As I promised you in the last instalment of my deliberations on “The World’s End” by Edgar Wright, we shall now join the film’s protagonists on the pub-crawl known as the ”Golden Mile”. Before entering the aptly named initial pub of the tour, the “First Post”, Gary treats us to a brief summary of this particular establishment’s (alleged) history and the (supposed) background of its name. He thus glorifies the pub itself, the pub crawl he is about to embark upon, the history of his own home town and not least the long tradition of British pub culture – or at least what he believes to be the traditional British pub culture.
The apparently outdated and stylized language he uses to present us with this so-called historical background echoes a similar monologue he held in front of the protagonist’s flabbergasted landlady earlier in the film. In turn, this speech will be mirrored by his following request for the current ale selection inside the pub. The use of this stylized language might be seen as an indication of just how much this glorified tradition is a construction of the present which is projected into the past, in an attempt of creating an allegedly golden period of yesteryear. The landlady’s consternation certainly would suggest that her own views are not represented by Gary’s speech. Additionally, Gary tries to persuade his tea-total friend Andy to drink beer by spinning a pseudo-historical yarn which is both stupendously far-fetched and inaccurate. His tall tale of an implausible past and the stylized language he uses to do so unmask the so-called British pub tradition and with it the concept of the “Golden Mile” as parts of an advertising strategy, which is held up by the entire drinking industry, namely publicans and breweries, as well as their customers and other interested parties.
In romanticizing an idealized past, this form of marketing (even if it occurs in towns celebrating the age of their roundabouts…) prevents consumers from examining present developments too closely. As the group enters the second pub, the “Old Familiar”, this is further highlighted. This establishment lives up to its name, as it is identical to the “First Post”. Nonetheless, Gary enters the room disclaiming how this pub is “more like it”. He thus blindly follows the advertisement offered by the “Golden Mile”. This matches the protagonists’ activities in the “First Post”. They do lament the “starbucking” of their local pubs and the loss of any discerning characteristics after these once charming establishments were taken over by large chains and their corporate identities. And the reduced selection of beers available on tap in the “First Post” further highlights the sense of loss that this development has brought. However, the friends cease to complain when they are offered the pub’s only beer. Apparently they are content to have a place to drink, no matter what and where.
Interestingly, this influence of large corporations on individual pubs is mirrored by Gary’s failed attempts to persuade Andy to drink alcohol. As Andy proves that he has the strength to withstand such group pressure, these scenes might suggest that the only people who could keep a single pub with a definite individual character running are individual customers that choose to do so and thus take responsibility for their own choices. Gary and his friends fail to do this, as they briefly complain to themselves, but then give in to their consumerist urges and continue their drinking tour with no further thought. They thus sanction the changes made in the English pub landscape.
The second pub’s name, “Old Familiar”, also suits the film’s plot as this ale-house is the location in which the friends start to relive their shared past when they exchange anecdotes and memories. Previously, Gary had already offered the film’s viewers some insights into the individual characters of his friends, when he related his tale to the Alcoholics Anonymous. Further information was then offered during his attempts to reassemble his childhood friends.
In these scenes one could already discern that the family names of the film’s protagonists are well-matched to the roles they played during their youth. Gary King acted as the leader, Andrew Knightley was the Rugby-playing warrior, Steven Prince was the pretender to the throne who could not get past the standing ruler, Oliver Page was the weakest link who both needed the others’ protection and followed them blindly, and finally Oliver Chamberlain was an organizer with interests outside the group who consequently is constantly depicted with a portable phone.
In the group’s adult life the feudal denominations are mirrored once more. Peter still works for his dominating father and is hardly noticed by his wife and children. Oliver took up a repetitive career as an excessively committed real estate agent, which mirrors the role of a chamberlain managing a property of a sovereign. On the other hand, the friends whose names suggest a certain nobility, Andy and Steve, have moved on to found their own companies (or should I say: “realms”?) as corporate lawyer and architect respectively, after their King, Gary, fell from grace. Another indicator of the group’s fixed hierarchy can be found in some depictions of the group, as Oliver and Peter are often found on the fringes of these images (some examples can be found in the first two instalments of this text).
The use of the medieval terms in the protagonists’ names might also be seen as a nod to most of England’s national myths and legends, which are often situated in the Middle Ages. In a further poststructuralist reading these stories – not unlike the British pub tradition discussed above – could thus be uncovered as arbitrary constructions which were conceived and keep being retold in order to fulfil somebody’s more or less hidden agenda and that they therefore are not necessarily founded on historical truths (at least not completely) or told with the best of interests in mind. In other words, they too are a form of marketing strategy used by society’s leaders to control a consuming populace. This reading would once more be mirrored by Gary’s aforementioned stylized speeches and his usage of the very same legends during his first attempt to convince Andy to drink alcohol with the rest of the group. Additionally, he even references “The Once and Future King” in a discussion with Peter and thus likens himself to King Arthur in Terence Hanbury White’s famous novel of the same name.
The group’s repeated allusions to Alexandre Dumas’ historical fiction “The Three Musketeers”, in this reading, would not only predict the demise of two members of this group but also suggest that similar questions have to be asked about the national myths and legends of other countries too. How better to do so, than with a text from England’s own (alleged) historical arch-rival?
During the friends’ chat in the “Old Familiar”, Oliver suddenly starts talking to somebody through the ear-piece of his cell phone – an instrument, which he never takes off, throughout the film. We are thus introduced to Oliver’s younger sister Samantha. She is played by Rosamunde Pike, which is an excellent piece of casting. The actress brings along the looks to plausibly have been the teen queen of Gary’s youthful fantasies, as well as the maturity to clearly distance herself from him and any past they might have shared. Her “sexy” allure for the adolescent mind is further highlighted by her name and the films advertisement posters, as these two aspects seem to combine and point towards Britain’s first famous page-3-star Samantha Fox.
It soon becomes clear, however, that her looks were only one element of what made her attractive to Gary. He apparently not only needed to test his boundaries, but also felt it was necessary to gather the trophies of sleeping with the sister of a friend and beating another mate, namely Steve, to her, after the latter had previously confided his feelings for her to him. This juvenile interpretation of the “ius primae noctis” led up to a one-night-stand on the disabled toilets of the aptly named “Two Headed Dog” in 1990. As Gary abandoned Samantha thereafter in order to fulfil his self-set quest of finishing the “Golden Mile”, his attempts to relive this particular aspect of his most treasured night are emphatically rebuffed when the two of them meet once more as adults in the “Old Familiar”.
Thankfully, this scene did not occur in the third pub of the pub-crawl, which is known as the “Famous Cock” – although linking the scene with this pub’s denomination surely would match Gary’s own misconception of his own reputation. However, the ale-house’s name might refer to his own exaggerated opinion of himself, as the barman of the “Famous Cock” actually is the first person to recognize Gary since his return to Newton Haven, because he is barred from the pub. This interpretation is again supported by the film’s advertising posters that show Gary under this title. Additionally, it would seem more than apt to characterize the film’s protagonist as a “dick”, as is confirmed at the end of the movie. However, because “cock” is also a British slang word for “nonsense”, this pub’s name might also refer to Basil, the local conspiracy theorist, whom the friends encounter in this establishment. However, some of his ramblings prove to be true later in the film, so this link would be a red herring.
The next destination on the “Golden Mile” is called the “Cross Arms”. The film’s first reference to this pub’s name is a flat gag, as the friends share a pub-food-platter which naturally results in them crossing their arms. However, the ale-house’s denomination is more importantly mirrored when the group’s past and present, and thus the arms of time, become intertwined in this establishment. Not only do the friends bring up the “Marmalade Sandwich”, a group of girls they used to fancy, for the first time in this film, but they also meet Peter’s childhood nemesis. They are thus forced to confront their individual traumata and other lasting differences from their youth. These discussions bring up a key-piece of dialogue for our understanding of the film. Gary argues: “You’ve got your houses and your cars, your wives and your job security. You don’t have what I have: freedom. You’re all slaves and I am free to do what I want any old time.” This becomes all the more poignant as Andy answers: “This is what you want? You should grow up. Join society!”
Andy also recognizes that he and the rest of the group are only in Newton Haven in order to play Gary’s enablers – an issue which will become all too real at the end of the film. This has to do with their most important encounter in the “Cross Arms”: a head-to-head with their successors as Newton Haven’s local leading youth group. This meeting not only prevents the friends from disbanding, but also changes their view on the world and the very nature of Edgar Wright’s “The World’s End”. How and why this happens will be the topic of the next instalment of this piece, when we continue on our pub-crawl to the “World’s End”, albeit under very different premises.