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The World's End
That's all folks.
In the beginning, there was Shaun of the Dead (2004), and it was good. Then director Edgar Wright said let there be Hot Fuzz (2007), and it was also good.
The former is a film about two young good-for-nothings who fail to realize a catastrophe developing around them but eventually overcome the obstacles thrown at them by the world. This comes at some cost: in one scene, almost jarringly out of place in its emotional heft but nattily indicative of Wright’s ambitious thematic aims, Shaun (Simon Pegg) breaks down over losing a loved one. Life comes at you fast when you’re just beginning adulthood, but despite the changes life brings, Shaun’s friendship with Ed (Nick Frost) perseveres.
In the latter film, Nicholas (Simon Pegg), an older version of Shaun, has his shit together. Too together. His tenacity, hard work, and trust in the system betray him, and he finds himself in a place he doesn’t want to be. He meets Danny (Nick Frost), a friend he makes against his better judgment. Nicholas feels that to allow the unambitious, plodding, and easily impressed Danny into his life would be to regress further into an increasingly unfulfilling existence. As his work drags him out of the city, his dreams of individual exceptionalism are crushed under the weight of society’s insistence that we conform to the “greater good” to experience fulfillment.
The World’s End (2013) came six years later, Wright’s conclusion to his self-dubbed “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy.” It would be easy to focus on the comedic brilliance (utilizing every tool in the filmmaker’s toolkit) of all three of Wright’s films, but for this, I’d recommend a video essay from the unmatched Every Frame a Painting channel on YouTube. What keeps me engaged, years later, with these films is their depth of thought and feeling. Shaun of the Dead captures the transition from adolescence, ready or not, into the real world. Hot Fuzz captures the grind of adulthood, and the crushing reality of the pressure society creates in us, demanding we fall in line. The World’s End captures the slow-creeping final realization that life is brief and you will die.
Sounds like a fun genre-comedy, right? It is. It’s razor-sharp, low-brow/high-brow British comedy that you can’t find anywhere else. Wright keeps the tradition of British wordplay alive in his films, but you’d be hard-pressed to argue that any of his movies indulge in wordcraft as much as this. Watching the film with my dad a few years ago was a vicarious thrill. His familiarity with classic British comedy (like Monty Python or Yes Minister) brought out the depth of the snappy conversations in the way best comedies do: shared laughter.
What if, one day, when you’re older, you visit your hometown, and no one recognizes you despite your legendary exploits that surely would’ve been remembered? You might first wonder if the times have changed and you weren’t as legendary as you had believed. But have you considered that the real reason no one remembers you is because robots have secretly taken over the town? Have you!? In a nutshell, this is the plot of The World’s End. Five friends reunite to try and feel the old spark of youth, confront their regret, and ultimately reckon with themselves and the end of it all. Movie Night readers might notice a striking similarity between this film and one we’ve previously written about. However, the themes of alienation from society and loved ones are well-trodden in the annals of cinema, so you might notice a striking similarity to any number of films that have left an impression on you.
In one revealing third-act scene, Andrew (Nick Frost) and Gary (Simon Pegg) finally confront each other with what they’ve wanted to say for over twenty years: each questioning the other’s humanity. How does one prove they’re human? Scars. Both kinds. They recount buried traumas mapped on their bodies like sorry monuments to their flagging friendship and thriving humanity. The scene is one of Wright’s best, not only because of the present characters but for those who aren’t. People we thought would still be with us but aren’t. It is here in the film where I think: As I get older and lose friends, I’m haunted by the plans that we had together that will never be.
I promise this movie is funny.
After the film's first act, right before all hell breaks loose, our five musketeers are at an impasse, about to part ways once and for all. Gary chastises them as they make their intention of leaving known:
Gary: “You know what I think? I think you’re jealous. Yeah, you’ve got your houses and your cars and your wives and your job security. But you don’t have what I have. Freedom. You’re all slaves and I’m free to do what I want any old time.”
Andrew: “And this is what you want? You should grow up mate. Join society.”
It’s the thesis of the film. They don’t know it yet, but at this point, our heroes are about to be introduced to a more significant philosophical conundrum regarding freedom. There are no obvious answers. Life is what you make of it. Or don’t. Who are you to say what is right or wrong to the eight billion other people on this globe? It’s an exchange at the beating human heart of The World’s End, an imperfect finale to a perfect trio of films.
Watch it to the bitter end. Or the lager end.
The World’s End
Written by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg; Directed by Edgar Wright
Recommended way to watch (at time of publication): Available to rent wherever you like to rent films.