In the ninth pub of the “Golden Mile”, the “Beehive”, the friends meet the blank of their former teacher Mr. Guy Shepherd. So it can be safely concluded that not even this figure of the establishment lived up to the new social norms instructed by the aliens. Together with the converted Oliver he explains to his former pupils that the way of the invaders leads to progress and that the whole thing is not about conflict, but about working together. This honours the pub’s name once more. It does not, however, convince the friends.
As they get separated Gary helps Samantha to escape and then retraces his path from 1990 and meets up with his remaining friends Andy, Steve and Peter in the so-called “Smoke House”. As in Gary’s memories of the 22nd of June 1990 they all start to go slightly paranoid in this venue, albeit not from drug abuse, but because they no longer trust each other. In order to uncover possible androids in their midst, they confront each other with their respective pasts and the scars left – mostly through Gary’s actions – on their bodies and souls. They thus briefly cut through the smoke screens of their apparently established social habits and emancipate themselves from the hierarchy of their youth.
Peter’s personal liberation is highlighted by his extensive amusement at an admittedly immature and flat joke at Gary’s expense. Unfortunately for him, he thereby drops behind and encounters the blank version of his childhood nemesis. Although the android apologizes for everything that happened during their shared school years and extends a friendly hand towards Peter, the latter starts to beat the blank to pieces. All the pent-up anger comes to the surface and he completely loses control. He thus becomes the bully that he so utterly despised and is assimilated by the other blanks that finally catch up with the group. Consequently, he also dropped out of the pub-crawl at the exact same place as in 1990.
In my opinion, this scene shows Peter’s transformation into an internet troll. Like so many virtual bullies he is insecure and feels mistreated and unloved in our world. Now that he has found a space in which his own mental and physical disadvantages do not become as apparent, he tries to turn the tables around. In doing so he loses his contact to the real world completely and is swallowed by the virtual realm of the blanks. His worldly empowerment after emancipating himself from the former authority figure Gary and his childhood trauma does not last long, as he takes things a step too far and turns into what he hated so much. He thus creates a new reliability, as he now needs the virtual reality in order to feel real and empowered. As he is the only one, besides Gary, to express his desire for girls in school uniforms, this might be a further indicator for Peter’s tendency towards more questionable sides of the internet. This reading is further strengthened by the description “pickled newt” on the film’s advertisement posters, as it suggests a drunk and creepy character. It also alludes to his “Dutch courage”, which, as an equally artificial and virtual form of “empowerment”, probably played a strong factor in his sudden ability to rebel against his own fears and habits.
Thereafter, Andy and Steve attempt to force Gary into the “Beast” and thus out of town. However, the car is parked behind pub number 10, the “King’s Head”. The sign of this establishment shows a picture of Simon Pegg, the actor who played Gary King, dressed up as a 17th or 18th century monarch. Fittingly, this particular ale-house turns out to be the place in which Gary King reclaims the leading role in the group, thrusts his car keys at Andy and runs off towards the eleventh pub, the “Hole in the Wall”. When drink beckons, the alcoholic will follow, no matter what. He thus endangers himself and his friends, as he brings them back to the androids’ attention. It is notable that the threat seems to be greater for his loyal followers. This aspect further highlights how one should always take the lead of one’s own life. Incidentally, I believe that this is also reflected by the ink which serves as the blanks’ blood. This would seem to signify that their narrative now is being written by another, more powerful source, namely the alien invaders. As shown above, this interpretation would certainly run in tune with the background stories of both of the fallen friends, namely Oliver and Peter.
The only significance that I can see in the eleventh pub’s name is a reference to Steve driving the “Beast” through the pub’s wall in order to save his friends. This attempted rescue is foiled by a giant robot which was disregarded by the friends at the beginning of the film as a piece of modern art. The living statue thus might stand for modern art and the way that more and more of it is created and/ or distributed by virtual means. However, it might also allude to handy masts and other new structures which support the new media and have transformed the appearance of many places around the world. Furthermore, giant alien machines are one of the most common tropes in alien-invasion stories, so this film basically just had to have one, or something like it.
Gary leads Andy to the final ale-house of the “Golden Mile”, which lent the entire film its name. Before they reach the pub, the girls known as the “Marmalade Sandwich” try to stop Andy, but he proves that he is passed his moment of crisis and does not let himself be seduced by the offers of sex and youth that are so common on the internet. He even manages to retrieve his wedding ring in the process.
In the pub Gary is met by a freshly pulled pint. As this would allow him to finish his quest and there are advertisements inviting him to “join our club”, the aliens seem to be mounting one last charm offensive. However, Andy and Gary get into a fight during which Andy admits his marriage problems and Gary confesses that his best night, that should have been the start of his life actually turned out to be its end, so that now all he has left, is the goal of finishing the “Golden Mile”. As the argument goes on, the two of them accidentally discover the alien headquarters and get to confront the invaders of their hometown personally.
The aliens call themselves “The Network”. As with the aforementioned pub names this denomination is more than telling. During the encounter of Gary and Andy with the aliens, we learn that the aliens are behind the technological revolution that has changed our society during the past decades. In order to bring lasting peace to the allegedly “least civilized planet” of the galaxy, they have been providing humanity with new technologies, most notably in the communications sector. In doing so, they not only created new consumerist needs amongst humanity, but also exploited them, as they used them to control humanity. “The World’s End” thus offers us a similar plot as the other two films of “Cornetto Trilogy”, as it also centres on a dominant force’s attempt to assimilate and homogenize society according to its own values and beliefs.
Critical voices might see such attempts at “peaceful indoctrination” – or variants thereof – in the way western culture has spread over the world in the past decades. Although this process started earlier in the 20th century, this might be mirrored by the date on which the aliens arrived in Newton Haven. For one, the digital revolution fully took off in the 1990s and brought with it new forms of mass communication which allowed people, that could afford the necessary devices, and corporations to reach ever more people in a growing number of areas at an increasingly fast rate. In this manner many aspects of western culture, or at least aspects that were perceived to be part of a western culture, spread around the world.
Additionally, an act of great symbolic value took place on the 22nd of June 1990 when the booth of Checkpoint Charlie was removed during an official ceremony in the then still separated city of Berlin. This ceremonial act is celebrated as one of the key-moments of the period that ended the Cold War and therefore heralded an allegedly new era for humanity in which the world supposedly moved closer together. The fall of the “Iron Curtain” prompted hope that the World Wide Web and other communications systems could truly operate globally. It also opened new markets for corporations operating on a global scale.
As recent developments around the globe have shown, a vast number of interest groups were not sufficiently integrated in the globalization process. As with every revolution some people were left behind and/ or lost positions and power through the resulting upheavals. Consequently, unrest would even follow after the most beneficial of revolutions. The digital revolution has now reached a point in which major forces are leading a counter attack on humanity’s new found freedoms. While some of these are attempting to pull civilization back into the dark ages, others are invading our homes and personal interests (i.e. privacy) in the name of security and economic growth. A large portion of humanity thus might find themselves in the role of Steve and Andy standing between the “Gary Kings” and the “Networks” of our age, as potential enablers for either side.
As the title of the film suggests, their decision lead to the end of the world as we know it. How this occurred and what it might mean, are the topic of the fifth and final piece of my deliberations on Edgar Wright’s “The World’s End”.