This Is the End is a film. Yeah.
When the main cast of Star Trek went down to the dangerous alien planet, they always took along some unnamed extras with them (affectionately known as the ‘red shirts’). Why? Because you didn’t care if they died.
This Is the End gives us a main cast of red shirts and puts them into a hostile world, then hopes the audience will care.
Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, James Franco, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride, and Jay Baruchel play hyper-realistic versions of themselves in a world where the Rapture has happened and Satan has begun his dominion of the Earth. Who will survive? Who cares? These are horrible characters with no redeeming features. If they weren’t famous (and some of them are only barely famous), we wouldn’t care about them at all.
The joke appears to be that these actors are all so very self aware of how they are perceived. The tragedy is that none of them is sufficiently self aware to know how self indulgent, morally repugnant, and adolescent this shitty pile of crap is.
Because the film is barely a comedy, the film leaves itself open to two different kinds of analysis. First, what does the film say about the affectations of masculinity pervasive in modern American comedies. Second, how do we understand religious concepts in popular film.
The major cast is painfully obsessed with their presentation as males. Prior to the apocalypse, one cast member sings a song about how he wants all the women to take off their panties. Following twenty minutes of peacocking and various examples of male characters subordinating women (Ha! Did you see the part where Michael Cera got two women to suck him off? And then when Michael Cera slapped Rihanna who was bashed by Chris Brown! Comedy gold, man!), the apocalypse happens. In the post apocalyptic world, there are no women near our protagonists, so they need to demonstrate their masculinity to each other. James Franco has a gun and a pornographic magazine. The others make weapons out of household goods. They begin to ration the food and supplies, but an alpha male appears and begins to consume all of their food. As the male characters begin to cohabitate, naturally the question of who will spoon whom arises and the characters jostle to ensure their constructed masculine ideal is protected.
There’s absolutely no self awareness of this aspect. The audience is treated to two hours of these douchecanoes trying to affirm their manliness. They discuss which of the group is most likely to be turned into the ‘bitch’ (cue: laughter from the audience). When one of the characters ‘jizzes’ over the pornographic magazine, we spend five minutes with two of the characters discussing which of them will ‘jizz’ over the other. Several characters note the enormity of their penis. Franco has a penis sculpture in the living room; one character uses it to construct a tent.
The film explores the comedic element of emasculating other men. As being a woman is the worst thing that could possibly happen to any of the men, the film discusses how funny it would be if the men were threatened with rape. During the night, a male demon enters the room of a sleeping protagonist and removes them of their clothes. Through silhouette, the audience is shown that the demon has a humongous penis and that the protagonist will be violated. The audience laughs. Cut to the next morning where the protagonist is clearly disturbed by what occurred. The audience laughs.
It turns out that demonic possession is some kind of STD. The character — now possessed by a demon — attempts to rape another of the male protagonists, stating that he wishes to ‘titty fuck’ him and that he should ‘push his titties together’.
One of the only women in this film — a surprisingly impressive Emma Watson — abandons the house quickly because she is concerned that she will be raped. On the way to her escape, she smashes the aforementioned penis statue. This is comedy in 2013.
This film is two hours of Rogen et alia being thoroughly anxious about their masculinity. Uncomfortably, awkwardly anxious. Worse, the neurotic obsession with penises doesn’t reach any sort of climax. The final monster demon has — as is standard in this film — an enormous penis. When the rays of heaven shine down upon the Earth, they accidentally castrate the monster. The penis descends to the ground with an almighty crash… and then nothing. Next scene: we’re in Heaven and all the women are hot and wear skimpy clothing! Plus, all the guys get whatever they want, so they wish for a boy band and weed.
Which brings me nicely to the second element. The film has a religious subplot. The Rapture caused all of the good people to ascend into Heaven, leaving all the jerks behind. The film shows us what it means for some of these characters to find redemption.
At this point, some of you might be thinking: ‘Steady on there, Mark. We all know how much you love Augustine and Anselm, but this is just a crappy vanity project! You can’t expect it to make a deep theological point.’
To you, I respond: ‘If the film didn’t have the good grace to be funny, I can damn well criticise it for its abysmal philosophical discussion.’
The film touches on two key areas of theology: soteriology (what it means to be ‘saved’) and eschatology (what it means for the world to end — mostly an exploration of the Book of Revelation, but also including analysis of some of the Old Testament prophets and the apocryphal traditions).
The latter is easiest to explore. At the end of the world, all the good people are beamed up into heaven physically. They don’t just die and end up in Heaven. Their bodies are literally transported upwards. Then begins a set of natural disasters which cause the death of the rest of the population. Earthquakes swallow up people, and hellbeasts chase the rest.
It’s at this point that the audience is left wondering what the point of remaining on Earth is. What does it mean to die in this fictional world the film presents? Imagine that an elderly person was not transported bodily into Heaven and that they suffer a heart attack during the earthquake, what does this mean for their afterlife experience? Is bodily transportation now the only way to get into Heaven? Was bodily transportation the only way to get into Heaven prior to the Rapture? What was it about the Rapture that changed the entrance method into Heaven? Is everybody left on Earth destined for Hell instead? If so, what is the point of trying to kill everybody who remains on Earth? Why have the hellbeasts chase them around in their bodily form, when they’re soon to be tormented in the pits of Hell anyway?
Mind, this is a Rapture completely devoid of Christ. At no point in the film do we see God or Jesus or the Holy Ghost or any clear divine figure. We do see Satan and all his hellbeasts. And this moves us into the realm of soteriology.
There are fundamentally three aspects to salvation in theology: there is the whom, the how, and the what.
‘What’ basically covers what it means for a soul to be saved. In this film, the end goal is to get into the afterlife where all your fantasies are realised. Scantily clad women dance around while you smoke a joint and dance along with the Backstreet Boys. This, of course, is not the only conception of what it means to be saved in theology but it is revealing that the film depicts the ‘good’ afterlife as a place where every vice is licensed. What was banned on Earth is now found aplenty in Heaven.
I really thought that the worst depiction of Heaven I’d see in 2013 would be the one shown in Les Miserables: full of disgusting French revolutionaries. This Is The End has shown me a worse Heaven: where a bunch of misogynist jackholes have their spunkerchief fantasies fulfilled.
‘Whom’ tries to understand the category of person who is eligible for salvation. This aspect of soteriology is quite infamous — in the Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, it’s clear that a set group of 144,000 people will be saved, rather than just everybody and anybody. The film is particularly troubling on this point. One character describes in quite some detail how he raped Lindsay Lohan. Thirty minutes later, he’s one of the saved. Where earlier in the film, the Rapture only took the stereotypically good (a man and his daughter ask to use the bathroom in a convenience store, and they muse about how morally upstanding they are), it is later revealed that any unrepentant rapist can be saved.
And thus we are at the ‘How’. Folk theologians have struggled with the idea of salvation through faith and salvation through grace. The former is the idea that, in order to be saved, you ‘merely’ have to be a devout believer in Christ. The latter is the idea that it is through divine grace — and not through the acts or beliefs of the individual — that mankind has been saved. On the other hand, folk theologians are very comfortable with the idea of salvation through works: the idea that in order to be rewarded in the afterlife (and, as we’ve seen, This Is The End loves the idea of Heaven being an ultimate reward), you need to perform good works while on Earth.
The ‘good works’ in This Is The End consist exclusively of self sacrifice for the sake of your male buddies. Thus, the guy who admitted to raping Lindsay Lohan is saved when he throws a rock at a cannibal so that his friends can escape. Another is saved when he stops jeopardising the salvation of his friend (it’s quite circular that one). Another distracts a hellbeast so his friends can escape — he floats into Heaven wearing his ‘TAKE OFF YOUR PANTIES’ t-shirt. And so on and so forth. Good mates get into Heaven where all the skanks will dance with you.
It’s a fundamentally repugnant film. Rapists, murders, and general shitstains get into Heaven just so long as they are good blokes to other guys.
Could this film have been good? Yes. While watching the film, I couldn’t help but think that I’d seen the same basic plot done much better in Shawn of the Dead. A group of mates try to survive the apocalypse and get into all kinds of trouble. The difference between that film and This Is The End is that the characters are fundamentally likable. You really grow to hate each and every single one of these vapid turds. Even if you’d done it with celebrities, you could easily imagine this film being done with celebrities that you like.
But once the hellbeasts arrive, it is difficult not to imagine how much better the world would have been if the funds for This Is The End had been spent on a live action Battle Pope movie instead. Pictures time!
If you haven’t checked out Battle Pope, you definitely should. It is extremely vulgar and crass, but manages to do some interesting things in that space — particularly surrounding the treatment of the Virgin Mary (depicted above) by God. Plus, it’s fun in a way that This Is The End completely fails to manage.
In conclusion, skip this irredeemably bad film.
- “This is the End”: A Lighthearted and Irreverent Apocalypse (snippetstudios.wordpress.com)
- The theology of “This is the End” (gointothestory.blcklst.com)
- Film Review: This Is The End (themarshalltown.com)
- This Is the End (m.ew.com)