“This is the End”: A Lighthearted and Irreverent Apocalypse

** Complete Spoilers for “This is the End” Inbound **

This is the End stars a healthy portion of Judd Apatow‘s acting troupe pretending to be “themselves” in a movie about the end of the world. Jay Baruchel and Seth Rogen are long-time friends attempting to reconnect in LA while Jay is in town for a visit. The two out-of-touch friends reconnect over a 3D television and a myriad of pot-smoking devices for awhile before Seth invites Jay along to a party at James Franco‘s. Immediately, Jay doles out a down-to-Earth, holier-than-thou vibe and condemns all of Hollywood – particularly Jonah Hill – as “not his scene”. Seth Rogen, on the other hand, enjoys the success and friendship he’s found in LA. Given the nature of this movie as one about celebrities, it’s immediately difficult to feel for Jay. While the predicament of losing touch with old friends is relatable and easy to understand, sympathizing with rich and famous actors is not. If you take a closer look at their relationship, you’re forced to wonder: is the conflict between them more about the disparity in their levels of fame (Envy) OR is Seth Rogen actually a sell-out (Pride)? The likely answer is a combination of the two, in which case both of our protagonists appear to be guilty of a Deadly Sin. Well, at least it’s not Judgment Day or anything…

While at the party, Jay mopes his way through a few strained conversations with a number of well-known faces, including Rihanna, Jason Segel, Aziz Ansari, and several more actors that you’d imagine would be going buck-wild at James Franco’s housewarming party. Even Michael Cera is there, doing lines of coke, slapping Rihanna’s ass, and having some kind of three-way in the bathroom with a popsicle. Seth and Jay are out for a snack run to the convenience store several blocks away when a massive earthquake strikes and a portion of people everywhere are brought up into the sky with pretty, blue tractor beams. The immediate mystery is exciting! Alien invasion? Judgment day!? SKYNET!?!? Why were the ridiculously nice father and daughter beamed up into the sky whereas the rude cashier is left behind and immediately squashed by a giant piece of falling debris? Why does it take Seth Rogen so long to get out from underneath a fallen chip rack? Such compelling mysteries! In what I found to be the best scene of the movie, Jay and Seth comically trot out the store and awkwardly walk-run behind the camera all the way back to Franco’s. They’re losing it. Cars are burning and crashing. People are screaming and dying. Fire. Blood. It’s all there. They’re high and drunk and freaking out, and for some reason all the violence is positively delightful, mostly because it’s so ludicrous. The world around them has become the spitting image of stereotypical Hell on Earth: fire, brimstone, ash, and even demons!

Tell me that Ninja Rapist is not a real movie. Are we sure it wasn’t Hell on Earth before?

Back at the party, a sinkhole soon swallows up a majority of the attendees and the remainder scatter. By the time the dust settles, Jay has become painted as the film’s unlikely hero (probably because he’s the least famous member of the main cast) complete with a scene of him epically climbing back over the edge of the hole with epic music. Jay is trapped inside Franco’s house with the other remaining survivors: Seth Rogen, James Franco, Danny McBride, Jonah Hill, and Craig Robinson. It soon becomes clear. The Rapture has come. Demons lurk outside. The blue tractor beams are how God saves the chosen few (note: our cast is not part of the chosen few). Everyone else has been left to experience Hell where through these trials, they too might be redeemed.

This notion would be acceptable, even laudable, if it were done earnestly. Rather than take Judgment Day as a reason to reform and learn the err of their selfishness, the crew continues to bounce from one selfish scene to the next. Danny McBride wastes most of their food in one massive hungover breakfast (and guzzles large portions of their water later on). Jay preaches to and passes judgment on basically everyone else without any measure of self-reflection for a majority of the film. James Franco cares more about preserving his home and vapidly flattering Seth than anything else. A section of the movie is even dedicated to Seth Rogen and James Franco working through the potential plot of Pineapple Express‘s sequel only to go on and actually film it using Franco’s camera from the filming of 127 Hours. We see snippets of the atrocious final product that is, admittedly, pretty hilarious.

An actual still from their “sequel” to Pineapple Express.

Exaggerated narcissism is in excess in This is the End but at no point does it arrive at the necessary stage of self-reflection. The viewer wants caricatures and they get caricatures, but the viewer wants them for a reason. We want evolution of character and a critique of Hollywood’s vanity, not a parade of it. What we get is a shallow, tasteless romp through a post-Apocalyptic experience that is as crass as it is irreverent. The few people that survive the initial moment of Rapture can be redeemed in moments of great sacrifice and still be saved via pretty blue tractor beams. What this film needed was for these few characters to make their penis jokes and tease one another with vulgar humor but to eventually realize the importance of sacrifice. In one of the most worthwhile scenes, the house has been destroyed and the gang is cornered by a massive, winged demon. Fed up, Craig tells the rest of them to hop in the nearby car while he distracts it, therefore sacrificing his life just so they can have a greater chance of survival. As Craig runs at the demon screaming and is about to be killed, HUZZAH, pretty blue tractor beam for him. The whole bit is very on the nose, but it works on a thematic level. Beforehand, Craig is the only one to openly admit what he considers to be his past sins (gouging out a man’s eyes in a barfight) whereas everyone else seems to be a run of the mill selfish a-hole. Craig believes that this is Hell. You can go so far as to say he’s developed a genuine fear of God and remorse for his actions.

Craig’s sacrifice is a gratifying moment in This is the End and it should have set the remaining survivors up for some character development, but rather than – oh, I don’t know – learning something about the value of friendship and integrity, they treat the event as a cause-and-effect learning experience. They immediately see sacrifice as a means to an end (heaven) which completely devalues the nature of the act. They know how to get to heaven now, so they are all chomping at the bit to make it happen. In the car they flatter one another with compliments and wonder aloud why they haven’t been saved yet. Minutes later, before Danny McBride with Channing Tatum gimp in tow devours them all (I know…WTF?), James Franco makes his own “noble sacrifice” by starting a brawl and telling Jay and Seth to run for it. Sure enough: pretty blue tractor beam for him. Before he can be whisked away, James Franco flips off Danny McBride and shouts out more than a few f*ck you’s to the extent that his beam disappears, leaving him to be eaten by a gang of cannibals. Lesson learned: don’t be Greedy and Prideful in the face of Redemption.

Jay and Seth – the final two survivors – run from cannibals for half a second before they spy, looming overhead, a Godzilla-sized Satan with a disproportionately large penis, seven heads, and ten horns. I bet you can tell which parts of that description were taken directly out of the Book of Revelation. Now, in the face of death, Jay admits to being a self-righteous jerk and HUZZAH a beam pulls him up. Seth can’t do anything but cling to Jay’s hand as they are pulled skyward. Unfortunately, their skylift is over its capacity and the beam starts to short out (don’t even get me started on the ridiculousness of God beams having a carrying capacity and limited power supply). To everyone’s surprise, Seth opts to let go and fall to his death rather than bring Jay down with him. Before falling into the Devil’s biggest, open mouth (you guessed it) HUZZAH! The beam tears the Devil apart with a special attention to severing the aforementioned penis (So. Incredibly. Unnecessary.).

All of this might have been okay if This is the End stopped there. They never really understood sacrifice – and Franco met a righteously gruesome death as a result – but Jay and Seth fortunately came to care more about each other than themselves, and that is the most important thing. Up in heaven they dash around on some low-gravity clouds all bathed in light, a Heaven that is even more stereotypical than the Hell back on Earth. Craig is at the gates to welcome them to an enormous dance party where everyone has an angelic halo and is wearing all white. Even Seth’s thick-rimmed glasses are pearly white now! In heaven, whatever you could possibly want is immediately given to you just by wishing it through thought. Do you want to fly? Do you want a puppy? Do you want half-naked dancing girls all around you? Weed? Alcohol? A segway? You get it all! There are even roller coasters and blimps in the background. That’s right folks. Heaven, quite simply put, is the ultimate land of self-indulgence where after a selfish life and a brief moment of remorse, you are granted an eternity self-indulgence.

Ultimately, what begins as a poignantly self-critical piece on the vanity of Hollywood … winds up being a narcissistic, irreverent, and masturbatory piece on the vanity of Hollywood. I would prefer that Jay and Seth show us some semblance of a character arc or not have any at all. Why not just give us a movie with actors being ridiculous and failing to survive the apocalypse? That would be hilarious! That was what I expected. Instead, they failed to humanize these actors – who no viewer could possibly relate to – and made a weak attempt at characterization. Instead of using celebrities as a gimmick and highlighting the development of real people, This is the End reinforces our bitter assumptions that celebrities are narcissists. And if you’re going to ship them off to heaven in the finale, then we at least need to have heroes that deserve t0 be saved. Are Jay Baruchel and Seth Rogen really deserving of the same fate as Theseus in Immortals? Theseus gave his life and fought valiantly to stop Hyperion from destroying humanity. Jay and Seth…decided not to hate each other? Above and beyond all that, either don’t show heaven at all or make it one that is Good.

If you can look past the larger thematic failures of This is the End, appreciate dick jokes, and tolerate humor involving rape (which you shouldn’t be able to), then you will enjoy the movie. It’s actually quite funny throughout and particularly in the opening scenes at the party. Something that this movie does very well? Showcases an offensively coked out Michael Cera in a thinly veiled attempt to stop his endless chain of being typecast. Maybe after this we will see him as more than just a quiet, awkward nice kid. Another thing to enjoy? Watching Hermione beat the crap out of everyone and take all of their drinks after they half-joke for five minutes about potentially raping her.

Sorry to end on that note, but people deserve entertainment that reinforces positive cultural values rather than belittling them. For better films involving what may or may not be the end of the world, see any of the following:

Cabin in the Woods

Shaun of the Dead

Zombieland

I Am Legend

According to a Vulture.com article, Morgan Freeman refused to participate in a revised ending in which he and God play a joke on Seth, Jay, and Craig that ends with God suggesting that they all get high and play video games. I wonder why a dignified actor like Morgan Freeman would refuse? Oh, right! Because he is a widely respected actor with dignity.

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