Saturday, June 29, 2013

Committed: "This Is the End" Goes All the Way

Spoiler alert: I discuss the conclusion of This Is the End.

Unless there are categories for "Most F-bombs" or "Biggest Demon Penis," This Is The End is unlikely to contend for any Academy Awards. Yet there is one thing the film, written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, does better than many Hollywood films: it sticks to its premise 100 percent.

I already have noted my delight in apocalyptic films and in Hollywood's penchant for destroying itself in many of them.  In "At the Corner of Hollywood Boulevard & Death Drive," I discussed the attraction of films such as 2012 and Battle: Los Angeles.

I suggested there that Hollywood seems bent upon self-punishment for a variety of sins, and I noted that this has been a theme since the 1930s.  Myron Biring's 1933 novel, The Flutter of an Eyelid, ends with Los Angeles sliding into the Pacific Ocean after an earthquake -- and sweeping all of the characters to their deaths.  Nathaniel West's 1939 novel, The Day of the Locust, concludes with a riot that sweeps away his main characters (who are not very likable).

The Day of the Locust resonates well with This Is the End because the novel's characters are involved in the shallow, soul-killing world of movie-making, and because it describes a large painting titled "The Burning of Los Angeles." In This Is the End, the actors play themselves as vain, stupid, pot-addled man-boys. And we see Los Angeles burning -- and falling down open pits into lakes of fire and being terrorized by demons.  As with the characters in The Day of the Locust and The Flutter of an Eyelid, the people in This Is the End seem to deserve their fates.

The notion of "deserving" is important since the film depicts the Rapture; this is Judgement Day.  The Hollywood B-listers in the film who fall into the open earth are literally being sucked into Hell. No one at James Franco's wild party gets taken into Heaven before the mayhem begins.

What I respected about the film was that it did not back off from its premise, despite its epic scale.

How many apocalyptic films imagine the end of civilization but also imagine some way to save it?  How many films, apocalyptic or not, set up the almost-certain death of central characters only to snatch them from doom however improbably?  How many films depict horrible events that, thankfully, turn out to have been a dream?

I believe Pauline Kael somewhere said something about the difficulty of making a satisfying conclusion to a film.  She said she had seen many good middles of movies but not that many good endings.  (If you can find it, could you let me know where to find it?  I have looked high and low for it.)  She said that the film creators were clever enough to create elaborate problems but not clever enough to make believable solutions.

This Is the End does not suffer from that problem.

The film does not end with our main characters awaking from a bong-induced dream.  Our characters do not somehow save the world, or even just Los Angeles. The world really ends. The gang of celebrities, including Rihanna, really do fall screaming into Hell.  Jonah Hill really has been possessed by a demon.  James Franco really has been eaten alive by a roving band of cannibals. Danny McBride, however, thrives in the new chaos, though he cannot survive long with a giant, anatomically correct demon stomping about. Ultimately, only three of our "heroes" -- Craig Robinson, Seth Rogen, and Jay Baruchel -- make their way to Heaven, which, in this imagining, turns out to be a slacker paradise.  The film ends with a big dance number there.  As it should.

But down below, for Hollywood there is no redemption.

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