The World’s End: A GenX Fantasy

*This movie review has a minor spoiler.*

Out in the theater right now is The World’s End. It stars Simon Pegg who also wrote it along with the director, Edgar Wright. It’s a funny, playful movie and the viewer should pay attention to the details. This ends the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy with the preceding movies of Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007). All are worth watching, if you like this kind of over-the-top humor.

The World’s End is aptly titled.

Pegg plays Gary King, an alcoholic who is growing older and now looking back on his past. He gets his old friends together and they return to their hometown, Newton Haven. Gary wants to finish the Golden Mile which they attempted once before but never finished. The Golden Mile is a pub crawl. It includes twelve pubs and the last pub, of course, is named “The World’s End”. A simple enough premise, but completing the pub crawl turns out more difficult than their first attempt. This puts a spin on the saying that you can’t go home again. The hometown of Gary and his friends is very much not the same place it once was nor the people the same either.

Before seeing this movie, I checked what else was playing at the moment – for example (in no particular order): Riddick, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, Elysium, This is the End, The Wolverine, and Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters. All of these are of similar themes: fantasy/scifi, good vs evil, dystopia, apocalypse, hero’s quest, etc. These are themes that have been popular this past decade.

These are also themes that were popular in my childhood. I thought of this because this movie’s characters, actors, writers and director all share the same childhood era. All are GenXers, specifically on the young end. Like myself, all of them (except one) was born in the 1970s (I was born in 1975).

This is a movie made by GenXers and mostly for GenXers. The worldview and philosophy it portrays is (stereo)typically GenX. The story is about a loser who is full of himself, equal parts annoying and charming. He is the anti-hero fighting against everything: against growing old, against settling down, against giving up youthful optimism, against the monotony of life, against conformity, against the system; so much against the world he confronts that it is hard to say what he is for. He just knows something is wrong with the way it all is and he just wants to make things right, even if only in one small way: to complete the Golden Mile.

In the end, he does more than that. He becomes the hero he never sought to become. The normal world of mundane existence had no place for a person like him. He didn’t fit in and couldn’t play by the rules. But when the shit hits the fan, he is finally in his element. All that vague sense of unease takes the shape of an actual enemy to be fought. It turns out that is all he needed.

The moral of the story is about the malcontent refusing to accept failure. It is about following one’s dreams even when to others they seem pointless and pathetic, about living out one’s fantasy and so make fantasy reality. It is about freedom defeating bureaucracy, rebellion defeating the status quo, the individual defeating collectivism. It is about fighting the good fight, righteousness regained… in a very messed up world that isn’t as simple and straightforward as it first appears.

It is bits and pieces of so many movies my generation grew up with. It is a loving parody about GenX, a generation that embraced youth culture and is now hitting middle age. Many GenXers have become the authority figures that we saw our generation challenging in the movies of our childhood.

It never seemed to be our appointed role to be the simplistic good guys of the early movies of cowboys and WWII soldiers. In movies, our generation was more likely to be portrayed as evil children or rebellious teenagers. As a small generation, maybe we instinctively understood the world was so much larger than us and not on our side. We never thought we’d save the world and everything would go back to normal (whose ‘normal’?).

Like in The World’s End, victory as such happens on an individual level. The world still ends, the world as we know it. Yet for others, they return to some semblance of their former lives. But there is no going back for Gary King. There are more good fights to be fought. I’m sure, as the story goes, he’ll go down fighting.

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