The Never Ending story (1984) is a film adaptation of a novel of the same name written by Michael Ende, or at least one part of it. Basically it is about Fantasia, a world beyond the boundaries of our world. We find out about it by a young boy Bastian (Barret Oliver) who steals a book from an antique bookstore while running away from school bullies. He hides in the school attic and starts to read it and eventually finds out that the book is really about him and his fantasy world.
Fantasia, a magical world full of incredible creatures is in trouble. The Nothing, a very abstract and destructive force is destroying this world and nobody knows why. Atreyu, a young warrior is sent on a quest to find the cure for the ill empress. Her illness is caused by the Nothing. During this quest he finds out the true nature and purpose of Fantasia and leads Bastian to give the empress a new name – an act that will cure her and barely save Fantasia, or what’s left of it.
So, who’s the villain? One might say it is the Nothing – not your typical everyday villain. It is an abstract term which describes the emptiness that follows once humans have lost all of their hopes and fallen into despair. It is this despair that creates the Nothing which in turn destroys the world of Fantasia which is, indeed, the world of human imagination. One might notice a very existentialist touch of the story here. In the movie it is portrayed as a natural destructive force which tears the world of Fantasia apart and leaves literally nothing behind. At first glance one is led to believe that this abstract Nothing has no other purpose than destroying the world of Fantasia. But not all of it is that simple.
So, how can one fight the Nothing? It’s abstract, it does not speak, it’s only depicted as a form of a natural disaster. How can Atreyu conflict this evil if it has no shape or intellect whatsoever? The plot then introduces Gmork – a big, black, fangy, evil, bitter, very pissed off, coldblooded and angry but intelligent wolf who is sent off by the Nothing to kill Atreyu because he is he only one capable to stop the Nothing. So, in fact, we are led to believe that the Nothing has some form of intellect because it cares about its survival and has the ability to communicate with its subordinates.
Who is then Gmork? In his words he is the “servant of the power behind Nothing”. Nothing else, or at least so it seems. But since the Nothing is not a physical being, it is a force, Gmork is It’s physical embodiment. The same way the destructive force lies within the Nothing, the ruthless, destructive and angry character operates within Gmork. This is what one might call pure evil. Evil because it is evil, but yet not without just any reason.
When Atreyu finally meets Gmork in the ruined Spook City the true nature of Fantasia, the Nothing and its purpose is revealed:
G’mork: If you come any closer, I will rip you to shreds.
Atreyu: Who are you?
G’mork: I am G’mork. And you, whoever you are, can have the honor of being my last victim.
Atreyu: I will not die easily. I am a warrior!
G’mork: Ha! Brave warrior, then fight the Nothing.
Atreyu: But I can’t! I can’t get beyond the boundaries of Fantasia!
[G’mork laughs and Atreyu gets a little angry]
Atreyu: What’s so funny about that?
G’mork: Fantasia has no boundaries. [laughs]
Atreyu: That’s not true! You’re lying.
G’mork: Foolish boy. Don’t you know anything about Fantasia? It’s the world of human fantasy. Every part, every creature of it, is a piece of the dreams and hopes of mankind. Therefore, it has no boundaries.
Atreyu: But why is Fantasia dying, then?
G’mork: Because people have begun to lose their hopes and forget their dreams. So the Nothing grows stronger.
Atreyu: What is the Nothing?
G’mork: It’s the emptiness that’s left. It’s like a despair, destroying this world. And I have been trying to help it.
Atreyu: But why?
G’mork: Because people who have no hopes are easy to control; and whoever has the control… has the power!
Atreyu: Who are you, really?
G’mork: I am the servant of the power behind the Nothing. I was sent to kill the only one who could have stopped the Nothing. I lost him in the Swamps of Sadness. His name… was Atreyu.
[the ground shakes again and Atreyu is knocked down. He grabs a knife shaped piece of broken stone and stands up, ready to fight]
Atreyu: If we’re about to die anyway, I’d rather die fighting! Come for me, G’mork! I am Atreyu!
So, the Nothing in fact is someone’s tool. It is a power used by someone who wants to control humans. The nothing is not the villain, we haven’t actually met the real villain, only it’s deadly weapon. Gmork, on the other hand, is the closest thing we have to a villain in this movie. He knows the secret of the one using the Nothing – he/she wants the power to control humans. We don’t know who he/she is but we met the destructive force behind it and its representative -Gmork.
When it comes to Gmork I couldn’t help but notice some banality in his character. Ok, it is a very pissed of wolf who serves an evil force. If he serves evil than he has no honor, therefore it is unlikely that he even knows the concept of honor. Having that in mind, is it logical for him to say to Atreyu that he will have the honor of being his last victim? Not really and this is why: this sentence is yet one of those sentences where the villain enjoys dwelling over his own evilness. This is a characteristic of someone who is evil just because he’s evil. Gmork, on the other hand is evil in his core, but he is a servant of a dark force which makes him evil. This is the reason of his evilness. Such pure coldblooded evil cannot understand the grasp of joy behind being just – evil.
However, this banality is later on fixed when Gmork reveals his intellect: he explains to Atreyu the true nature of Fantasia and the Nothing and during this process he reveals an intellectual but authoritative figure. It was this part that intrigued me about this villain. This intellect gave Gmork character depth. If it were not for this aspect Gmork would be yet another banal evil just because he’s evil character in a movie made for younger audiences.
One must admit, that revealing the desire to rule over people by exploiting the world of human imagination is a rather severe and deep philosophical thought. What I find mostly intriguing is that it was meant for childrens audience. It embodies a lesson for them to never give up on their hopes and dreams or they will become easily exploited by powerful figures who will turn their inner world into nothing.