Evangelion & One Hour Photo

By Aaron Clark on Thursday, November 10th, 2016

As an Evangelion fan, one of the things that I really enjoy is finding connections and threads between Evangelion and other works.  Not just in terms of works that influenced Evangelion, or that Evangelion specifically referenced, but also works that have subsequently been influenced by Evangelion and have made specific references to Evangelion.  It’s fun to see how and where Evangelion pops up, especially when it crosses over into western media.  One Hour Photo is one such example, and it’s one that periodically comes up in discussion within Evangelion fandom.

One Hour Photo is a 2002 psychological thriller written and directed by Mark Romanek and starring Robin Williams as Sy Parrish, a photo technician at a fictionalized version of Walmart.

As a character, there’s something that’s just not quite right about him, but it’s the sort of thing that is partially masked by or can be attributed to a devotion to his trade, and the awkwardness that comes from the sort of small talk and interactions that happen in retail spaces.

Unlike many suspenseful films that follow the victim, One Hour Photo instead follows Sy’s point of view, and you get a glimpse of his inner thoughts and processes via voice-over monologue.

He has no children, no wife, no girlfriend, and apparently no friends or family.  The only apparent attachment he has is a hamster he keeps as a pet.  Beyond that, his existence is almost completely devoid of life and color.  His hair, his clothes, his apartment, his car, even the store he works in is sterile aside from the blue vests, and the facade of friendliness that is imposed upon its employees.

It’s because of this that he lives vicariously through the Yorkin family, Nina, Will, and their son Jake, and why he fantasizes about being a part of their family that he sees as idyllic even though contrary to the happiness captured in their photos, their family is anything but perfect.

He takes every opportunity to earn their favor with compliments and gifts or by adding a picture of himself to the end of a roll of film.

The extent of Sy’s fixation on the Yorkins is quickly revealed to be anything but innocent, and that over the years he has been stealing extra copies of the Yorkin’s family photos, which he’s used to cover an entire wall in his apartment.

Midway through the film, Sy runs into Jake, who wants to buy a toy, that just happens to be an Evangelion figure.

After a brief exchange about the Evangelion figure, Jake’s father tells him to leave the toy, and whisks him away.  Sy offers to put the figure back, but instead he buys it and later follows Jake to his soccer practice and tries to give the toy to him as a gift.  Jake refuses the gift, saying he can’t accept it from him.

At this point in the film, Sy’s world begins to unravel.  His boss discovers that he has been stealing photos, and serves him notice that he’s being terminated.  Meanwhile, Sy discovers evidence of Will Yorkin’s infidelity when another customer has incriminating photos developed.  Between these two events, his connection to the Yorkins is severed, and his fantasy is shattered, causing him to cross the line, from passive stalker, to credible threat.

Evangelion factors into one last scene in the film, one that is subtle but absolutely pivotal to the plot.  Sy awakens from a nightmare, and stares at the Evangelion figure, which he has placed on the night stand next to his bed.  The figure, with it’s wings extended, represents an avenging angel.  It bears a bladed weapon, which represents the knife Sy stole from the store on his last day.  The figure which he originally meant as a gift for Jake, now spurs him to action.

The use of this figure keeps the film as a periodic topic of conversation, and sometimes debate within Evangelion fandom.  Many years ago, Matt Greenfield, who was the English language director for Neon Genesis Evangelion, explained at an Evangelion panel at Tekkoshocon that the figure was Robin Williams’ creative contribution to the film.

Tiffany Grant: “Yeah, remember that movie, what is it, 24 Hour Photo? And the kid has got the Eva thing? And, yeah…”

Matt Greenfield: “That’s not in the original script, Robin Williams added that”.

It makes sense, seeing as Robin Williams was known for being a fan of anime and games, his daughter is even named after Princess Zelda.

Comments from Matt Greenfield also seem to indicate that Robin Williams was taped talking about Evangelion for ADV Films’ Live Action Evangelion pitch package.

Matt Greenfield: “Well, it would really help if we put our pitch package together.  The first thing in the pitch package is Robin Williams talking about Eva, because he’s a big Eva fan”.

Given all of this, fans didn’t seem to have much reason to doubt the statement that Eva’s inclusion in One Hour Photo was Williams’ creative contribution.  Even the original storyboards seem to indicate that the figure was changed to an Eva during pre-production, and Robin Williams can be seen in script reads holding the very same figure.

But contrary to what we all accepted for years as fact, Mark Romanek’s commentary with Robin Williams seemed to cast some doubt on this.

Mark Romanek: “I picked this particular toy because I liked that it was… seemed like this sort of white, avenging angel… good angel… and later in the film you see it’s wings are spread out and he’s got this big sword which is very similar to the hunting knife that Sy gets later.  So it ends up being an attempt to connect with the boy, but later it sort of inspires Sy to act”.

Not to mention, if Williams was such a big fan, why did he mispronounce “Evangelion” so badly?  But then again, this could be a very minor point, after all, there are people who are very clearly fans, and the way they mispronounce things is just a character quirk.

Wanting a definitive answer to this, I exchanged a few emails with Mark Romanek, the writer and director of One Hour Photo, and asked him how the Evangelion figure ended up in the film.  Here’s what he had to say:

Mark Romanek: “I didn’t know anything about [the figure] and just thought it looked cool and would give Robin’s character a reminder to avenge.  Robin knew all about it. Not a lot of thinking went into it beyond that.”

This initial response was somewhat ambiguous, so I asked for further clarification.

Eva Monkey: “How did you come across it then? Was it something Robin showed you during pre-production?”

Romanek’s response was much more clear:

Mark Romanek: “No. I was searching for a toy that would play later in the film as a spur to Robin’s character to take action and I came across it. Robin was not involved in that decision.”

So while Robin Williams was familiar with Evangelion prior to production on One Hour Photo, the Mass Produced Evangelion figure was sought out and included in the film entirely by Romanek, not Williams as previously thought.

Beyond the role that the Eva figure plays in the plot, One Hour Photo is a film that has a lot to offer Evangelion fans.  It shares similar thematic elements, such as character study, dream states, and mental disorders.  Like Evangelion, One Hour Photo is intricately constructed in a way that’s almost Kubrickian.  The film makes interesting use of sound, color, and visual symbolism to effectively characterize Sy, and convey his internal mental state.

If you enjoyed the more serious moments of character study and psychological drama in Evangelion, One Hour Photo is a film that you’ll definitely want to check out.  I wouldn’t say it’s one of my favorite films, but it’s definitely one that I consider a must-have in my collection.

I’d also like to add that if you enjoy Robin Williams’ role in One Hour Photo, I’d also recommend looking into Insomnia, another psychological thriller released the same year.  Williams portrayed a similarly detached antagonist in this Christopher Nolan directed film.