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Arid (adj., AOUR-rid)

So hot and dry that grass and vegetation don't grow, or completely uninteresting and lacking feeling.

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The World's End

Happy hump day. This is the point in our week of “sticky” films when we start to get esoteric. Spotlight was a fairly well-known film and The Dark Knight was watched by pretty much the entire planet, but The World’s End is a step towards things you probably haven’t seen.

Released in 2013, The World’s End is the final film in Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright’s “Three Flavors Cornetto” trilogy. The previous two films in the series, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz were whip-smart, fresh takes on existing genres. Shaun of the Dead blended horror with a coming-of-age narrative to show a man learning to be an adult and take action. Hot Fuzz is a send-up of a cop movie with a delicious twist that I won’t spoil for you. The World’s End is...kind of an oddity. It’s an alien invasion movie that takes place at the same time as five friends attempt to recreate a pub crawl in their home town.

The World’s End is not the best film by Pegg, Frost, and Wright. It’s a little looser than the laser focus of Hot Fuzz (if you want to see how much care went into the screenplay, go watch this behind-the-scenes where Pegg and Wright talk through their incredibly detailed notes) and not as unique as Shaun of the Dead. It struggled at the box office, performing under the levels of the other films. But it’s still a magnificent movie and one that hits more thoughtful notes for me than even their other films have done.

At the center of the movie is Gary King. King is an alcoholic and poster child for failure-to-launch syndrome, but he is also a roguishly charming character. Pegg plays him fearlessly, showing us both the full grotesqueness of the character as well as the lovability and (oft-hidden) fears. King organizes the pub crawl because it’s all he has left. For him, life never got better than the last time he attempted the pub crawl with his mates twenty years ago. Of course he’d go back. Why wouldn’t you?

But what King doesn’t understand—uncomfortably so—is that people change and need to change as they get older. King’s wannabe flame, Sam, bluntly tells him, “You’re not really boyfriend material, Gary. The whole free-spirit thing…it’s kinda cool when you’re 17, but not when you’re facing 40.” King hasn’t changed in twenty years. His friends have. He can’t understand that, cracking juvenile jokes and awkwardly mocking their parents. When each of his old friends meet him again, there is tension. Few if any of them want to do this again. They’ve moved on. But they do, partly because it’s Gary King.

Except for Andy Knightly, that is. Andy was Gary’s best friend until a falling out, and Andy is sober. At the first pub, he drinks water (to a fantastic Simon Pegg reaction which we’ve featured before as a gif). Water is a choice. It’s a sign of adulthood and moving on. It’s a clear liquid, something you can look through, not translucent and hazy. It won’t cloud your judgment or get you fat. It’s a sensible, adult beverage. “You remember the Friday nights,” says Knightly. “I remember the Monday mornings.” Knightly is bitter at the start of the movie, but as we learn why, we come to sympathize with him more and more. Andy knows what he is, and he’s a good-hearted version of it. He’s made sacrifices for his friends and continues to do so. His action starts the change in Gary...somewhat.

The World’s End is a film built around familiarity and change in all things. The friends return to the town they grew up in for the pub crawl. The pubs are the same but feel off. So does the town. (Without going too much into detail, let’s just say that this picks up some threads from the other Three Flavors Cornetto movies.) As the characters traipse across their old town, they’re having to reckon with its changes. The film examines our interactions with our hometowns as adults, particularly if we went away and came back. Does the town feel the same? Do we have different perspectives on things as adults?

This is especially interesting as a look at British culture. A Cornetto is a distinctly British concoction, and the Three Flavors Cornetto trilogy could only have come from Britain. Each of the films features places and people that are trim and proper on the outside but severely messed up on the inside. There’s an exploration of the rules that keep British society together…and British. The alien invasion probes this a bit too. The answer in the film may be American, but even there, the film doesn’t entirely resolve in the way we’d expect. Gary King is still Gary King at the end, just with some lessons and changes. He still can walk into a pub that functions the way pubs do. The other characters largely return to their jobs. The class system stays in place.

If you haven’t realized how much complexity and theme is in this movie, let me spell it out for you even further: the names of the characters and pubs are no accident. Gary is the King, in multiple senses of the term. Andy is Knightly. Steven is a Prince, noble but secondary to the King. Peter is a Page, subservient to the Knight and not always the brightest. Oliver is a Chamberlain, politely keeping the royalty’s house on track. Guy Shepherd encourages the lads on a path. The pubs, too, all have clear meanings. We’ll let you figure that out (and avoid spoilers).

All this layering is no accident. Pegg, Frost, and Wright are master craftsmen. Wright is one of the best, most inventive action directors in film today. Pegg and Frost are terrific writers and great comic actors. Pegg might appear better at first glance, but Frost is impeccable too. Watch how he embodies his character and makes every physical action funny but natural. The dialogue is tight, quippy, and sets up callbacks throughout the film. All this is made into a tasty stew by Wright, who also understands how to control the tone and pace of the film. This isn’t Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz, both with their own tempos. The reason it feels a little off is because the town feels a little off and the whole trip feels a little off and going back to your hometown always feels a little off. The discomfort is the point. If you’re uncomfortable, you’re getting the right message. If you’re willing to do something about it, you’re learning the right lessons.

Nelson Mandela once remarked that “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the way you yourself have altered.” Mandela was speaking in particular about a place, but a film is a static item too. We may pick up new things from a film as we rewatch it, but it’s still the same movie. But we do experience it differently, and those differences are always fascinating. It’s why I think films about times in people’s lives where they’re having to face down change are particularly interesting (and we’ll get to one more of those tomorrow). They capture people at their most vulnerable, caught between where they are, where they want to go, and where they are going. This film is a film this trio wouldn’t have made in 2003. This is only a film they could make in 2013, at nearing 40. (Wright did have the original idea at 21.) It’s a self-reflection of sorts. Their reflections force us to do the same.

And, like The Dark Knight yesterday, The World’s End cares about the actions we take in response to our surroundings. Will we grab a pint because Gary is, even if we’re sober? Or will we order a water instead, deal with the shaming, and show ourselves to be the better man? Gary’s last drink order in the film is a water, not a beer. He’s learned something of a lesson. He’s ready to fight for that order in the same way he was willing to fight to finish the pub crawl. One of those is a good thing.

But the film wants us to care about both. As much as it cares about characters growing and making the right choices, it embraces that people are weird, stupid, wonderful creatures. “It’s no sense arguing with you,” one character says to Gary early in the film. Of course, when one person has to argue for the fate of the human race, who answers the bell? Gary, stubborn as ever and drunkenly profane. Maybe he doesn’t quite understand what freedom is or should be. Eh. Nuance isn’t exactly needed in moments like that. When the people need the King, he delivers (with his trusted friends by his side).

The World’s End will entertain you and leave you thinking. Hopefully it will leaving you changing, too. If not, let us know. To err is human, so errr...

TagsMoviesThe World's EndChoicesGrowing upLeaving your hometownAlcohol