The World’s End: A Review
I yearn for language: this is the realisation, one of many, that I reached upon watching the World’s End. This film-poem seemed to reach inside my skull and set my everything alight, so much so that I wouldn’t be surprised if my eyes were now headlights projecting the stanza-scenes out to the rest of society.
This is a story about the familiar & the strange, about the old becoming new and back again, sometimes in the space of a heartbeat. Gary King, addict, wants to go Home. He wants nothing more than to relive the poetry of a single memorable night in his youth when he and his mates attempted the impossible.
To reach world’s end.
They never made it. Decades on, Gary King is reminded of his failure, this hallmark of the trainwreck of his life, and he decides to go back and try again. This is a trope we are well familiar with – gathering old friends and confronting mortality and the ceaseless march of time, the merciless decay of memories, and in so doing unearthing our mistakes, our awful wounds. The maudlin, however, is avoided here: the town has forgotten them. Gary’s friends have moved on.
Before I go on, and leave this landscape of expectations and familiarity, let me return to language. Dialogue is the heart and soul of cinema, of literature — through it, characters come to life, and we seem to have a dearth of great dialogue, of wordplay, in stories today. One of the greatest joys of this film is its musicality, is the stylized dialogue, the banter, the delightful half-pause in a sentence that totally changes its meaning. You can see the actors, the characters, relishing every word. It was Shakespearean, but modern and accessible. It seems to me that cinema today has become a visual feast — everything else has fallen by the wayside. Not so here.
But back to the familiar: Gary King has dragged and cajoled and corralled his childhood friends through sheer force of will and enthusiasm into following him, but quickly reaches an impasse. He’s a stunted man-child constantly at odds with his adult counterparts and despite all his hopes, he finds himself just as bewildered in this return to his home town. There are no memories to be found, except in his friends who don’t want to discuss it any further. He’s pissing away his life in the pub bathroom when he stumbles across the reason why the town has forgotten him, why his quest is being thwarted so readily: the townspeople have been replaced with alien robots.
What follows is joyous carnage as Gary tries to finish the golden mile and reach world’s end, while his friends merely try to survive. Gary is the literal representation of the destructive power of youth and memory – his search for the wonderland of his youth, when everything made sense and he was king of the world, tears his hometown to pieces and the collateral damage is awesome to behold. There are a hundred wonderful little character moments intertwined in all this but I don’t want to pick it death. You need to go and watch this film, see these great performances: Nick Frost is perfect as the wounded manifestation of Rage in the modern worker, the counterpoint to Simon Pegg’s outstanding, almost-unrecognisable portrayal of the capricious whimsy of youth gone wrong.
As a writer and poet, as a boy turned man, this film spoke to me on so many levels. Not because I yearn for my own past, but because it does everything I aim to do: subvert expectations, turn the familiar into the strange, the inexplicable, and downright odd. Never so much as to be totally unrecognisable, however – there are truths here that resonate powerfully. We all know what it’s like to go home, to see it changed but not changed, and to come across those people that have become fixed points in the landscape. That speak and talk and live and die in the same streets they grew up in; their neural pathways a map of the neighbourhood, their skin as pitted as the roads, their stance and posture as crooked as the trees in the local park.
They are our touchstones. Through them, we can grasp just how much we’ve changed, how far we’ve gone, and most wonderfully of all, perhaps — the way home. Sometimes, it’s not the way we expected, and we’re unprepared for the toll it will take to get there, as is very much the case with the ending of this unforgettable film.