In the previous chapter of these loose musings on Edgar Wright’s “The World’s End” we left the film’s protagonists in a secret alien base hidden below the final pub of the infamous pub-crawl known as the “Golden Mile”. This pub carries the fateful name “The World’s End”. It shares this denomination with the film it appears in for a good reason.
The obnoxious and immature alcoholic Gary King actually manages to make the pub live up to its name, when he is confronted by the alien force known as “The Network”. These invaders brought humanity the digital revolution in order to better mankind and allow our race to join the cosmic community. These benefits came with a price, however, as anybody, who did not follow the aliens’ rules of conduct, was replaced by an apathetic android version of themselves. Consequently, Andy and Steve allow Gary to speak up as “King of the Humans” and thus enable him to lead them to the world’s end.
Their refusal to sanction humanity’s enforced insubordination is understandable – especially, as the aliens have practically had to exchange every human to reach their goal of utter compliance (a warning to everybody who thinks that our current problems might be solved with more and tougher laws and surveillance). However, the results are catastrophic. When the network retreats they take all of the new technologies with them. This act additionally produces some kind of pulse which destroys every other form of technology too. This hardly is surprising as more and more modern devices are indeed interlinked with the communication networks. This reboot of human society leads to a post-apocalyptic world that would suit any “Mad Max”-film.
The main part of Edgar Wright’s “The World’s End” leaves the film’s protagonists observing this total destruction from the same hill on which they ended their first attempt to finish the “Golden Mile” back in 1990. Unknown to them at the time, they actually could have witnessed the aliens’ arrival, if they had known what to look out for back then. The Arthurian Cycle of their epic quest thus is fulfilled as they now seem to be back at the starting point of their adventure.
Or are they? In the film’s epilogue, Andy tells his tale to a group of strangers. The graffiti “To err is human, to forgive divine” is marked clearly behind him and probably stands for his hopes for himself and the rest of his group. He describes how things have not become easy since “The Network” left, but simpler. He tries to see the positive side of things, as he says that he was happily back with his wife and enjoying the fact that they all had to “go organic in a big way”. The latter statement is, however, disclosed as a lie, when he is shown mournfully watching the paper of a “Cornetto” ice cream fly by. This of course is a further link to “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz”, as all of the instalments of the “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy” feature a name-giving “Cornetto” somewhere.
He also admits that the reawakened blanks are despised and blamed by the surviving humans. Nonetheless, Andy envisions most of his friends as being happy: Android-Oliver has substituted the missing bits of his hollow head with half a football and successfully returned to his career in sales. He seems to be doing well, as he shows a house to exactly the same couple that could not afford a place before the catastrophe. However, the loss of modern communication has left him blind, so he still is lost in this new old world. Android-Peter is accepted back into his family. The loss of technology has apparently allowed him to recover from his bout of trolling and return to his former self, albeit freed from his childhood traumata. After he apparently learned a few new tricks, as an internet junkie might find new entertainment media on the net, he is finally acknowledged by his children, as he now has both the skills and the confidence to entertain them. It is left open, however, whether his wife has noticed a difference. Sam and Steve have a typical happy end, as love seems to be all they need.
But the happiest member of the group is probably Gary. He found his place in life, as he overcame his alcoholism and thus managed to break his own recurring cycles of self-destruction. Additionally, he reassembled his former court curtesy of the blank versions of his childhood friends. These follow him blindly and he in turn gives them his full support. To highlight this, he even calls upon Alexandre Dumas once more: “All for one and one for all!” The link between the film’s protagonists and “The Three Musketeers” is thus established once more. Gary thrives in this post-apocalyptic world, which resembles an anarchic live-action roleplaying paradise, in which he can make his own rules and has minions to rule over. On top of this, there seem to be plenty of opportunities for him to partake in battles and quests. Accordingly, the film ends with him and his android-friends fighting for their rights in a bar called the “Rising Sun” that does not serve blanks, but seems to be frequented by a horde of archetypical members of the National Front. As their clothing is also reminiscent of many video games, it seems that Gary has found his own virtual reality to thrive in, after the rest of mankind have lost their technology. Fittingly, he had to destroy the grown-up world he never fit into and return to his pre-1990-self in order to reach his own salvation.
Does this more or less happy ending mean that Andy and Steven did the right thing, when they allowed Gary to tell “The Network” to “fuck off”? No, they did not. In doing so, they enabled their elected leader to destroy their world. They now live in a dusty wasteland and in material poverty. Only Gary is thriving, because he fully believes in what he is doing. The others, however, followed him although they actually knew better. They accordingly still face the consequences of his actions. It is not possible to set back time. Giving up technology would not lead back to the time before it was invented and that time was never as positive as is often suggested. People have moved on since the days of old – even if those days were only recently. Ironically, the friends knew this all along, as they keep telling Gary to leave the past where it is and to look forwards, not backwards. In ignoring their own advice, they reserved a certain amount of freedom, but severely limited themselves in doing so.
The aliens rightly tell Gary and Andy that mankind endlessly repeats the same cycles of self-destruction. Although they are offering their guidance in order to prevent this, they cause the technological apocalypse themselves in the end. “The Network” is proved to be right in that Gary King as a man and humanity as a species are both immature and mirror each other. Their leaving earth in a temper fit does not improve matters, however, and shows how they are not that dissimilar from Earth’s other inhabitants as they might want to believe. The digital revolution was carried by humans after all and those powers that are currently struggling to control it most certainly are too. Additionally, the aliens’ discussion with Gary never reaches a middle ground and the only options remain full control through “The Network” or a return to a so-called “dark age” forced by Gary.
However, there are many shades of grey between white and black, so there always were other options that might have been explored in a more mature discussion. Unfortunately, history shows that major global revolutions (i.e. earlier industrial revolutions) often lead to power struggles and war. Major changes lead to insecurity and thus the urge to simplify the way in which the world is seen and how we deal with our problems – i.e. total control, prohibition or anarchy. This urge has to be overcome in order to cope with the new chances and possibilities offered to us by our own age with its new technologies and specific problems. The alternative would indeed be mankind simply repeating the aforementioned cycles of self-destruction.
My final conclusion is that Edgar Wright’s “The World’s End” is structured clearly. The film mirrors orally delivered epic tales of the past. Its plot offers many previews into what is yet to come. Furthermore, it keeps repeating itself in order to create both a mental map of its protagonists’ quest and a sense of familiarity for its viewers. In this it also mirrors central marketing strategies of our age. Therefore, the film also offers a poststructuralist reading of our society and its myths, as it uncovers many pre-scripted stories that order our lives and prompts its viewers to take an active part in (re-)writing their own narratives. Thereby, “The World’s End” is especially critical of humanity’s tendency to glorify the past and any attempt to reconstruct an alleged golden age of yesteryear. We have to define our own future in the present, not in somebody else’s romanticized version of the past. Edgar Wright’s film shows how the false security and misleading sense of comfort hidden in supposed traditions and inherited ideals might be used to fool people into ignoring current developments. The movie thus also takes a stance against mankind’s tendency towards assimilation, respectively against continued attempts to prevent any form of deviation.
However, “The World’s End” is by no means a revolutionary text. The film prompts us to embrace today’s society with its new technologies, face the resulting global problems and take responsibility for our lives without destroying everything that has already been achieved. After all, new technologies and forms of communication can be used in a beneficial manner. To achieve this, the growing government and corporate control of such new media and large portions of the internet, their “starbucking” to use a phrase from the film, needs to be addressed. Such developments can only be faced in the same way that the characters of “The World’s End” could have saved an independent pub, namely by customers voting with their feet, or clicks respectively. There are ways to avoid the products of certain corporations or limit their functions, if one wishes to do so. Similarly, the web has to remain a forum where opinions can freely be expressed, even if they happen to be as idiotic as many of Gary King’s ramblings. Censorship has never been the solution to a problem. Anybody may, however, feel free to counter such opinions with their own or ignore people who express them. In the end, the Gary Kings of this world are not always right either.