Edgar Wright's final entry into his famed Cornetto Trilogy, The World’s End, is a movie that signifies the ‘end’ of a few different ideas. In the film, The World’s End is the last stop on The Golden Mile, a journey across all twelve pubs in Newton Haven, where the participants need only to finish a pint at each establishment. It’s inside The World’s End that we learn of Gary King’s (Simon Pegg) attempted suicide; it’s here Gary King has his last pint, and it’s here we learn the plot of The Network. The Network is an intergalactic entity that replaces humans with robot-esque clones referred to as Blanks, attempting to make Earth a more peaceful planet that can better assimilate into the rest of the galaxy. Outside of the context of the film, The World’s End is the end of the collaboration of director Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s aforementioned Cornetto Trilogy. The film’s tension is the product of two ideas working against each other: the age-old dilemma of "to grow up or not to grow up." To grow up, to assimilate into “normal” adult life, means relinquishing your freedom to do whatever you want, so that you can live comfortably instead. To not grow up, to latch onto youth, leaves you with freedom, but not a ton to do besides drench that road to freedom with hoppy amber.
Achieving peace on Earth is an outsourced job in the plot of The World’s End. The Network, an alien entity that attempts to repeat what it has done with other planets in its galactic community, "peacefully indoctrinates" Earth and adds it to their hive. What The Network is doing behind the scenes of the film is mimicking what has actually happened (in a less sci-fi way) to our main characters: Andy Knightly (Nick Frost) has a major role in a corporation, Oliver Chamberlin (Martin Freeman) is in real estate, Steven Prince (Paddy Considine) does construction, and Peter Page (Eddie Marsan) is a car salesman. All of these characters have left behind childhood aspirations (like living carefree, cruising the streets and getting shit-faced). There is an aspect to growing up that’s very similar to assimilating into an Alien entity.
"You’ve got your houses and your cars and your wives and your job security but you don’t have what I have, freedom!"
Gary King screams this at his friends at one of the pubs on The Golden Mile. To grow up, they’ve assimilated into a socially normal lifestyle. They can’t go fuck off and do whatever they want like Gary; they have responsibilities that ensure a quality of life they now can’t live without. They are much like the Blanks: slaves to a system. Gary acts as a foil to this way of life, but the film doesn’t present freedom as all that amazing of an option either.
Gary King of the Enablers
Gary spends the film chasing a high. He chases drugs, women and booze, but at the end of the day he’s chasing a perfect moment he had at the end of his adolescence that he’s never been able to replicate since.
"It never got better than that night! That was supposed to be the beginning of my life. All that promise and fucking optimism."
The most important thing to Gary is The Golden Mile; it’s the only accomplishment he’s ever gotten close to achieving. He needs his mates (his "Musketeers") like he did twenty years prior, but as far as Gary is concerned, it is unknown whether they are on this journey as friends or simply as good luck charms? Gary’s focus prior to the film’s climax is getting to The World’s End, “even if it kills us,” which for some of his Musketeers, it does. Throughout the film, Gary shoves his "freedom" in the faces of his friends, but he doesn’t know what to do with this freedom. By choosing to opt-out of the societal norms his friends have chosen, Gary is left with time to just get piss drunk and do nothing. He’s stagnant. He’s chasing that feeling of pure happiness by looking under pint glasses.
Recently, The Guardian’s Tim Jonze interviewed Simon Pegg, and they discussed many things, including his sobriety. Pegg mentioned that he started seeking help after the release of his movie PAUL, which hit theaters in 2011. The World’s End was written by Pegg and Edgar Wright and released in 2013. Jonze mentions how Pegg, discussing his sobriety, puts The World’s End into perspective. Pegg responds:
"I felt like I was kind of telling people with that movie… because that’s what addiction is like. It’s like you have grown a second head and all it wants to do is destroy itself, and it puts that ahead of everything else – your marriage, children, your job."
Gary King’s journey in the film is indeed destructive, but it’s also his choice, a byproduct of his freedom, a quality that destroys him, but also separates him from the Blanks and The Network.
To Err is Human
The World’s End isn’t one of those movies that give you a clear-cut winner between the battling philosophies of the film. To assimilate - either to the social norms of society or an alien entity - seems like a bad time. To live freely, but ultimately have a life of malaise like Gary King, also seems like a bad time. What the film does tell you is that it’s okay to make mistakes:
"It’s our basic human right to be fuck ups!"
We as a people ultimately live with the blessing and curse of choice. The bad things that we may choose to do, the follies we may experience, are all a part of what makes us human. The finale of The World’s End doesn’t give us an answer to these existential dilemmas, what it does do for our heroes, is wipe the slate clean. By creating an apocalypse these characters are broken from the shackles of social norms. They need to adapt, to live without technology and survive. By the end of the film, we see that Gary King has found his own way to live within this world. He chooses to roll with the Blanks of his past, and just drink pints (of water) at pubs.
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Robert has a degree in Screenwriting and Playwriting and works in multiple genres. He's just your typical man-child who enjoys most things nerd culture. You can follow him on Twitter @RoBaeBae