If you only discovered the director Edgar Wright recently, your favorite film of his is probably Baby Driver. Totally valid.
If you have seen all of the films that comprise the Cornetto Trilogy, your favorite film of his is probably Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz. Also valid.
Wright’s third installment in the Cornetto Trilogy, The World’s End, is often disregarded entirely.
I find that any time I try and discuss the film with someone, they mistakenly think I am praising This Is the End, the Seth Rogen film that was released the same summer. I always quickly correct them because I personally was so uninterested in This Is the End that I actually stopped watching it (rare for me). If, on the off chance, they do know what movie I am talking about, they think it isn’t as good as his other films.
This, I have a hard time accepting.
On the surface, perhaps the film is not as obviously funny as the other films in the trilogy. Though all of the films are mixed-genres with serious undertones, the seriousness of The World’s End is more obvious. In this film, we are watching a man confront his alcoholism and perhaps that makes viewers a bit uncomfortable, whether consciously or subconsciously.
When the film opens, Gary King, played by Simon Pegg, is in an AA meeting telling the story of the best night of his life: the pub crawl he almost completed with his friends in high school. When a person sitting in this circle asks him if he’s disappointed he never finished the pub crawl (the “Golden Mile”), he decides to get back together with his friends to recreate that night and make it through all 12 pubs and pints.
We see Gary approach each of his old friends; it is obvious they haven’t seen each other in a very long time. Even though he is making the effort to reunite everyone, he clearly doesn’t care about them. After convincing all of them to participate (often through lying in some way), they all return to their home town. He says he wants them all to finish what they started in high school but in reality, Gary is doing this entirely for himself.
Gary leads them on this pub crawl the same way Gollum leads Frodo and Sam to Mount Doom: with creepy excitement to certain chaos.
That night in high school was the best night of his life because of the people he surrounded himself with. Since there was beer involved, he has been trying to chase that feeling of belonging by drinking. This drinking, however, is what led to the loss of his friendships. We learn slowly throughout the film that Andy, played by Nick Frost, was his best friend until Andy got seriously injured in a car accident because he was rushing to take Gary to the hospital.
By the time he has gotten everyone reunited, Gary is not only masking his desire for belonging with the desire to drink, but the desire to drink has completely drowned out his attempts at reconnecting with his friends. At the pubs, he doesn’t wait for the others to finish their drinks before running off to the next one. Gary leads them on this pub crawl the same way Gollum leads Frodo and Sam to Mount Doom: with creepy excitement to certain chaos.
One of the most powerful scenes in the film is when Gary is alone in the bathroom, slips because of urine on the floor, catches himself before falling, and goes to punch the wall. Just as he brings his fist back, he sees that the exact spot on the wall was already punched. He remembers that it was he who did it back in high school. He just can’t remember why.
“It seemed important at the time.”
In this moment, Gary is not just confronting the hole he put in the wall, he is confronting his movement towards repeating the same behaviors that have led him to this point in his life.
At the final pub, Gary has an emotional breakthrough (whether from the beer or the looming threat of killer robots looking to take over the world — oh yeah, this movie has a lot of layers). He admits that he is chasing optimism, promise, and the feeling that he could take on the universe. Moments later, he actually does take on the universe, or “The Network.”
“The Network” is attempting to replace the people in the town with clones of themselves or, sometimes, their younger selves. The Gary King he desperately wants to be again literally stands in front of him, inviting him back into the life he idolizes. He boldly refuses.
Perhaps Gary King just needed an authority he could tell to f*** off to feel purpose in his life.