Posted by Ken Burke On August - 30 - 2013 0 Comment

There are two new films making the rounds that deal with the concept of “living for today,” but with the hedonistic interpretation of that phrase that puts all of the emphasis on sensual pleasure for its own sake, maintaining a comfortable status quo, and assuming that the joys and interests of adolescence can be maintained much further into inevitable adulthood. Both The Spectacular Now and The World’s End feature protagonists whose obsession with the joys of celebrating “today” are causing them needed-intervention-level difficulties. In the case of soon-to-graduate high-school senior Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) in The Spectacular Now we have a kid who’s fun to be around but whose only ambitions seem to daily drunkenness and reclaiming the desirable girlfriend who finally got tired of his rut-defined life. Similarly, in The World’s End we have long-past-high-school alcoholic and first-class crazy guy Gary King (Simon Pegg), whose desperate need is to transform “then” (his teenage life, seemingly very similar to Sutter’s although it came to a close in 1990) into “now” so that his perpetual motion can remain in the same circles that he was comfortable with many years back; his understanding of “living for today” is simply to finish the quest he and his four mates failed at so long ago, making the rounds of all twelve pubs in their hometown in a single night.

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Neither of these guys seems to have any concept of the higher calling of “living in the present,” which is a goal of many religious/spiritual seekers of enlightenment who are trying to be fully aware of their existence, fully engaged in the physical (and metaphysical) environment that they occupy with its various challenges, obligations, distractions, and occasional glorious pleasures (which don’t have to include loss of consciousness from passing out drunk on a random lawn as is the case with Sutter, although a loss of obsession with the material world is a goal of those “fully present” seekers). I go into much more detail in my review of these two interrelated films at http://filmreviewsfromtwoguysinthedark.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-spectacular-now-and-worlds-end.html, but you can tell from any advance publicity on either of them that Spectacular Now is a teenage romantic comedy (with some very legitimate serious aspects) that wants to encourage its audiences to move from “today” to “present” while World’s End is a broad satire on people stuck in the training stage of adulthood which then evolves into goofy-but-danger-laden plot devices about manipulative aliens, soulless robots, and the challenge humans face in not being forced down the route of Invasion of the Body Snatchers conformity (all of this while Gary still tries desperately to finish his long-delayed pub-crawl). There are lots of laughs in both of these films as we’re encouraged to see the shallowness of the “live for today” lifestyle, but Spectacular Now actually wants its viewers to learn something about ambition and vision whereas World’s End laughs at anything that smells of seriousness, including its own ideas about the clash between the bliss of mindless pleasure vs. the haphazard possibilities of free choice.

I think both of these films are well worth your time, both to see for their strong entertainment value as well as discussion-starters about what they present in their respective seriocomic and flat-out absurdist manners. If they can serve to get some dialogue going about their differing attacks on complacency, then I think we could all benefit from some of that (although recovering alcoholics might want to seriously consider whether all of the free-flowing booze in these stories is going to make them difficult to sit through because for those trying to stay sober the constant consumption in these films is no joke).

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