It’s nice to talk about the past sometimes. Once in a long while, it can be fun to sit around, have a few beers…a few laughs…and think back on who you were and the way the world was. The trick though, is keeping your feet planted firmly in the present and understanding that the past is the past for a reason. It’s nice to visit, but you would never want to live there.
Well…most people wouldn’t want to live there.
In 1990, Gary King led his friends on an epic pub crawl through the small English town of Newton Haven. The plan was twelve pints at twelve pubs, but circumstances prevented these five young lads from completing their “golden mile”.
Thirteen years later, Gary (Simon Pegg) now has precious little going for him. Now in treatment as an alcoholic, Gary pines for what he still sees as “the good old days”. He feels nostalgic for his group of mates, and for that epic pub crawl that was ultimately abandoned. Part of him wishes he could finish what he started, a bigger part wants to return to a moment when his life had some spark.
In an act that’s part desperation, part fabrication, and part insanity, Gary approaches all four of his former friends, all of which have moved on to bigger and better things. One by one, he convinces Peter (Eddie Marsan), Oliver (Martin Freeman), and Steven (Paddy Considine) to come back to the old stomping ground to re-attempt that epic pub crawl. He lures each one by telling them that the others have all agreed; which always prompts the invitee to respond “Even Andy?”
Andy (Nick Frost) is the member of the group who has seemingly made the most of his life, and likewise the one who seems least happy that Gary King is walking back through his door. In the hands of a lesser drunk, this might be a problem, but Gary seems to know just what to say and just what to do to get Andy to agree.
As the gents return to their hometown, they notice just how stuck in the 90’s Gary is. He’s driving the same car, listening to the same music, and pretty much wearing the same clothes. He even still gets weak in the knee at the sight of the same girl – Oliver’s sister Sam (Rosamund Pike). But not all is well in Newton Haven. As the lads encounter the locals, they notice that everyone seems just a bit too docile.
Things aren’t what they seem to be in Newton Haven, and the boys learn that they can either go along with it, or pay a heavy price.
THE WORLD’S END is a fitting end to director Edgar Wright’s “Cornetto Trilogy”, as it examines both the way things change and they stay the same. Wright grafts the whole story on to a style he has perfected – a style that is both frenetic and stoic depending on what will get a better laugh.
At the heart of the story is the way certain people and certain places manage to get themselves “stuck”. Newton Haven is like a lot of towns around the world; it has the same dozen franchises for all one’s day-to-day needs, the same amenities that make for comfortable living, and even the same sort of citizens as every other town its size. There is no character to it, no flavour. Were you to be blindfolded and spun three times, you’d likely have trouble telling what pub you were in – perhaps even what town you were in.
This “Starbucking” as the script calls it underlines the films theme of assimilation. Somehow, we’ve reached a stage where the average citizen wants things to be the same. They want to be able to drive the same car as the people in the next town. They want to be able to drive through the same laid-out subdivision, to buy the same cheeseburger from the same chain restaurant. Sure, we haven’t gotten to the point of being possessed, complacent, androids…but are we really that far off?
In a world like this, one could almost forgive Gary for wanting to relive the past. Almost.
The sad thing is that there are lots of people like Gary. These people wear their hair the same way, listen to the same music, and are hesitant to wander off the path they’ve always walked. They look back to simpler times and love them because of their simplicity. They neglect to see the flaws in who they were, the effect they had on others, or even how much better the world around them has got. People like Gary are stuck in a fuelling machine: one that romanticizes the past, and walls itself off from the future.
In some ways, Gary is who Jay Gatsby would be if he listened to Sisters of Mercy and wore less stylish shirts.
When Gary approaches the guys, they do what many of us would do – they amuse him. It feels far too difficult to take a stand and point out how foolish his idea is, so they shrug and go along for the ride. Deep down, there’s probably a morbid curiosity to revisit the old stomping grounds…after all what’s the harm in rolling up one’s pants and wading into the waters Gary has been swimming in all this time?
The harm – as the group soon learns – is that they are enabling him. They are keeping his psyche locked in the world of 1990, and doing nothing to help him move on. The very same way the demands of the general populace have paved the way for gentrification, so too have the demands of Gary paved the way for 1990 to magically re-appear for one night. The cast assembled play every side of this crazy situation perfectly…from the joyful, to the condescending, to the genuinely pitiful.
Ideas like these never bubbled to the surface of Edgar Wright’s films before. Not only do they give this final instalment of this trilogy some unexpected weight, but they leave one hopeful for what Edgar Wright does in the future. It’s one thing to play off genres like zombies or buddy-cops, but it becomes a far more interesting bit of filmmaking when you can interlace those genres with ideas on maturity and assimilation. The presence of these themes illustrates Wright’s growth as a writer and a filmmaker, and leaves one very optimistic about whatever he does next.