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Sunday, 4 August 2013

The World’s End – or Shiva, The Four Horsemen and The Fates trashing it all

A quasi-mental-health appraisal, rather than a review, of The World’s End (2013)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

4 August

* Contains more spoilers than a packet of chip-sticks its usual quantity of contents *

This is a quasi-mental-health appraisal, rather than a review, of The World’s End (2013) – though written not by a psychiatrist or psychologist, but by a mental health advocate of around a decade’s standing.

The approach taken will involve a broad brush, but also some fine brushwork, sketching and chiaroscuro, as does the film.

So what does it mean ? What seemed to be an AA (Alcoholics’ Anonymous) meeting at the start was actually whatever your choose to call it out of a community or planning meeting, and thus a deliberate misdirection to put one off the scent of what and who Gary King (Simon Pegg) is. The voiceover that introduces the personnel of five constituting the main gang makes clear that King is The King (though not in that Elvis sort of sense [also Gary King, Steven Prince, Andy Knight[ley] ? ]), and this titling / description only takes its full force in retrospect :

In my view, the whole film is a free fantasy in dream / psychotic form – I use the words as a pair because I am influenced by knowing of psychologist Richard Bentall’s writing and believing that the mechanisms of the mind that are, and are behind, sleep are operative in psychosis. This means that what ‘happens’ has the same status as the closing sequence of Brazil (1985), i.e. it is wholly real to Sam (Jonathan Pryce), whatever constriction and lack of freedom is in our, as audience / witness, doomy realization of where he is and in what condition.

The clue to it all is in King’s bandaged wrists, of course, with the label of a psychiatric unit : yes, that was not the AA meeting that we took it for, but few are privileged enough to have participated in or witnessed the type that it is. At the very end, after an apocalyptic strafing of Earth, King is leading a new band of five – they demand water, he is told that only he, and not what are called blanks, can be served, and the scene and film close with (yet) another fight.

People who will be disappointed by the It was all just a dream interpretation (of this and other films, etc. (though I hope not that of Brazil)) miss what I have just sought to convey : King’s reality is just as real as anyone else’s, and what, after all, is a film other than a large team of people’s contrivance, maybe based on a book or play, maybe not. For, whether it is sitting in the dark with The Truman Show (1998) or The Agamemnon, Plato would probably still say (The Republic) that we are pleasing ourselves with shadows cast on the wall of a cave, ignoring the source of light that projects them.

So questions such as Does Earth really get destroyed ? or Why does The Network¹ disembark from earth ? only have meaning on the level of interpretation of the semiotics of King’s experience of psychosis / dream. Yet, functionally speaking, there are ostensible drawbacks to this schema :

(1) King would have to be presenting his own history at the opening of the film - whether it is anecdotal or documentary (or mixed) in nature - to himself, to a real (the community, etc., meeting) or imagined other, or to both. However, it is incidental to the by-and-large linear nature of the narration – in terms of a film, it sets the scene, much as the establishing material does, say, in The Magnificent Seven (1960²), or the opening sequence of t.v.’s The Likely Lads.

(2) That said, the self-reflexive nature of the narration then means that King concealing his wounded wrists (real or no, although a second viewing does reveal he does have straps across his wrists, akin to the stirrups of ski-pants), but chancing to expose them to Andy Knightley (Nick Frost), during a dogged attempt by King to drink at the final watering-hole, has to be seen in therapeutic terms (and / or in relation to any alcoholism) – the consequence of revealing what has happened to King effects a reconciliation with Knightley before ‘the bar drops’, a lovely Bond-type touch³. (It matters not whether Knightley ever existed or, if he did, was ever in any close relation to King, because the film / madness / fantasy has its internal logic : see A Beautiful Mind (2001) for one cinematic paradigm of psychotic delusion.)

(3) The delusional nature of the depicted events in and of the fictional Newton Haven⁴, culminating in a charged fireball that makes the effects of many a film look modest, give way to King’s best schoolfriend, Knightley, narrating times beyond that explosive happening, much as, in a way, old Tom Hanks (Zachry) does around the campfire at the close of Cloud Atlas (2012). Knightley not only fights strenuously with King not to have that final pint, until he sees the bandages, the tags, but - as King does not have that pint - serves as a mechanism for him not completing The Golden Mile, seeing off The Network, the fireball that ensues.

Yet, as it is King’s psychosis or dream - not our filmed entertainment - why should he not picture a devastated world where he (as before the reunion) is (symbolically ?) lost to Knightley, but where he is still a leader (which, in a Yul-Brynner fashion, brings us back to The Seven and hell-raising) ? On the level of psychological analysis, the controlling force of The Network, the threat posed by the blanks, the separation from the school chums (and imagining their fate) could represent the closure that King seeks (a loaded psychiatric / psychotherapeutic term that might be overlooked, since it has ceased to be jargon and become commonplace).

Does he make a symbolic mental breakthrough to our new buzz-word of ‘recovery’ – or, as in Brazil (or Birdy (1984), Spellbound (1945), etc.) is it an escape from the horror / trauma of the real situation (attempting suicide, being detained, the psychiatric unit ?). At any rate, King, who is ‘never wrong’, seemingly defeats The Network (though potently supported in this by Knightley, who has just learnt the truth about King) by his dogged refusal to comply and maintaining that it is human to err (the quotation from Pope is daubed on the fence behind Knightley), which, on a plot level, is as flimsy as some escapes from certain death of Bond or The Doctor (to name but two), unless…

Having taken the dear reader this far, I have to confess that the only way to know whether this hypothesis hangs together in more than words is to go back to Newton Haven and revisit The Golden Mile !

In the meantime, it is best to invoke a Freudian-type principle that it does not matter what Edgar Wright, the director of the film (and its co-author with Pegg), meant by it, any more than does Terry Nation in his scripts : the meanings are there and open to analysis. (NB If you seek to analyse my own motives in setting this out, be assured that Wormwood dictated this to me, and every word is his, faithfully recorded by me for this very purpose.)

Well, I went back to Newton Haven, have added to the above in the light of it, but not redacted my view - so, Happy Drinking !


¹ Whose voice I failed to place as that of Bill Nighy.

² IMDb claims that there is a remake fixed for 2015… with Tom Cruise.

³ Not to mention the full evocations of the gallery-space below, ranging from the various tribunals in the Potter films to lecture-theatres and public dissections.

⁴ Actually, recognizable as an amalgam, more or less, of Letchworth Garden City and Welwyn Garden City.

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

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