Last week I rewatched The World's End, the final film in the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy by the British comedic trio Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost. For the most part I agree with the bulk of the critics: It's a funny, heartfelt movie that goes careening off the rails at the end. Having seen all three of the films by these guys, I have to say this was the least funny, but the best overall film of the three. Though the premise seems perfect for a long series of romping set pieces--5 aging friends get together to finally complete a pub crawl they never finished when they were 18--Wright and company lace the storyline with a little too much bitter realism to make most of the gags stick. Far from being a criticism, this is what makes the movie so good. We begin with with stock characters, effectively a British version of the gang from American Pie all grown up, setting out to conquer their home town one last time, and end with an emotionally charged buddy flick that somehow teases out many of the very real emotions we all feel as we grow older and find that life has not turned out the way we thought it would.
While I feel fairly optimistic about the future, I couldn't help but relate to the feelings stirred up during the adventure. Every year all my college buddies get together and every year we try to do what we were capable of doing when were 20 and every year it gets harder and harder. This most recent year was by far the most humorous (because really, how else can you deal with aging but laughing at it, right?), because we all went so hard the first night that it was all we could do to just get out of bed the remainder of the weekend. Once we got the reliving the old days part of the trip out of our systems, though, everything sort of mellowed and we settled into a groove that was, strangely, more like the old days than the partying.
The characters in The World's End spend a lot of time talking about selective memory, and I find that is sort of the hallmark, if not the joy, of growing older. And those memories we remember, or choose to fixate on, in many ways say a great deal about what we value in life. I find it interesting that I always choose to remember those great party moments from the ole' college days, yet the latter half of this most recent weekend with my friends reminded me why exactly those years were so much fun. Sure the parties were enjoyable, life affirming in a way, but I can't help but feel what made those years so much fun was really that I was surrounded by some of the best friends I'll ever have in my life. I was sure of who I was and where I was going--in a wholly deluded way, sure, but certain no less. I had almost everything I needed within a few feet of me at all times. That sort of life seems somehow pure, innocent. Not the partying or the goofing off or the lack of real responsibility, but the certainty and the unfettered pursuit of joy.
The denouement of The World's End is as important as all the pining and guilt that comes before. When everything is gone and life is reduced to its most basic, there are only a few things that matter beyond food, water, and shelter. At the end--or beginning --of all things, we want very few things: Family, friends, comfort.
And all those things are free.