Similar to romantic and familial relations, friendships have been consistently explored as compelling factors in a cinematic story. The best tales of friendship use the relationship to reveal truths about the characters involved, evidenced in the Cornetto Trilogy by Edgar Wright.
The Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy started with 2004’s romantic zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead, continued with 2007’s buddy cop action comedy Hot Fuzz, and concluded this summer with sci-fi comedy The World’s End. The films are thematically connected without actually continuing the stories of any characters. All three films use a specific action filled genre to tell a grounded human story about the characters involved. Additionally, each film contains a reference to a famous British ice cream treat called the Cornetto, amongst other Easter Eggs and reoccurring people in front of and behind the camera.
After recently watching the entire trilogy with two of my closest friends from high school, I had some realizations about the films and what I think they have to say about friendship. Here I’d like to share my thoughts. Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS ahead.
The first in the trilogy, Shaun of the Dead, follows Shaun and Ed through the zombie apocalypse. Ed is a foulmouthed unemployed slob, while Shaun is slightly less of a loser with at least a shit job and a girlfriend ready to leave him. Having Ed around makes Shaun feel competent. Shaun depends on Ed to feel successful, while Ed depends on Shaun literally for a home. A demonstration of this relationship comes when Shaun asks Ed to clean up the apartment. At first Ed refuses knowing it’s by the request of their other roommate. Shaun replies “do it for me” to which Ed accepts. This little interaction reveals why the other roommate hates Ed but Shaun doesn’t. Shaun can’t see how Ed uses him and brings him down like everyone else does; yet everyone else can’t see Shaun’s perspective of Ed as loyal and good intended. Additionally, Shaun feels obligated to back up Ed because nobody else will.
When the zombie apocalypse breaks out, their dependency becomes literally for survival. Shaun is forced to confront how Ed holds him back from making progress in his life when Ed wrecks the car they are using and later inadvertently alerts the zombies by making a loud phone call. When a zombie bites Ed, Ed forces Shaun to go ahead without him. As soon as he does, Shaun is saved by the military. Through this metaphor we learn the sad truth that sometimes we need to let go of the things that are closest to us. Shaun learns not that he must let go of Ed, but rather that he must let go of his dependency on Ed. Friendships are important to keep, but sometimes can force you to hold on to a version of yourself that has been around for far too long.
The second film tells almost the opposite story of friendship. Hot Fuzz sees its protagonist Nicholas Angel learn the importance of trusting and depending on others. The film begins with super cop Angel being transferred because he makes everyone else on the police force look bad. With their enthusiasm for his departure, it is clear Angel’s coworkers did not like him, nor did his ex who left him because of his obsession with police work.
When he gets to his new, quaint town Angel is met with the same contempt, save for Danny, a fellow police officer and his very antithesis. Danny is an incompetent police officer obsessed with action movies. Their friendship makes them both better people, as opposed to the situation found in Shaun of the Dead. Nicholas helps Danny become a better cop while Danny helps Nicholas loosen up and enjoy life outside of his job. The plot of the film works as a cinematic manifestation of their friendship. The protagonist’s lowest point, where it seems he cannot take down the villains, occurs when he is away from Danny. Only when they reunite and utilize the whole team of the police force can they down a cult of criminals. Their collective success works as a metaphor for their friendship.
The film tells the tale of the surprise friendship. The one you need more than you know. At first Nicholas and Danny do not feel the void in their lives that they fill for each other by the end of the film. Nicholas learns that some things are impossible to get through alone when he tries to take down the cult. Nicholas never lets his guard down as a police officer. When he gains trust with Danny, the audience and Nicholas realize there is strength in admitting when you need someone else.
The closing chapter to the trilogy finds the most complex friendship yet. The World’s End follows Gary King, a middle aged man stuck in the past. King is that asshole friend we all have. While his friends grow up and get families, Gary falls into alcoholism and sorrow. He peaked in high school. The film follows Gary’s reunion with his old friends, particularly his best friend Andy, as their attempt at a pub-crawl is threatened by their hometown’s abduction from aliens.
While the first Cornetto film warns of friendships making us hold onto the past, the finale shows us a character whose obsession with the past has actually ruined the friendship. Gary’s old friends hate him because his arrested development destroys his morals. In display of ego he assists his sober friend in reverting back to alcohol, causes 2 of his other friends to be abducted by aliens, and eventually becomes the catalyst for the end of the modern world, sending the earth back into the dark ages with the vanishing of technology. Unlike Shaun and Ed’s relationship, Gary’s friendship with Andy is not salvageable. We learn that Andy’s wife has left him because he has become too stiff. A lesser film would simply conclude that fun-loving Gary could even out Andy if they reconnect. Unfortunately, it is not that simple.
As the film concludes, Andy and Gary lead separate lives. Much like the film’s climax, we are left conflicted by the conclusion of their relationship. In the end, an alien invasion is defeated, but as a consequence the earth becomes a dark place. A High School friendship is lost presumably permanently, but Andy’s life is probably a lot better because of it. Not everything is black and white in life. Sometimes sacrifices are ultimately necessary for the greater good (Fuzz reference intended), and when it comes down to it, friendships don’t always last forever.
Ultimately the trilogy reminds us that friendships, like any other relationships, can be great or awful. It takes a lot to realize just how important a friendship might be, but it takes even more to realize when a friendship needs to be let go.
All of the above, of course, is my own personal interpretation of the movies. Films are a subjective experience. I’d love to hear how others interpret the relationships created in this trilogy. Leave a comment letting me know what you all think.