Yesterday I saw Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s This is the End, a meditation on the difficulties of balancing friendship and ambition with a lot of demons and dick jokes. I liked it, even though it resoundingly fails the Bechdel test; I don’t think a single conversation takes place between two women, full stop—forget figuring out if all they have to talk about is men.
Jay Baruchel visits his friend Seth Rogen. Both Canadian actors, Rogen has remained in LA and become a star, while Baruchel, at least for the purposes of this film, is a bit of a nobody. As a fan of the swiftly cancelled series Undeclared and the hockey comedy Goon, Baruchel doesn’t seem like a nobody to me, but he is pretty Canadian, whereas Rogen has attained a Trebeck, perhaps even Shatner-level of assimilation: the American dream. Rogen drags Baruchel to James Franco’s housewarming party, and while going out for cigarettes and grousing that Rogen’s new Hollywood friends will never be his friends, the world starts ending. There are sinkholes, demons, and some folks getting beamed out in columns of blue light. Rogen and Baruchel cower in Franco’s house with their host, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, and Danny McBride. Together they try to figure out what’s going on and how they will survive.
Unlike many homosocial comedies, I found the dearth of ladies completely plausible. These guys are terrible. They’re pretentious, they’re petty, they turn Franco’s house into the chemical equivalent of the parking lot at a Dead show. To liven up the cast by including wives, girlfriends, or even female buddies would have strained the credibility of this apocalyptic action comedy. Jonah Hill possessed by the devil? Bring it. James Franco with a girlfriend? Erm. No.
Goldberg and Rogen show a lot of savvy in making this realistic assessment, and like the F/X series The League, I am thoroughly entertained by the assholery of men in their natural habitat. However, the intensity of the relationships between these men and Rogen, who is positioned, by virtue of his easy-going nature, good humor, and basic human decency (perhaps more concisely, Canadian-ness), as an object of mutual desire brings a tension to the proceedings that, sadly, can only be released in the most predictable ways. The end of the world looms in the fires, earthquakes, and demons that surround Franco’s house, but the greatest threat lies in the possibility of sexual desire lurking behind everyone’s longing to be “BFFFFFFs!” with Seth.
Did I mention that the demons wield ginormous, semi-erect penises?
I suspect it will take several viewings for me to really sort out the sexual politics of this film. I’m not sure that Goldberg and Rogen have a clue. Rogen, as co-director, co-writer and star, gives a selfless performance in many ways, even including shots that other directors would reject for foregrounding, to no particular purpose, Rogen’s burgeoning bald spot.* Still, Rogen casts himself as a shaggy, pot-addled Hepburn here, and everyone else is Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant, trying to figure out how to rescue him. Really, the only truly unredeemable characters in this film are the ones who aren’t obsessed with Rogen. I won’t spoil the film by mentioning who they are, but those immune to Rogen’s charms or unwilling to play fair in their courting are not long for this movie.
The dick jokes and gay jokes and actual dicks are thrown around with so much abandon that I can’t help but think that Rogen and Goldberg must, on some level, be in on it. When one man accuses another of spending the previous evening in oral congress, we, the audience, feel like we know whose side we’re on: the guy making the joke is the one with the problem. Goldberg and Rogen complicate this familiar dynamic in American film, television, pop music, playgrounds, American everything, really, by suggesting that maybe both sides are right. The homophobic asshole sees what is really going on—these men do love each other in a way that excludes women. Whether this love finds physical consummation or not is beside the point. In This is the End these guys literally want to be together in ways that transcend the physical plane. Is this romance or is this the end of the world?
* Good Jewish boy that he is, Rogen’s bald spot has the classic, rubbed-raw by yarmulke look. As a chosen person myself I found this more arousing than the demon penises, which are obviously Christian.
– Margaret F.