Look at the face, it’s vacant with a hint of sadness…
Look at the face, it’s vacant with a hint of sadness…
Recurring cast for the upcoming third Star Trek film.
"I once showed a holiday video to my entire family and forgot there was a point where I flashed. I only realized about one second before it happened and couldn’t get to the remote in time to stop them all from seeing me pull down my trousers and reveal myself. My sister screamed and my mum said, ‘Ooh, that’s changed.’" - Simon Pegg
So it may be Valentine’s day… BUT IT’S MOSTLY SIMON PEGG’S BIRTHDAY
I know, this post is a little bit late (it’s also really fucking long), but bear with me.
Like many at first, I was hesitant to call The World’s End the best out of the trilogy, as I am a firm believer that the second film in trilogies always tend to be the best (see: The Godfather 2, The Dark Knight, Empire Strikes Back, Temple of Doom); and Hot Fuzz was such an impeccable film that it seemed nay impossible to top.
The World’s End is a deep, intricate film that weaves complexity with grand ease, and therein lies the misconception of its simplicity. We are set to believe The World’s End isn’t the best film because it’s too simple, or maybe it’s because it lacks the sheer comedy that Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are rife with.
But that’s just wrong.
The World’s End is an amalgam, a culmination of everything gone right; or maybe gone Edgar Wright. (Bad pun, I know)
1. TWE is, ironically enough, a soberer film than its predecessors. This is because the film is not a comedy. It is an epic. Gary King’s opening narration recounts the “legendary” twelve pub crawl that he and his company attempted. This proclamation that the night was the greatest of his life and couldn’t ever be topped is a cue for the audience to catch the underlying message of the film. TWE has itself grounded in Arthurian Legend. We then cut to a present-day Gary King: a disheveled and sad drug addict lost in the glory of his youth. This is a fact that will be repeatedly brought to our attention throughout the course of the film.
2. Gary King is a tragic character, his flaws and emotions literally worn on his sleeve. Only he recalls the past as being glorious. Everyone else is just glad to have put it behind them, and they all think Gary King mad, a pathetic loser unable to function in the world of today. King’s biggest mistake is that he never moved on, never grew up, never got with the program. Because of this, he is constantly treated like a child; even screaming to Andy: “They told me when to go to bed!”
We could safely assume that the underlying theme of the film is about growing up, but what if we look at the film from a different angle, one where Gary King isn’t wrong but actually right?
3. The film begins with Gary King escaping from the rehabilitation center to recruit his merry gang: Peter Page, Oliver Chamberlain, Steven Prince, and Andy Knightley; their names indicative of the Arthurian Legend, and provides some merit to King’s decidedly anachronistic ways.
Viewed from a literal reading, Gary King can be considered a drunken fool, unable to escape the past and desperate to get sloshed. But viewed from a sub-textual layer, he is a king summoning his once-loyal followers to join him on a merry, new quest, a return to the taverns of olde where they will reclaim their past glories. Understanding this doubleness is essential to reading the film properly.
In Shaun of the Dead, Shaun ultimately shapes up, takes responsibility for his life and wins back his girlfriend, Liz. In Hot Fuzz, Nicholas Angel learns how to relax, makes a new best friend, and comes to appreciate his reassignment away from London. But The World’s End doesn’t function the way the other two did, and I don’t believe it wants to. It’s an ending. It’s the end. Accordingly, Gary King doesn’t change, growing toward others in order to better fit into society. If anything, he remains resolutely maverick, a fixed point, throughout the entire film as society changes around him. And if he is happier and healthier by the film’s resolution, it’s because he finds himself in a very different world.
4. King—aided in part by drinking—sees a different world than everyone else does. For him, a beer named “Crowning Glory” really is a crowning glory. Consider also his periodic bouts of semi-archaic monologues — such as when he spouts out lines like “Let battle commence!” or “The once and future king has returned!” or: “Tonight, we will be partaking of a liquid repast, as we wind our way up the golden mile commencing with an inaugural tankard in the first post, then on to the old familiar, the good companion, the trusty servant, the two-headed dog, the mermaid, the beehive, the king’s head, and the hole in the wall for a measure of the same—all before the last bittersweet pint in that most fateful, the world’s end. Leave a light on, good lady, for though we may return with a twinkle in our eyes, we will in truth be blind—drunk!”
It’s almost as if Gary King is living in a different time from everyone else — not just 1990, but 990.
5. The interplay between metaphorical and literal meanings becomes a central theme to the film. The title alone means three things:
A. It’s the name of the final pub on the crawl.
B. As already noted, it identifies King’s driving ambition in life to not be sober.
C. It predicts the direction the film will ultimately take: this is a film concerned with the end of the world.
Notice at the beginning of the film, the literal meaning is the pub’s name, which is only metaphorically named after the apocalypse. However, by the end, the metaphorical meaning supplants the original literal one as it pub, and the world, burns away.
6. We might also say that the film’s title is ultimately predictive. So, too, is Gary King’s speech. During the car ride to Newton Haven (a Camelot of sorts), he says: “There should have been Five Musketeers, that way two could’ve died and there’d still be three left.” This, of course, comes to pass, as if the King has decreed it. Later, when the gang pauses on the road overlooking Newton Haven, Gary King instructs everyone to “gaze upon it in its original colors, for tonight we paint the town red.” I mean, come on, just watch the ending.
7. We get an even stronger example of King’s visionary speech in his opening narration, which, like Wright’s previous films, lays out the entire arc of the film. Everything that Gary King says not only describes what happened in 1990, but predicts everything that will come to pass in 2013. Here are a few examples:
A. The companions fall off the crawl in the same order they did the first time around (only now they’re replaced by blanks).
B. During the first crawl, when the gang got to the smokehouse, they smoked pot and everyone grew paranoid. This time around, when they reach the smokehouse, they grow afraid of one another, uncertain of who is human or a blank. The three surviving companions finally reach
C. The three surviving companions finally reach the hill overlooking Newton Haven to witness a new sunrise.
8. Accordingly, we would do well to pay close attention to all signs, spoken and visual. Just like in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, there’s a tonne of printed matter on display, and all of it comments on the action. The figures, for instance, in the school disco poster (seen here and there in various backgrounds) have glowing, blue eyes. Meanwhile, the pubs (all of which have signs) predict what will happen at each one:
1. “First blood” of the journey is drawn at The First Post.
2. Not only does the gang meet Sam in The Old Familiar, the pub itself is the same as The First Post, a comical take on “Starbucking.”
3. The gang sees crazy old Basil, and Gary discovers his picture on the barred for life wall in The Famous Cock.
4. The gang engages in a fist-fight with the first of the blanks at The Crossed Hands. The imagery of the bar’s sign shows five hands coming together, symbolic to that of our gang coming together – there’s even a wedding ring on of the hands, just like Andy wears.
5. Everyone but Gary is having a terrible time, but they continue on with the crawl in The Good Companions.
6. They meet Reverend Green, a willing participant for the Network in The Trusty Servant.
7. At this point in time, Oliver succumbs first to the Network, having been turned into a blank. He represents the secret traitor in the group. There is also the more literal meaning when Sam meets with the Twins at the Two Headed Dog, who also turn out to be blanks.
8. The gang runs into a trio of sirens, the “Marmalade Sandwich,” in The Mermaid.
9. The gang meets with the representative of the Network and are told of the hive-mind’s plan at The Beehive.
10. After losing Peter to the blanks, Gary is knocked unconscious by Steven and is taken to The King’s Head. The bar sign itself resembles Simon Pegg.
11. Steven crashes the car through The Hole in the Wall.
12. And everything comes to head at The World’s End.
9. The film trades constantly in polysemy, especially by means of punning (all the more reason to view the film on many occasions).
For example, when the gang first arrive in Newton Haven, their slow-motion entrance is set to Suede’s “So Young.” What may seem to be a wholly ironic moment turns out to be the first glimpse of the eerily impassive inhabitants of Newton Haven. One of the lines from the song goes: “We’re so young and so gone, let’s chase the dragon from our home!” In this case, the language is predictive.
A second example is when their phones stop working, one of them says “It must be the network.” He’s right, of course, but doesn’t know how.
Along similar lines, words and phrases and jokes keep recurring throughout the film, constantly shifting meaning. At one point Andy complains that King wants his friends along to serve as enablers (a words King then mocks). The Network, later on, reuses the word: “We’re here to enable your full potential.” (It also describes what it’s doing to Earth as “an intervention.”)
10. This reuse of language, the continual infusing it with new meanings, syncs up nicely with another formal aspect of the film: the tension between stasis and change, epitomized by return.
The film begins with King’s desire to return home, to return to the past and to his youth. This turns out to be an old theme: the return of the King. But although he’s the most obvious example, King isn’t the only one who wants to remain in the past. As the film progresses, we see that, despite their outward signs of adulthood, the other principal characters haven’t grown up all that much.
Steven (a striking resemblance to Lancelot), for instance, is preoccupied with keeping fit, and quite proud of the fact that he’s dating his 26-year-old fitness instructor. Meanwhile, he’s still in love with Sam (Guinevere), the woman he loved as a teenager although she got with Gary King (Arthur). Similarly, Peter remains a coward, working at his dad’s new car lot, hiding from his wife and children behind the morning paper the same way he once hid from bullies in the toilets. And Andy (the brave Galahad) has spent the past two decades years unable to forgive King for an accident he instigated, since which time Andy has been sober and pure.
The difference is that those other men, unlike Andy, have masked their stunted growth with outward signs of adulthood and maturity: houses, spouses, children, jobs, laser surgery, suits, et al.
Even the Network turns out to be obsessed with preserving the past. Its blanks can never be truly defeated, since they return ad infinitum, rejuvenated, with no sign that their body parts were severed or smashed.
King, by way of contrast, refuses to hide his innermost desires; he remains in his trench coat and Sisters of Mercy tee. “You haven’t changed a bit,” the others tell him. “But I still like the Sisters of mercy,” he protests. Viewed in this way, he’s the only honest one in the lot.
But that’s what makes one a king. One is born to royalty, and cannot stop being such.
11. Note, however, that the film’s structure, while cyclical, is not entirely repetitive, because its components change each time they recur. Even King understands this: he returns to Newton Haven in order to change things — to finish the failed crawl. Meanwhile, the others comment on how the town, while in some ways the same, is also different. And while key story events recur — King’s attempt to shag Sam in the loo, the appearance of the Marmalade Sandwich, King’s punch at the bathroom wall – it all goes down differently this time around.
The film’s larger patterns of repetition function the same way. The film closes similarly to how it began: with a narrator sitting in a circle, telling others what happened on one fateful night. But in the end, it’s a different narrator, a different circle, and a very different recounting of what actually happened. It’s beautiful really.
12. Initially it seems The World’s End is just cribbing at times from Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Gary King’s desperate attempt to reach the final pub revisits Shaun and his friend’s attempts to reach the Winchester. The conspiracy of Newton Haven strikes a formidable tone with the sinister plot lurking at the heart of Sandford in Hot Fuzz. Thee retreads may seem to make The World’s End the weakest of the bunch, but looking at the repetition throughout not only the film but the series as a whole, it becomes a part of the design.
Case in point: Pierce Brosnan’s character, the patronizing school teacher Guy Shephard (another shining character example of old, Merlin) might seem to be a newer, updated version of Timothy Dalton’s Simon Skinner from Hot Fuzz, and guess what? He is. Think about it for a moment. What does the Network do best? They replace you with a younger, better version of yourself. Not to mention, what other famous character did Brosnan follow Dalton in playing?
This is where we truly see how clever Wright and Pegg truly are. They are indeed reworking material from the earlier films — and from other earlier films — but they are repurposing it.
Along similar lines, we are no doubt meant to detect in The World’s End echoes of other works: The Network and its blanks recall Invasion of the Body Snatchers and John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos. There are overt references to Casablanca and Aliens. The ending around the campfire harks to the ending of Mad Max 2. There is a subtle nod to Star Wars, as the bartended doesn’t serve to robots.
13. Certainly King is not an ideal protagonist—in fact, he’s pretty pathetic, for the most part. Watching him fumble around, we find ourselves hoping that he really will grow up and join society, but at the same time the film doesn’t portray adulthood as being all that great. None of King’s childhood friends have gone on to particularly wonderful lives – they’re mostly sad sacks who’ve resigned themselves to their fates (and who are also less mature than they initially appear). As Andy finally concedes to Gary, “it’s not all that perfect.”
The Network further complicates our notion of progress. Speaking in corporate euphemisms and using simplified infographics, it represents a parody of today’s business world, where progress amounts to “Starbucking.” The Network envisions progress as conformity, removing any markers of individuality and experience.
But is the answer to the Network simply individualism? I don’t think so. For one thing, we’ve already seen that Gary King’s hedonistic assertion of self isn’t all that wonderful. The answer has to lie somewhere else.
This is where we can try bringing together the film’s structure with its detailed critique of the self. Gary King doesn’t want to play by the modern world’s rules. But at the same time, he isn’t just playing by his own. He abides by a code: the code of companionship, of loyalty. His morality is arguably a medieval concept: the group identity of the band. Without his fellows, he’s lost — the archetypal melancholy wanderer of Anglo-Saxon poetry. But once everyone’ has been reassembled, then King has a purpose, as does everyone else.
King, in other words, is not entirely selfish. His preoccupation is with the group. Each time he’s asked what is it he wants to do, he quotes the intro to Primal Scream’s “Loaded”:
We wanna be free
We wanna be free to do what we wanna do
And we wanna get loaded
And we wanna have a good time
That’s what we’re gonna do
We’re gonna have a good time
We’re gonna have a party
It helps to take note that King here is using the royal we, as he speaks on behalf of his companions, his party.
14. The Network is also a group, but it’s a modern, bureaucratic group, in which every member is anonymous and disposable. The World’s End, then, is an attack on the modern world, and a model of adulthood that necessitates replacing authentic youthful companions with corporate ones — friendships born out of career advancement, and the outward signs of progress, rather than genuinely liking someone, and therefore protecting them.
15. While the film doesn’t condone drunkenness as a solution, it also complicates what it means to be sober. When King first gathers up his friends, they are awkward, stiff — even hostile. Their politeness toward one another is the politeness of networking (they even exchange business cards). But as the crawl progresses, everyone loosens up, becoming friends again.
16. So if the film is an elegy for lost time (and it is, as King puts it: “It never got better than that night!”), then it’s an elegy for the authenticity of childhood.
King doesn’t want to sober up, and that is indeed sad. There’s something pathetic about the guy whose greatest achievement was some half-finished, drunken teenage night. But at the same time, King stands firmly opposed to the phoniness of adult life — to the pretense of appearance. That is the way in which he’s heroic: he’s the only one who calls out getting older as a big lie. He’s fearless in his honesty, wearing his devotion to his childhood passions proudly.
This is why the Network can’t seduce King. It offers him exactly what we might think he wants – the chance to be young again, with selective memory – but King already has that.
17. The film is open in its fear of aging. Newton Haven’s gang of five taciturn youths obviously represent replacements for King and company. Elsewhere, characters and places are bought out, Starbucked, replaced by the Network. The Network even reveals that it is behind the past two decades of technological progress.
King’s final response to the Network is to behead his would-be usurper: “There’s only one Gary King!” Amusingly enough, the Network addresses him as “Gary King of the Humans,” finally recognizing him as royalty and thereby entitling him to speak for everyone.
The end of the film finds us in a second Dark Age – not necessarily a return to the past, but definitely an interruption in the Modern idea of technological pursuits. Time goes backward to go forward.
This ending neatly inverts the film. At the outset, King was the man out of time, living an unsuccessful, medieval life in the modern world. He wanders off into the unknown with his trusty, albeit blank, companions, even carrying a sword into battle, another nod to Arthurian legend, what with it being Excalibur. But now, in this new Dark Age, when all humans have been left to their own devices, we see the others attempting to live modern lives in a medieval world. Oliver remains a realtor; he’s even depicted showing a house to the same couple from the beginning. Steven builds a “drafty” new house with Sam. Peter and Andy reunite with their nuclear families.
Only Gary King thrives in this new environment, not because he’s changed, but because the situation has. The past overtakes the present and becomes the future, the proper place for one such as him. Given the proper sunrise, he finally finds himself free to do what he wants, in all of his sober glory.
Ok, this has been bugging me for YEARS. These are two screencaps from the series 3 episode ‘Turn Again, Geoff Tipps’ from The League of Gentlemen, where Tish and Phil are in Camden. But look in the background. Is that Simon Pegg?! I’d swear on my life it is, but as far as I know, no one has ever mentioned it. It sure as hell looks like him to me…
That is absolutely Simon Pegg. They all tend to make appearances in each others work, Simon appearing in LoG’s Apocalypse and Reece and Mark in Spaced and Reece in Shaun of the Dead/The World’s End ;)
This is true. It’s literally like, 3 seconds though, and they don’t even mention it in the commentary. It’s entirely possible he was just hanging around Camden Lock that particular day. XD