Avalon

Animation giant Oshii has made a couple of live-action films before, with undistiguished results, but this is some kind of masterpiece. Shot in Poland (in Polish!), it envisages a society in which a virtual-reality war game called Avalon is an illegal, underworld cult. Woman player Ash feels ready to leave team-play behind and go solo in Class A; the one blemish in her record is a game she is rumoured to have aborted by calling 'Reset' - a game which prompted team leader Murphy to go solo and end up apparently brain dead in hospital. Oshii presents her quest to triumph in Class A (and the two astonishing levels that lie beyond it) as a dissection of will and identity considerably more challenging than anything Cronenberg managed in eXistenZ. Using tinted monochrome images (only close-ups of food and the deceptive environment of Class Real are in full colour), elements of Arthurian myth, memories of Eastern Bloc war movies and CG effects of staggering sophistication, this plays like The Matrix re-imagined by Jan Svankmajer.

Release details

Duration: 106 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Mamoru Oshii
Screenwriter: Kazunori Ito
Cast: Malgorzata Foremniak
Wladyslaw Kowalski
Jerzy Gudejko
Dariusz Biskupski
Bartek Swiderski
Katarzyna Bargielowska
Alicja Sapryk
Michael Breitenwald
Zuzanna Kask

Average User Rating

5 / 5

Rating Breakdown

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theairburns

SPOILERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This film has beeninterpreted in many ways, all of them equally convincing from my point of view, and here is mine: Mamoru Oshii’s Avalon In the opening sequence of Mamoru Oshii’s film Avalon we see the protagonist Ash involved in a virtual reality war game mission that she successfully completes. Only a select number of persons can play this game called Avalon, and an even more select number who get paid to play after they have demonstrated exceptional skill, almost always persons who join a “Party� of other players to combine forces to reach the highest level, but Ash is a preeminent solo player. Players go to an assigned room at what is called a terminal branch, where large numbers of spectators gather in an open club-like room to view a large holographic projection of the war game. These clubs are run by a “Terminal Manager� appointed by state functionaries called Bishops. Later in the film it is discovered that these terminal managers can, like the bishops, enter the game at will without using the terminal access technology that players have to use. The terminal manager that Ash uses tells her at one point that “Avalon is just a game [that can be cleared]� but that a program inside the game called Special Class A, where Ash wants to go to find Murphy, a player who disappeared in Special Class A and whom Ash obsesses on (I would say loves) exists independent of the game and where a player cannot “reset� the game. Special Class A is a hidden-away, forbidden field outside of what can be controlled in the game. The game is the exclusive form of entertainment for disillusioned youth and young adults trapped in a desolate, totalitarian wasteland, much like what was portrayed in Radford’s 1984 and Gilliam’s Brazil. Participation as spectators in the game is their only escape from their misery, and it is the best device the state has to control the minds of this group most prone to rebel. We never see any ruler in this society, only two state functionaries, a terminal manager and a bishop. The latter is a person who had early on mastered the game and was then offered a job at controlling the game for the State. The problem for the State, however, is that the game was originally designed by a radical, even subversive, computer programmer who goes by the name Nine Sisters for reasons that become obvious: the game was designed to mirror the Legend of King Arthur and how heroic warriors are eventually led to Avalon, a realm of eternal reward, free from the repetitive horror stories that we humans devise. This seems to have been the plan of Nine Sisters from the beginning: she/he took on the entire State, providing a path in virtual reality for those heroic enough to escape from the absolute and everlasting tyranny of the State. The State has no choice. At first it outlaws the game, but soon realizes that the illegality of the game only inspires the youth even more to pursue it, the only form of rebellion available to them. So the State opts to keep the game as well as its illegality as a continued attraction under the guise of its being dangerous (a player could become brain-dead playing it) while simultaneously infiltrating it to take control of it and hopefully catch up with and destroy Nine Sisters’ hidden program—the ultimate escape from the totalitarian state into a life more abundantly. The state functionaries make great headway in taking control of the game itself, but fail miserably at getting to Class Real, the heart of Avalon’s hidden program, although, at great expense to the State, the bishops have been able to gain partial access to the door to Class Real called Special Class A, but even this partial access is granted by Nine Sisters in his/her effort to get the heroes to Class Real. For example, Ash after entering Special Class A becomes more real than she ever has as a digital representation and extension of her self, but the bishop can only enter that realm on a digitally constructed monitor in his digital connection to Ash, not in his digitally represented self independent of his digital relationship to Ash. Nine Sisters is simply a genius that never met his/her match (we never discover who she/he actually is, but the implication is that he/she is immortal in the virtual reality landscape, her/his flesh having totally coalesced with his/her digital representation/extension). The best way to advance in the game, becoming more powerful and making lots more money, is by joining a “Party� of persons with different skills like analyzing data, scouting and warring. It is almost impossible to reach the highest realm without joining a Party. Ash had belonged to a party called Wizard, the most renowned and seemingly invincible Party the game ever had (which made me suspect that Ash, Murphy and Stunner had become a series of clones through a century or more of State control). But during a particular battle one of the members pushes a “reset� button when in the face of danger, which can have dire consequences, and in this case it left them all brain-dead (it’s possible no one hit reset—this being a cover story to hide the real occurrence—that they were simply defeated because of a cowardly action on the part of Stunner, their scout-guide: it’s left up in the air of speculation). The three main members of Wizard—Ash, Stunner and Murphy, the leader—all become brain-dead (“Unreturned�) and become trapped in their digital selves inside the game, for the longer you play the game the more your physical (bio-chemical-neurological) existence coalesces with your digital self. But Murphy is the first to analyze the data and discern that this being trapped in the game is not a bad thing, but a plan by Nine Sisters to liberate him from the totalitarian regime, and that is what he begins to pursue and succeeds. Once Ash is trapped in the game, the state functionaries create a program inside the game constituting her habitual “real life� environment that just keeps looping. But Nine Sisters is able to move into any part of the game at will, and always appears as a ghost—not just directly outside Special Class A, but in places like the hospital where the Unreturned reside in comas. Nine Sisters also provides a singular clue to what life is like in the hidden program of Avalon with the presence of dogs in the environments of digitally constructed persons who occupy space in the game, not only Ash’s dog, but all dogs (these pets have a hyper-reality in the game, in my view, because in the beginning Nine Sisters had used real dogs that over time, like humans, continually in degrees coalesce with their digital representations, and because they coalesced the longest, from the beginning, their digital selves are more real than the human digital selves, especially persons created not by a digital representation of real persons, but from data used to construct them within the game). It wasn’t the state functionaries that provided Ash with a pet (they are too cold and distant to accomplish that) but Nine Sisters, and the first clue that Nine Sisters is leading Ash to the hidden program of Avalon is when her dog disappears—the only creature that is “real� to her—and she is moved subconsciously to go after it. The State’s functionaries called Bishops work tirelessly at great cost to find a way to destroy the hidden program because their employers, like all tyrants, despise any semblance of freedom (O’Brien, the interrogator in “1984� tells Winston when he’s stretched out on the torture rack, “Winston…if you want to see a picture of the future, picture a big black boot stepping into the face of humanity into eternity.�) We only get to see one bishop in the film, one of the “successors to the Apostles�, the original group formed by the oligarchs to control the game and find a way to destroy Nine Sister’s hidden program. The bishop we see, in trying to convince Ash to strive to become a bishop for the State, explains to her what her purpose would be: “Ash…you know which is the better game: One you think you can clear but can’t…or one that looks impossible but isn’t…Finding that subtle balance…and maintaining it up through all the levels…is our side’s job.� In other words, the State now knows after possibly centuries that the immortal Nine Sisters will always be nine steps ahead of the State, but that is no reason not to fight. But whereas the tyrants cling to hope for success, much like governmental leaders of our time cling to the hope of war as a means toward some good, the functionaries have learned to just enjoy the fight itself—the meaning is in playing the game the best you can and nothing else, and because Ash is a master game-player, the bishop is confident that this is the best enticement to have her come over to their side and work for the State, fulfilling her deepest longing: The fight itself IS THE GAME which is the only meaning in the life of a warrior. To get a better sense of all this one can consult the writings of Marshall McCluan, the 20th century Canadian philosopher who got the ball rolling in understanding technology as the extension of man. Or consult that memorable scene in Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey where our ape-like ancestor discovers a weapon. He becomes so enthralled after using it successfully in battle, that he flings it high into the air, and the scene shifts in that instant to the future, the weapon now appearing as a spacecraft in flight. And with the digital age the monitor is now the ultimate extension of man, first explored in Cronenberg’s Videodrome, and then The Matrix, and then the ultimate artistic expression in Avalon. With the death of God, or, more accurately, the death of a glut of misrepresentations of God, especially by Christians, comes the death of transcendence, and something must replace it, for it is a natural program in our nature required for our fulfillment as persons, and the analogous digital realms of high abstraction dominate in this field. What was once promised by Judaic-Christian prophets is now promised by technocrats. Oshii’s masterpiece, although combining all the “data� of mystical traditions East and West, including that of the highly advanced Greek pagan culture, analogously, it is Christian symbolism that dominates in cluing us in on the death of transcendence, even though the Catholic Church hierarchy is specifically used analogously to denote the corruption of functionaries in religious institutions and what is inherently evil in how they can so easily abuse their power, even seek to abuse it in a deliberate heightening of their sense of power, and in light of the child abuse scandal the evidence is in. But the Church’s main opposition for over two thousand years has been the gnostic impulse that reaches for higher spiritual ground by separating from the body and living in pure spirit; but Oshii does not succumb to this kind of spiritual quest. Like Jews and Catholics, he wants to have his cake and eat it to, to have spirit coalesce with flesh, made visible in Avalon when Murphy bleeds at the end.

theairburns

SPOILERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This film has beeninterpreted in many ways, all of them equally convincing from my point of view, and here is mine: Mamoru Oshii’s Avalon In the opening sequence of Mamoru Oshii’s film Avalon we see the protagonist Ash involved in a virtual reality war game mission that she successfully completes. Only a select number of persons can play this game called Avalon, and an even more select number who get paid to play after they have demonstrated exceptional skill, almost always persons who join a “Party� of other players to combine forces to reach the highest level, but Ash is a preeminent solo player. Players go to an assigned room at what is called a terminal branch, where large numbers of spectators gather in an open club-like room to view a large holographic projection of the war game. These clubs are run by a “Terminal Manager� appointed by state functionaries called Bishops. Later in the film it is discovered that these terminal managers can, like the bishops, enter the game at will without using the terminal access technology that players have to use. The terminal manager that Ash uses tells her at one point that “Avalon is just a game [that can be cleared]� but that a program inside the game called Special Class A, where Ash wants to go to find Murphy, a player who disappeared in Special Class A and whom Ash obsesses on (I would say loves) exists independent of the game and where a player cannot “reset� the game. Special Class A is a hidden-away, forbidden field outside of what can be controlled in the game. The game is the exclusive form of entertainment for disillusioned youth and young adults trapped in a desolate, totalitarian wasteland, much like what was portrayed in Radford’s 1984 and Gilliam’s Brazil. Participation as spectators in the game is their only escape from their misery, and it is the best device the state has to control the minds of this group most prone to rebel. We never see any ruler in this society, only two state functionaries, a terminal manager and a bishop. The latter is a person who had early on mastered the game and was then offered a job at controlling the game for the State. The problem for the State, however, is that the game was originally designed by a radical, even subversive, computer programmer who goes by the name Nine Sisters for reasons that become obvious: the game was designed to mirror the Legend of King Arthur and how heroic warriors are eventually led to Avalon, a realm of eternal reward, free from the repetitive horror stories that we humans devise. This seems to have been the plan of Nine Sisters from the beginning: she/he took on the entire State, providing a path in virtual reality for those heroic enough to escape from the absolute and everlasting tyranny of the State. The State has no choice. At first it outlaws the game, but soon realizes that the illegality of the game only inspires the youth even more to pursue it, the only form of rebellion available to them. So the State opts to keep the game as well as its illegality as a continued attraction under the guise of its being dangerous (a player could become brain-dead playing it) while simultaneously infiltrating it to take control of it and hopefully catch up with and destroy Nine Sisters’ hidden program—the ultimate escape from the totalitarian state into a life more abundantly. The state functionaries make great headway in taking control of the game itself, but fail miserably at getting to Class Real, the heart of Avalon’s hidden program, although, at great expense to the State, the bishops have been able to gain partial access to the door to Class Real called Special Class A, but even this partial access is granted by Nine Sisters in his/her effort to get the heroes to Class Real. For example, Ash after entering Special Class A becomes more real than she ever has as a digital representation and extension of her self, but the bishop can only enter that realm on a digitally constructed monitor in his digital connection to Ash, not in his digitally represented self independent of his digital relationship to Ash. Nine Sisters is simply a genius that never met his/her match (we never discover who she/he actually is, but the implication is that he/she is immortal in the virtual reality landscape, her/his flesh having totally coalesced with his/her digital representation/extension). The best way to advance in the game, becoming more powerful and making lots more money, is by joining a “Party� of persons with different skills like analyzing data, scouting and warring. It is almost impossible to reach the highest realm without joining a Party. Ash had belonged to a party called Wizard, the most renowned and seemingly invincible Party the game ever had (which made me suspect that Ash, Murphy and Stunner had become a series of clones through a century or more of State control). But during a particular battle one of the members pushes a “reset� button when in the face of danger, which can have dire consequences, and in this case it left them all brain-dead (it’s possible no one hit reset—this being a cover story to hide the real occurrence—that they were simply defeated because of a cowardly action on the part of Stunner, their scout-guide: it’s left up in the air of speculation). The three main members of Wizard—Ash, Stunner and Murphy, the leader—all become brain-dead (“Unreturned�) and become trapped in their digital selves inside the game, for the longer you play the game the more your physical (bio-chemical-neurological) existence coalesces with your digital self. But Murphy is the first to analyze the data and discern that this being trapped in the game is not a bad thing, but a plan by Nine Sisters to liberate him from the totalitarian regime, and that is what he begins to pursue and succeeds. Once Ash is trapped in the game, the state functionaries create a program inside the game constituting her habitual “real life� environment that just keeps looping. But Nine Sisters is able to move into any part of the game at will, and always appears as a ghost—not just directly outside Special Class A, but in places like the hospital where the Unreturned reside in comas. Nine Sisters also provides a singular clue to what life is like in the hidden program of Avalon with the presence of dogs in the environments of digitally constructed persons who occupy space in the game, not only Ash’s dog, but all dogs (these pets have a hyper-reality in the game, in my view, because in the beginning Nine Sisters had used real dogs that over time, like humans, continually in degrees coalesce with their digital representations, and because they coalesced the longest, from the beginning, their digital selves are more real than the human digital selves, especially persons created not by a digital representation of real persons, but from data used to construct them within the game). It wasn’t the state functionaries that provided Ash with a pet (they are too cold and distant to accomplish that) but Nine Sisters, and the first clue that Nine Sisters is leading Ash to the hidden program of Avalon is when her dog disappears—the only creature that is “real� to her—and she is moved subconsciously to go after it. The State’s functionaries called Bishops work tirelessly at great cost to find a way to destroy the hidden program because their employers, like all tyrants, despise any semblance of freedom (O’Brien, the interrogator in “1984� tells Winston when he’s stretched out on the torture rack, “Winston…if you want to see a picture of the future, picture a big black boot stepping into the face of humanity into eternity.�) We only get to see one bishop in the film, one of the “successors to the Apostles�, the original group formed by the oligarchs to control the game and find a way to destroy Nine Sister’s hidden program. The bishop we see, in trying to convince Ash to strive to become a bishop for the State, explains to her what her purpose would be: “Ash…you know which is the better game: One you think you can clear but can’t…or one that looks impossible but isn’t…Finding that subtle balance…and maintaining it up through all the levels…is our side’s job.� In other words, the State now knows after possibly centuries that the immortal Nine Sisters will always be nine steps ahead of the State, but that is no reason not to fight. But whereas the tyrants cling to hope for success, much like governmental leaders of our time cling to the hope of war as a means toward some good, the functionaries have learned to just enjoy the fight itself—the meaning is in playing the game the best you can and nothing else, and because Ash is a master game-player, the bishop is confident that this is the best enticement to have her come over to their side and work for the State, fulfilling her deepest longing: The fight itself IS THE GAME which is the only meaning in the life of a warrior. To get a better sense of all this one can consult the writings of Marshall McCluan, the 20th century Canadian philosopher who got the ball rolling in understanding technology as the extension of man. Or consult that memorable scene in Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey where our ape-like ancestor discovers a weapon. He becomes so enthralled after using it successfully in battle, that he flings it high into the air, and the scene shifts in that instant to the future, the weapon now appearing as a spacecraft in flight. And with the digital age the monitor is now the ultimate extension of man, first explored in Cronenberg’s Videodrome, and then The Matrix, and then the ultimate artistic expression in Avalon. With the death of God, or, more accurately, the death of a glut of misrepresentations of God, especially by Christians, comes the death of transcendence, and something must replace it, for it is a natural program in our nature required for our fulfillment as persons, and the analogous digital realms of high abstraction dominate in this field. What was once promised by Judaic-Christian prophets is now promised by technocrats. Oshii’s masterpiece, although combining all the “data� of mystical traditions East and West, including that of the highly advanced Greek pagan culture, analogously, it is Christian symbolism that dominates in cluing us in on the death of transcendence, even though the Catholic Church hierarchy is specifically used analogously to denote the corruption of functionaries in religious institutions and what is inherently evil in how they can so easily abuse their power, even seek to abuse it in a deliberate heightening of their sense of power, and in light of the child abuse scandal the evidence is in. But the Church’s main opposition for over two thousand years has been the gnostic impulse that reaches for higher spiritual ground by separating from the body and living in pure spirit; but Oshii does not succumb to this kind of spiritual quest. Like Jews and Catholics, he wants to have his cake and eat it to, to have spirit coalesce with flesh, made visible in Avalon when Murphy bleeds at the end.