Monday, November 25, 2013

The World's End: A Review

As far as apocalyptic movies in 2013, The World’s End has been even more popular than This Is The End ( the most recent numbers posted at Rotten Tomatoes show an 89% critic and 77% audience approval). It's the last film in a clever, entertaining trilogy begun by Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Simon Pegg is a great comic actor, and this movie highlights his talent. I really wanted to like it - and parts of it were hilarious - but I kept getting distracted by the increasing incoherence of the worldview and message.

The main plot is simple. Gary King (Pegg) gathers some high school buddies twenty years after their graduation for another shot at the Golden Mile, a pub crawl that finishes at The World's End. Unfortunately, the town is being taken over by aliens. Chaos ensues.

Take away the end of the world, and it is the funny/sad story of a man who has never grown up. (Pegg played a similar character in the hilarious and poignant Run, Fatboy, Run).  His former buddies have found jobs, families, and sobriety. He has found none of these. For the most part, the movie portrays him as a sometimes amusing child to be pitied rather than a free spirit to be envied.

The aliens are part of a group called the Network, an intergalactic peacekeeping force. They go from world to world forcing the inhabitants to become peaceful so they can be introduced to other sentient species in the universe. If they refuse, the Network kills them and uses their DNA to make a copy, an Empty, that takes their place. Its as if Big Brother wanted the greatest good for the greatest number. The Network usually needs to Empty only a few; most species apparently agree that a peaceful, intergalactic community is worthwhile even if the compliance is coerced. 

On Earth, the aliens are Emptying about 90% of the people. When Pegg's character gives the big speech to explain why the Network is having such a hard time convincing people to agree with their view, his main argument is (and I paraphrase), "We are human! Nobody tells us what to do! We do whatever we want!" The aliens leave in the face of his impeccable presentation of humanity, leaving us isolated on our pale blue dot.

There is a subplot about conglomerates buying up mom-and-pop pubs and turning them all into identical clones. Yes, we lose something when individuality is swallowed up in conformity. Duly noted. Sometimes good things are lost when this happens.  I wish the film did not so easily equate the corporate stifling of unique creativity with the proper structuring of responsibility and character. Not all individuality is admirable, and not all conformity is bad.

Overbearing, unjust authority robs people of individuality and genuine freedom. The fact that abuses exist hardly requires the conclusion that rules are bad. The Network’s dehumanization of people is clearly wrong – but how is King's alternative any better?  His unbounded hedonism is destroying him and burdening everyone around him. He tries to get his sober friend to start drinking again. He tries to get a former high school fling to have sex with him in a bathroom like they did twenty years ago, even though a friend - who is sitting in the pub - clearly cares about her. He deceives, manipulates, and offends everyone around him. He embodies the disaster that follows a rejection of any authority other than the self.

We instinctively reject the cold utilitarianism of the Network, and rightly so. It's a lot harder to properly distance ourselves from an anti-hero who makes us laugh. There is a form of freedom in which we seek the good of others, embracing our individuality and free will in such a way that those around us flourish as well. That's a much better end than raising a childish finger in rebellion and heading for one last pub.

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