Interview: <i>The World's End</i> is a Very Personal Movie About An Alien Invasion

08/22/2013 9:30 AM |

Edgar Wright on the set of The Worlds End

The World’s End represents the third and final chapter in what has been informally dubbed “the Three Flavors Cornetto Trilogy,” a loose-knit and mock-serious series that also includes rom-com zombie flick Shaun of the Dead and the rural England Michael Bay parody Hot Fuzz. Their director and cowriter, Edgar Wright, has built his reputation on his rapid-fire screwball dialogue and penchant for pop culture references, but his real speciality runs deeper: no comic filmmaker working today invests so much emotional and psychological energy into his work, fleshing out an array of densely layered one-liners and ultra-subtle sight gags with an unexpected dramatic depth. Each of his films are, to varying degrees, deeply personal movies about real-life issues, from the soul-sapping effects of complacency to the Sisyphean struggle of growing up—they just also happen to feature zombies and robots and evil ex-boyfriends. With The World’s End opening on August 23, we sat down with Edgar Wright to talk about small towns, glory days, and why you can’t hit a pub crawl when you’re going on 40.

I’ve seen the film twice now. I think it’s your masterpiece.
Aw, thank you so much. Guillermo Del Toro did a Q&A with me last night in Toronto and he said something that really made me laugh. He said, “it’s highly ironic that your most mature movie also has killer robots in it.”

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Good point.
Thank you, though; that means a lot to me. We’re very proud of the movie. Some people, you know, would rather we do a Shaun of the Dead 2 or a Hot Fuzz 2. But even though we’ve made this trilogy of sorts, it’s really important to keep mixing it up. They need to have slightly different flavors and tones. You need to grow with the characters.

Are these characters personal to you?
There is a lot of personal stuff in Shaun of the Dead and in Hot Fuzz, even though it might not seem like there is. But The World’s End is the most personal of the three films. It was great for Simon [Pegg] and me to write. We developed the idea for this script about six years ago, but we didn’t start writing it until two years ago. We already had the story in mind, but when we actually started writing, all of our personal experiences from over the last couple of years just sort of came flooding out. So much of it comes from our own experiences, or from personal anecdotes. It’s fun for me to see it all up there on the big screen.

I often feel that your movies are quite personal and emotional. Some filmmakers who make genre films seem to build in social satire sort of flimsily, as if they were straining to make a point. But in your films it seem like the genre elements are simply the emotions manifesting themselves.
Absolutely, yeah.

How do you balance those genre elements and the more genuine emotions?
Simon and I are both fans of genre filmmaking, so I think some of it is just instinctual. A lot of the science fiction that inspired this movie, whether it’s books or movies or TV shows, were things that I grew up with, and I know them so well that it’s almost an instinctual thing, in a way. For example, in Shaun of the Dead, the zombies sort or represent complacency and conformity. But when we were writing that movie we were thinking more about how we might put ourselves into the George Romero universe, to see how that sort of film might play out if the heroes had hangovers rather than guns, and how they might cope. With The World’s End, I feel like the sci-fi elements reflect how Gary King, the hero, feels throughout the movie. It’s almost like a coping mechanism. There’s a scene in the film in which Gary realizes that there are otherworldly forces controlling the town, and when he delivers the speech which explains the plan to his friends, he’s happy, he’s smiling. And the reason he’s smiling is that it’s easier, in a way, to conclude that there might be an alien invasion than to realize that a) he’s old, b) the town has moved on without him, and c) that the two may not be as good as he remembered it being anyway. In a strange way, blaming the passage of time on some external forces becomes his coping strategy. I come from a small town and I have these kinds of bittersweet feelings when I go back, because it isn’t the place where I grew up. But obviously I went away and I have no right to go back and say, “Well, that shouldn’t be there.” The genre threats in this film are like a very surreal manifestation of that emotion.