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Confronting Personal Shortcomings (and more) on a Pub Crawl in The World’s End
Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, the duo behind Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, have done it again with The World’s End. Clever and biting, the film offers up a less bland version of the “man-child stuck in the past” edge that we’ve already seen in this summer’s The Hangover Part III and Grown-Ups 2 with an excellent sci-fi twist that’s straight out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The World’s End starts out as a movie about a man desperate to re-live his youth by means of a 12-bar pub crawl. It morphs into a tale of robots who aren’t robots and humanity facing off against a galactic threat, but at its heart the film is always a story about humanity’s flaws and imperfections, embodied particularly in Simon Pegg’s character, Gary King.
King, in brief, is a screwup. He’s an oblivious 30-something who never moved past his “cool kid” days in high school, and still lives his life as though he’s the same rebellious teen he was then, drinking his days away with no regard for himself or anyone else. But when everything hits the wall and he suddenly comes face-to-face with just how bad his life has become, Gary chooses essentially the most immature way to deal with this. He rounds up his old gang of high school pals (no matter how reluctant to the idea they are) and they set off to try to conquer the 12-pub crawl known as the Golden Mile that bested them on King’s greatest night ever back in the 90s.
Needless to say, things don’t go as planned, and King confronts his shortcomings several times before the film is up. But the beauty of The World’s End, and the message it has for us, is in the way King deals with these shortcomings. Though at first he appears ignorant of them, fully believing that he’s the same old Gary King he was 20 years ago, as the story drags on we begin to see the cracks in the façade. King is not unaware of these character flaws, but rather pushes them aside with the hope that they’ll go away. By the movie’s end, however, he stops pushing.
In a triumphant moment, King comes to terms with his imperfections, yelling at the top of his lungs that humanity is built on a foundation of people like him, people who make mistakes but keep on living, people who know that they have problems and don’t try to be perfect, but just try to be the best they can anyway. “To err … what was it? To err is human, and whatever” he says, clearly grasping at “To err is human, to forgive divine” (which is later shown in the background, just in case the audience missed the point). This mantra is at the heart of The World’s End.
People make mistakes — what matters is what you do with yourself in the aftermath. The Bible is full of people who’ve made poor choices only to turn their lives around completely (King David and St. Paul being prime examples) and the canon of Saints is no different (take a look at the lives of St. Ignatius or St. Augustine.) Messing up is just a part of being human, and God forgives us for our mistakes. What we need to do is learn from them, use what we have done wrong to inspire us toward doing what is right.
By engulfing the audience in the over-the-top character of Gary King, The World’s End gives us a close-up on humanity itself: flawed, yes, but with the capacity for courage, for change, and ultimately, for greatness.