Well, this will be less of a review than a continuation of my discussing the movie. In a rambly fashion.
Recently I posted a review of the Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Edgar Wright movie The World’s End. As I recall, I liked it and said all you people should go see it.
Oh! But I had more!
I wanted to bring up a few points about the movie that struck me, and that’s what I’m going to do. This will be spoilery, so be warned. It won’t be too long.
I didn’t mention this in my previous review, but the protagonists pub-crawl is made difficult by the fact that their old hometown has nearly been completely taken over by alien body-snatchers. The duplicates aren’t human, they’re artificial and apparently inorganic, but I hesitate to call them robots. Because, you know, robot is derived from a Czech word for slave, and the aliens are very sensitive about this.
This was an entertaining thread in the movie, where the boys are being corrected by the quisling townspeople that the invaders aren’t robots, and much drunken discussion occurs and Gary King’s crew try to classify the duplicates with a term, like Nobot, or Fauxbot. (In the end, the invaders are called “blanks”, which was first used as a placeholder in a fill-in-the-blank question of how to say He’s a <blank> and She’s a <blank>.)
First off, I really enjoyed this bit of conversation, because it seemed incredibly organic in how people would behave. Humans like to get a handle on things by naming them. And then argue about the classification. (Like arguments over the term “fast zombies.”)
Once the heroes got filled in that the townspeople had been replaced with blanks, it eventually brought in a classic science fiction theme explored in John Campbell’s Who Goes There?, which has been adapted multiple times and is best known as John Carpenter’s The Thing.
If anyone can be replaced, how do you trust those you are with?
The guys quickly jumped to the solution: body duplication is based on recreating the organism from DNA. Things like scars, fillings, tattoos, any altering of the body would not be duplicated. (I think in the recent prequel to The Thing, called The Thing, the Norwegian Antarctic outposters figure this test out quickly, where the Americans take some time before using a hot wire on blood in a petri dish.)
First off, it’s great that King’s companions figure this out in no time at all, because I didn’t want this to be an issue for a long time in the movie. Secondly, it was a great lever for bringing up some of the issues between the characters, and answering questions. Why is there this rift between Andy and Gary? Why doesn’t Andy drink? What are the details of some accident that has been referred to? These things are brought up without sounding expositiony.
And, a new mystery presents itself: why won’t Gary expose his arms to display a familiar scar to prove he isn’t a blank? The fact that Gary would headbutt a post (with some force) to prove he wasn’t a fragile-headed blank really drove home that he had something to hide.
Eventually, in the final pub stop, Andy gets a look at Gary’s wrists and sees the medical bracelet that Gary had been trying to hide. I did not get a good look, but since it was something embarrassing to Gary, my interpretation was that it was an id bracelet for a mental institution. This put some new light on the group therapy session that started off the movie. I at first took it as something like Alcoholic’s Anonymous, but now the implication was that it was group therapy at an institution. (For those of you who knew right away, bravo.)
[UPDATE! Scot Eric Candiotti of http://esotericcandy.blogspot.com pointed out that the medical bracelet was only a small piece of the answer; it was Gary King’s bandaged wrists that made it clear (although I missed it by trying to read the ID bracelet, my bad) that Gary’s lack of fulfillment on what was to be a perfect night two decades before had ended in a suicide attempt. I should have caught that. Good on you, Scot, for filling me in. ]
This was a nice touch, because it wasn’t dwelled on, and we can kind of fill in the pieces, but it says a lot more about how dysfunctional Gary is.
Which helps to put a light on the final scene of the movie, where Gary has reconnected with his past in the form of the blanks who represent his childhood friends. Gary had never grown past that time, and now he has peers. This of course isn’t growth for the character, but it does bring him to a place where he can function.
I was very please that Rosamund Pike’s character, Sam Chamberlain, ended up with Steven Price, the second fiddle in the group. As Andy Knightley said during the firelit epilogue “I didn’t see that coming.”
And that’s one of the things that made this movie very fresh to me, and unlike a typical (Hollywood-crafted) movie. The entire ending epilogue.
In a typical movie, I’d expect our plucky heroes to save the world, but the world would pretty much go on largely unchanged (with perhaps room for a sequel. Like Ghostbusters.) I’d expect the main character to end up with the girl. I’d expect an all’s well that ends well.
We don’t really get that.
For this movie, I’d expect Gary King to end up with Sam Chamberlain, who’d somehow be re-seduced by his roguish charm but inspire him to change. I’d expect Peter Page and Ollie Chamberlain to be found alive, before the mulching. I’d expect society not to collapse, and I would not expect the blanks to reboot and be this sad, wandering population of misfits, abandoned by the Network, unable to serve the alien agenda, and possibly haunted by the memories of their originals.
I felt what we got made this movie a much more significant experience. I’m not necessarily interested in a sequel, but I’m fascinated by the life of the blanks. I was not expecting to sympathize in some way with the invaders, post-societal collapse. Or to consider Andy Knightley the hero and Gary King his demented charge to protect.
So, it really spoke to me when mad, misfit, stuck in time Gary King collected his band of misfit, stuck in the past, and probably mad childhood blanks. And set off on rebellious adventure. And that’s when his story actually begins. The End.
The movie isn’t perfect. I mentioned in my review that it was hard to swallow that the aliens would just give up and abandon their project. But since this is also a comedy and not a hard science fiction movie, I was okay with it. But it’s fair to point this out.
There are other parts of the movie that require a large glass of Andy’s water to wash down. The plot more or less requires that the boys not flee the town right after the washroom brawl. It’s not a bad justification that Gary comes up with, that they need to keep from arousing the blanks’ suspicions by continuing on the crawl. But, the blanks are already alerted. The guys are under intense scrutiny and it’s obvious.
I guess it can be explained by an almost throw-away line from Bill Nighy’s Voice of the Network, the huge lamp that debates the boys at the World’s End basement. The Network’s mode of operation has a prime directive to avoid unpleasant confrontations. (I forget the actual line he said, but it was something like “we measure success by how peacefully assimilation can happen.”)
I can kind of rationalize aliens just not doing things right when faced with a situation out of the playbook. There was even some kind of compliance by the aliens, to help the guys perform their pub crawl. (The single glass of beer at the end, waiting for Gary can only be explained in this way.)
Again, if the plotting on that could have been just a wee bit tighter, or if the townsfolk had not tipped their hand so early, I’d consider it truly great, but maybe it wouldn’t have been as funny.
I’ll be happy to take smart funny over smarter but not as funny.