Saturday, October 12, 2013

The World's End -- growing up, manipulation and unfinished business

Director: Edgar Wright, 2013 (R)

The World’s End may not be an epic, but its central premise is: an epic pub crawl. Five friends, twelve pubs, twelve pints each. That’s a perfect idea for a group of British teens, but not quite so for middle-aged men in their 40s. But this is an hilarious comedy from the writer-director that brought us Hot Fuzz and Shaun of theDead, and reunites cowriters and stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost once again.

The first act introduces us to the five friends, from the perspective of Gary King (Pegg), the leader of the gang. Before doing this, Wright gives us the backstory. The five friends first attempted “the Golden Mile”, hitting up the aforementioned 12 pubs. But they lost members of the gang along the way, to drunkenness and drugs, until only three saw the sunrise having not completed the event. It was their finale at high school before moving onto real life.

Now, two decades later, they have lost track of each other, having careers and families. Andy (Frost) is a lawyer; Peter (Eddie Marsan) is a luxury car salesman, still working for his dad; Oliver, or O-man as he was called (Martin Freeman, The Hobbit), is a successful real estate agent with a blue-tooth headset permanently attached to his ear; and Stephen (Paddy Considine) is an architect. But Gary has not moved on. He is trapped in the cigarette end of his teens. Dressed just as he was in school, he remains irresponsible and free, not holding down a job or a girlfriend. He has not grown up. He is a teenager in a mid-life body, addicted to drink and drugs, without life focus.

Growing up and maturing is one of the themes of this terrific film. King fondly remembers that earlier crawl  as “the best night of his life” despite its unsuccessful conclusion. But we are designed to mature. Adolescence has its place but it’s expected to terminate with the teen years. Physically, we were intended to move from baby food to solid food (Heb. 5:14). Emotionally and socially, we were intended to move on from dependence on parents and others (Gen. 2:24). Independence is a biblical goal, even as we realize we are interdependent with our community.  Gary King has missed the memo.

King was always the leader. He had the plans, the others were his followers. But it takes all his childish charm and powers of persuasion to convince his former friends to join him in reattempting this fabled pub crawl. They agree because Andy is going. But there is bad blood between Andy and Gary because of an earlier incident which we learn about later. Andy won’t go until Gary manipulates him using excessive doses of guilt.

Manipulation and guilt are terrible if effective motivators. They may accomplish near-term goals, as Gary realizes, but they will eventually catch you out as Gary discovers to his chagrin. When we lay our guilt on God, confessing our sins to him (1 Jn. 1:9) who has paid the price for us on the cross (1 Pet. 2:24), we find that our consciences have been cleansed (Heb. 10:22). Guilt disappears. True motivation lies in love, focusing on the good not the bad. Rather than control, this focuses on choice, allowing the person we are encouraging to determine for him or herself what to do. It makes room for free will, as God has done with us.

When the film moves to act 2, the friends board “the beast” as Gary drives them back to their childhood hometown of Newton Haven, famous for the golden mile and the first roundabout in England.  There the drinking begins. But the friends notice strange things in the pubs. The town is not what it was. Once Gary picks a fight with a young teen in a pub toilet, the weirdness comes into perspective. An alien apocalypse has occurred. The town is populated by aliens looking like humans. Violence and hilarity ensue. At this point, it becomes clear that The World’s End is a cross between The Stepford Wives and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

The acting is spot-on, the dialogue razor-sharp pitched with perfect timing. The comedy comes thick and fast, if doused in gallons of blue blood. This is British humor at its best. Along the way, Rosamund Pike (Made in Dagenham) shows as up as Oliver’s sister, a love interest of both Gary and Steven, as well as Pierce Brosnan (The Ghost Writer) as a former teacher (so both a former Bond and a former Bond babe in one of the Cornetto trilogy films). Even Bill Nighy makes an “appearance” towards the end. Of the cast, Pegg, Frost, Freeman, Considine, and Nighy all featured in Hot Fuzz.

Speaking of Hot Fuzz, The World’s End concludes Wright’s brilliant “Three Flavors Cornetto Trilogy” (also known as the “Blood and Ice Cream” trilogy). The first, Shaun of the Dead, featured the red (or strawberry) cornetto (British ice-cream cone) symbolizing blood and zombies. The second, Hot Fuzz, was blue (vanilla) symbolizing the police. This one is green (mint chocolate chip) representing science fiction and the extraterrestrial aliens, which become the dominant theme in acts two and three.

Brett McCracken, in his review of this film for Christianity Today, goes further. He says that this trilogy “is a pseudo-homage to Krzysztof Kieslowski’s ‘Three Colors’ trilogy, inspired by the three colors (blue, red and white) of the French flag.” He goes on to compare and contrast the British and French philosophical approaches to the world’s end, stating that: “The World’s End feels like a skewering of the French tendency to wallow in existential and misanthropy in the face of finitude.”

One of the pleasures of the film, from my perspective, is the way it captures British culture from the 80s through today. Having grown up in England and having graduated from English schools, the whole exit school experience rings true. Friends and pub crawls were a significant social engagement. The idea of attempting multiple pubs, a pint in each, and not making it is so typically British. Roundabouts, small English towns, even pubs now “Starbucked” to become indistinguishable from one another, losing their allure in the process, is spot-on social satire. I found myself laughing throughout the movie, even when the rest of the theater was silent.

Two other themes are apparent. One is the fallibility and laziness of humanity. Gary is a slacker and revels in it. At the climax, he declares: “To err is human, so err. . .” The movie plays our innate weakness for fun. But it is true that we are weak and fallible, broken even. This is a true biblical concept. Created perfect, humanity fell when Adam sinned (Gen. 3). From that moment onwards, we have felt the effects. Our intellect, our bodies, our souls all have become corrupt (Psa. 14:3). We can only become restored in Jesus.

The second theme is voiced by Gary himself: “We’re going to see this through to the bitter end. Or the lager end.” It is his unfinished business. He has not moved on and needs to close this to find himself.

We sometimes have unfinished business that haunts us, holding us back in our lives. Whether it is a relationship that is estranged, a goal never accomplished, or a dream that has died, we need to face it so we can move on. Leaving it unfinished stunts our emotional and spiritual growth. That is why God says, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift” (Matt. 5:23).

The World’s End may be filled with drunkenness, drug use, and reckless daring, it may be redemptively hollow, but it is side-splitting entertainment. And if it makes you think of some unfinished business of your own to take care of after the credits, that’s a bonus for you.

Copyright ©2013, Martin Baggs

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