy...hence the poster (with prominent dog photo) that Ash views/is shown as soon as she arrives in Class Real. Also, could Bishop or another controller have manipulated Ash by purposely depriving her of her animal companion, to immerse her in loneliness or ennui, to compel her back into the war games and eventual ascendancy to a higher level?
Once in Class Real, the dog riding in the car in the traffic scene could have been intended as another motivator/clue enticing Ash to find the opera house and complete her mission, although she fails to notice the dog. The dog could also be a discarded/vanishing element in the gaming challenge of Class Real; when the pet is no longer of value to Ash's progress, it tragically departs/is removed from her gameplay permanently.
I actually FAVOR the notion that Ash progressively loses touch with reality and devolves into a fantasy existence, her real-life dog incrementally exiting her perception as she succumbs to madness. My own musings about Ash and her pet are just meant as musings, additional possibilities. Thanks for maintaining your wonderful website and your forum for brilliant contributors.
Alan Glover (web - at - ninesisters - dot - org)
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