Feast then die in peace, what better program for the holiday season? It is in any case the one that Simon (Matthew Goode) and Nell (Keira Knightley) have chosen to follow alongside their children, including Art (Roman Griffin Davis, son of the director and revelation of jojo rabbit), to celebrate Christmas one last time. And their loved ones are naturally invited to the festivities in their large property nestled in the heart of the English countryside. So why is this idyllic picture doomed to darken? The reason is simple: a deadly gas is spreading across the world, and in a few hours, it will be the turn of the English to taste it.
During his first half, happy end of the world intelligently eludes the imminence of catastrophe by focusing on the hypocritical attitude of its characters. When the guests, about to arrive at their destination, turn on the car radio and sing along to the fashionable Christmas hit (yes, it’s Michael Bublé who sticks to it), we feel that all that collegiate good humor rings false. And the comedy must last as long as possible in order to preserve appearances and thus postpone the deadline of death. You just have to see Nell arranging mistletoe branches all over the house, the lucky plant par excellence, but also a symbol of immortality during Antiquity.
“A toast to our happy reunion… and funeral!“
” I have tried for years to write stories about the class system of mine, and the dysfunction of the middle and upper classes in England “, said Camille Griffin during an interview given to the site Screening, on the occasion of the release of the film across the Atlantic. One thing is certain, his stubbornness ended up paying off as the objective was fully achieved.
Between the low masses and the public humiliations, the characters do not make any gift (too bad, it’s Christmas) and embody on their own the decadent and superficial petty bourgeoisie. ” I saw The Road and no way I live that. I can’t stand post-apocalyptic monochrome “, we hear at the turn of a conversation. If the line is obviously very funny, it also shows the lightness with which the group considers the approach of the cataclysm.
Once again, it’s all about cosmetics, right down to the traditional blessing sung by Simon when he doesn’t believe in God. It is also very interesting that the director decides to gradually reduce the general hubbub of the festivities to tend towards murmurs and then silence. A choice that of course refers to the original title of the film, silent nightin reference to the famous sacred melody of Franz Gruber (magnificently re-orchestrated here by the composer Lorne Balfe), but also to a new form of spirituality, the characters realizing that there is no point in showing off.
Laughs best who laughs last
THE PILL WITHOUT MORNING
It is therefore halfway through that happy end of the world begins to dig a more dramatic furrow when Art, the only true free thinker of the group, questions the authority of the adults and in particular of his parents. What if there was a chance for them to survive this scourge? Why blindly rely on government or even scientific advice? So many questions that the boy will raise without detour, with a civic and political conscience so acute for his age that it could seem totally absurd from the point of view of the spectator. But it is also the great idea of the film to make the child take on the role of conscientious objector.
” Take your exit pill, avoid suffering and die with dignity “, Informs a government spot. Here is the new command to which the country must submit, the only alternative found by the power in place. Basically, Art criticizes his family and those close to him for accepting their helplessness in the face of events, he who regularly takes control of his destiny, in an innocuous way at first by discreetly modifying the seating plan, then in a more radical way afterwards. fleeing the house in defiance of danger.
The voice of reason
Of course, the director in no way seeks to justify the anti-system drifts through the boy’s rebellious behavior, and it is worth remembering that the film was written before the Covid-19 pandemic.. That being said, the film highlights the responsibility incumbent on the younger generations to succeed where the previous ones failed, by pushing them to assert themselves, to question their own environment. And the more doubt creeps into the debate, the more the masks fall.
The spatio-temporal tightening of the action makes it possible otherwise to show the landscape and in particular the weather deteriorating at high speed. At nightfall, the horizon announces a storm of all devils, with lightning and tornadoes in the key. We come back again to the religious and sacred dimension of the project. If the theories are going well (it’s a blow from the Russians on one side, a revenge from Mother Nature on the other), the threat does not come less from the sky. From there to seeing it as a divine punishment, there is only one step.
The deeply loving gaze of a mother towards her son
It is therefore less a question of the end of the world than of the end of a world. When the snow finally makes its appearance in the final shots, it is symbolically the sign of a new era, and ironically, the belated reminder that the magic of Christmas exists. In this sense, we escape the nihilism of a Lars Von Trier period Melancholia, without pouring into the pure happy ending, far from it. A precious balance between humor and seriousness, candor and darkness, which the film maintains with insolent talent throughout its duration.
Happy End of the World is available on DVD and Blu-ray since September 23, 2022