No More Time: God lets us write the end of our own story

By Erin Ryan

You do not know when the time will come. (Nov. 30, Mark 13:33)

Chronologically, November reminds us that yet another year is coming to an end. Liturgically, November reminds us that, as Christians, we believe one day everything will end. Jesus’ parables this month try to prepare us for that fact: The kingdom is already here. We need to decide, now, whether we want to be in it when there is no more time at all.

There’s a movie that’s been playing a lot on TV lately called “The World’s End.” It’s a 2013 sci-fi/comedy by the same people who made “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” — maybe not the kind of movie you’d show at your local parish, but hey, Catholic News Service gave it a pretty good review. And it got me thinking about questions of identity and free will, the way all good science fiction can.

The main character in “The World’s End,” Gary King (Simon Pegg), was the coolest kid in his hometown of Newton Haven. The best day of Gary’s life was the day he graduated from high school in 1990. That night, to celebrate, he and his four best friends attempted to do the “Golden Mile,” a route on which drinkers hit every one of the 12 pubs in Newton Haven and down a pint at each one. They never quite finished.

Gary, now pushing 40, becomes obsessed with completing the pub crawl. He’s determined to get to The World’s End, the last pub on the list. He has not seen his friends in 20 years, but he convinces them all to get back together for a weekend in Newton Haven. The friends have all gotten respectable jobs. Some of them have families. Gary, however, has not changed a bit since age 17. He still dyes his hair black, wears the same Goth clothes, drives the very same car, listens to the same mix tape. Gary is obnoxious, selfish, juvenile. He’s an addict. The others find him pitiful, especially his former best friend Andy (Nick Frost), who remains angry at Gary for a past betrayal.

Back in Newton Haven, the charming pubs have all been taken over by corporations. Each looks the same as another. No one remembers Gary King and his “legendary” exploits back in the day. The townspeople are indifferent to his arrival. Gary’s friends decide this is all a waste of time. Before they can return to London, though, they realize the townspeople aren’t even human anymore. They’ve been replaced by copies of themselves.

This all leads up to an exchange between Gary and Andy and an alien voice (Bill Nighy) that manifests itself as a beam of light: “Gary King, of the humans,” it begins.

“We are The Network and we are here for your betterment.” It explains why it had to replace those who would not cooperate with its “peaceful indoctrination” aimed at making the Earth more “civilized.”

I turn 40 in December (maybe one reason I so liked this movie about fading youth). After I watched “The World’s End,” I read some reviews of it online. The writers of the film, Pegg and director Edgar Wright, said they were particularly inspired by British social science fiction of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. Wright singled out, among other influences, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the works of John Christopher, whose Tripods novels deal with an alien race that enslaves the minds of humans and makes them into a peaceful, agrarian people.

“The World’s End” is not a religious movie. Still, it takes up human themes that preoccupy us all, religious or not. Namely: Is finding peace and comfort worth it if you’ve had to give up your freedom to get them?
Gary, broken as he is, decides not.

“Oh, (blank) off, you big lamp!” Gary shouts.

“You are children and you require guidance,” The Network continues to lecture. “You act out the same cycles of self-destruction again and again.”

Gary laughs. “I think you bit off more than you could chew with Earth, mate.”

“Yeah,” Andy says. “Because we are more belligerent, more stubborn, more idiotic than you can possibly imagine.”

I won’t tell you how “The World’s End” ends, but suffice it to say this argument with The Network leads to some major changes in everyone’s lives.

Some blogger posited that The Network sounded like God, to him: some big voice in the sky telling us what to do.

I thought, no, this is not like God. God knows how idiotic we are. God became one of us in order to find out how it felt to be us. To be powerless. To want to be free.

Jesus knew the divine life. He also knew the human heart. So, did Jesus ever force anyone to change? Did Jesus ever co-opt a person’s mind and will “for their own good”?

No. Jesus just told stories. He told parables about people who make their own choices. He knew that no one wants to be forced to do the right thing. God invites us, gives us a glimpse of the stakes and consequences, and then leaves the door open.

We get to finish our own story.

That’s the world’s end.

This article appears in the November 2014 issue of Celebration. Erin Ryan is associate editor of Celebration. She lives in Charlotte, N.C. Email her at erinryan45@gmail.com.

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