"I've Seen the World End"
I finished watching The End of the F***ing World (2017) miniseries in one day, and then I watched it again the next day. And the next. I spent one whole weekend with misfit 17-year-olds Alyssa (Jessica Barden) and James (Alex Lawther), slaloming through the moguls of their short and tragic time together, and watching quietly, over and over, the end of their f***ing world.
It is more than a good binge. The End of the F***ing World is a macabre adaptation of every angsty adolescents’—and, I’m now realizing as I begin my 20s, many adults’— daydreams. James and Alyssa meet in high school and decide to run away together. Alyssa thinks James is as much of an outcast as she is and wants to date him. James thinks Alyssa might make a good first kill to satisfy his psychopathic tendencies. The two embark on an adventure of great destruction and great glory. It’s the middle finger to society that’s as realistically unthinkable as it is tempting.
Alyssa, in endearingly sophomoric terms, says it just 15 minutes into the first episode:
“Sometimes, everything is suddenly really simple. It’s like everything shifts in a moment, and you step out of your body, out of your life. You step out, and you see where you are really clearly. You see yourself, and you think, ‘F*** this s***.’”
I tend to gravitate toward short stories rather than novels and miniseries rather than multi-season shows. These shorter bursts of narrative begin, develop and, most importantly, allow themselves to end, full stop. Hypothetically, the consequences of James and Alyssa’s decisions continue, but it is not the story the miniseries set out to tell. The End of the F***ing World weaves James and Alyssa’s tale purposefully and concisely, concluding the dark comedy of the wannabe psychopath and the neglected ingénue with the sound of a gunshot and a smash-to-black that’s as satisfyingly permanent as it is achingly unfinished.
I spent that weekend wondering what my fate would have been had I let my own adolescent anger take action. What if I had not come back when I went for a drive through the San Fernando Valley the day my parents got divorced, or if I had quit college the semester I realized how unimaginative Northwestern’s expectations for their students’ post-graduate paths are? Where would I be now? Perhaps I’d have a more powerful story to tell and my life would play out like a Kerouac novel, or perhaps I’d be forgotten and alone. By Sunday, I realized the answer probably hung in the space between the two, the space that Alyssa and James occupy, where people’s lives, from the outside, look trivial and inconsequential, but, to those living them, are indeed adventures full of great destruction and great glory.
Ultimately, The End of the F***ing World had done right by all the times I wished I could say “F*** this s***” and start again. Though I fell back into the routine and banalities of regular life on Monday, I kept with me the rare pleasure of watching art imitate life, laughably absurd and with no second season.–A. Cydney Hayes
A. Cydney Hayes '19 studies journalism, political science and Mandarin Chinese at Northwestern University. She is an AEMJC award winner and has written for Curiosity, Unite 4 Goodmagazine, The Daily Northwestern and more. You can find more of her work and Bitters, her weekly blog about different coffee shops around Chicago and Los Angeles, at cydneyhayes.weebly.com.
The End of the F***ing World (2017)
Based on The End of the Fucking World by Charles S. Forsman
Written by Charlie Covell
Streaming on Netflix