It's fucking Film Critic Hulk, so expect 10,000 words of bloviation until he gets to the damn point. But the dude--who really really needs an EDITOR--makes some good points. Film Crit Hulk Smash: ALCOHOL, WITHNAIL AND GARY KING [Lower Caps Bruce Banner Edition] : Edgar Wright Here
Let’s start here: most often we see the use of robots in sci-fi or films as stand-ins for conformity. You know the conflicts that come from that, the enlightened vs. the unenlightened, etc. And a few people sort of suspect that conformity is also the thematic subject of this movie, but that’s not really accurate. In fact, it seems like a lot of people couldn’t get a good lock on what the robots represented exactly. For instance, if you look at them from Gary’s view the behaviour of the robots is that they are lifeless, personality-less, killjoys (and beer obstacles!) he even keeps referencing the meaning of robots being “slaves,” but they keep insisting “we’re not slaves.” So then you should also notice that to Nick Frost’s character, Andy Knightly, the robots take the form of temptresses. And for peter page the robots take the form of a school bully and childhood trauma. And even for basil, the crazy guy with the crazy straw at the bar (“not so crazy now!”), the robots are all part of a vast conspiracy! So what is perhaps confusing is that, within the context of the narrative, all of these characterizations are completely true… And that’s when one detail becomes very important… That’s when you have to remember, this is a movie that doesn’t mince words. That everything is very much on purpose. So notice the long scene where our lovely drunken fools can’t seem to agree on what they should call these robots. They try and try and none of the funny names stick… So instead they call end up calling them “blanks.” and that’s when it all snaps into focus and the central theme of this device becomes clear. They’re not robots, they’re blanks. They’re plain white canvases. They are mere shells that we can project ourselves onto, whether they are our fears. Our desires, our hopes, our hang-ups, or whatever is the greatest conflict in our adult lives. They are blanks that embody those feelings. And when you realize that, the robots in this film actually become reflections. O-man succumbs to self-involved ego. Page succumbs when he turns back to go fight a bully (his demon, really). Sure, Page even lets out a funny joke that “it’s worth it” but he still lost his life in the fight. These events are all reflective of personal baggage. Go back again and look at everything Crazy Basil says to Steven in the coat room at the Mermaid and see how it fits into the overall idea: he talks all about the fateful comet bringing the blanks on the night of the original pub crawl. What could just feel like simple exposition is instead tapping into the key themes (again, nothing is an accident in these movies). For it was that night when adolescence was left behind the fears of all the characters took shape. All of their “blanks” were ushered onto this planet the night of their great last moment of youth. This is not an accident or throwaway exposition. The analogy is clear: The comet bringing “the blanks” was the herald of all their respective adulthood problems. Now, where this analogy might seem problematic to you is in trying to see how it fits into the final standoff with “the network,” which on the surface it seems like a basic sci-fi trope about individuality in the midst of technocratic sociological conformity (which is an actual thing! … It’s also a recent ‘Dr Who’ plot!). But again, this movie wouldn’t be about something as simple as the analogue vs. Modernity, or even generational nostalgia. Instead, the final standoff completely fits our “blank” thematic model because that moment is all about self-honesty of our ability to live up to our projections. We have the network making a plea to be ruled by reason. And yet we have our three drunk humans making pleas to be fuck ups. They’re all doing it for the own reasons, (pick from the list of blank concerns we’ve used so far) so what may seem like lame act of human defiance is instead something else (and if we’re going to get into more fun synchronicity then note the film opens with Primal Scream’s ‘Loaded’ complete with the lyrics: “just what is it that you want to do? / we wanna be free / we wanna be free to do what we wanna do / and we wanna get loaded / and we wanna have a good time,” which is the exact speech that Gary King and co. give to the network). We seemingly think this movie is about the triumph of humanity’s fucked up nature and this is us “winning,” but it’s not really about that at all. Seriously. Zero in on the most important confrontation of that scene: Gary King is a given a choice to effectively go back in time to become a robot of his own personal high school self. It is seemingly everything he could ever want… And yet he rejects it. Part of the genius of this moment is that it almost plays like a joke because he can’t give up the ego of it not being “him,” which would make it seem to be a gesture of solipsism, but obviously the moment is representative of a bigger transition: he is accepting his current self. And then think back to just moments before when Nick Frost is given a final chance to revisit temptation and yet he slams through the blank’s stomach to retrieve his wedding ring. These are two radically different moments of final confrontation with the “blanks” and thus we see that that is not the specific theory behind them. It is only the overall dynamic that matters. For Gary, it’s not arguing for the right to fuck up the human race. It’s essentially coming to terms with “I’m an alcoholic” wherein there is no cure. There is no cure for the human race. It is an inherent error. It is the acceptance of that human limitation. Our characters are accepting their faults. They are overcoming the lens of looking backward. They are finding a way through the issues our youth cannot navigate. And when we transcend past those things? Then we are truly free.