“The End Of The F***ing World” is a Beautiful Tragedy, and One of the Best Teen Dramas Out There

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Via Netflix

The End Of The F***ing World handles teenage love and angst better than most of its contemporaries

The End Of The F***ing World is as dramatic as the name implies, even if the world isn’t actually ending. But for the show’s teenage leads, the world truly seems to be falling apart at the seams. The two can’t seem to get anything they try right despite their efforts, and it’s that constant struggle that makes The End Of The F***ing World so likeable, in a weird, cruel way. There are no last-minute saves, no grand redemptions, just two damaged people trying to survive in a world that seems to hate them.

The End Of The F***ing World starts simply. Alyssa is a resident narcissist, who, bored of her daily life, wants to go on an adventure. James is a self-diagnosed psychopath who wants to move on from just killing squirrels and birds. He finds out about Alyssa’s plan to escape, and decides that an isolated road trip is the perfect time to kill his first human. Note the fact that James’s mental illness is entirely self diagnosed, and that his proof of being as damaged as he claims is that he stuck his hand in a deep fryer when he was a child so that he could “feel something.” It’s a ridiculous monologue that makes one curious as to whether James is really telling the truth about his mental illness, even if he probably isn’t, and sets the boy up as a colorful character right from the opening scene. Alyssa isn’t any better. Before the road trip even begins, she sees James as a background character in her story, a potential plot point or love interest in her epic tale of teenage rebellion. It’s a story that sets itself up beautifully, and makes it clear that these two are unstable people who shouldn’t be allowed to go on a road trip with each other, or else they and everyone else around them will suffer the consequences. But from the very start of their directionless quest, their plans start to unravel. James is constantly plotting and calculating how he can manipulate Alyssa into the perfect situation to murder her; whether it be by faking romance or flattening the car tires. Yet when he actually gets his hands on the opportunity to stab her in the back, the self-proclaimed psycho killer can’t bring himself to eliminate her. And James’s foiled attempts to kill Alyssa only serve to ruin her dream of an overtly sexual teenage adventure, as every choice sends their dreamy story of running away more and more off the rails. At the same time, the walls between the two start to crumble, and the tough guy teenage facades that they had set up to protect themselves become useless as they are exposed to the cruelty of the real world. And that’s where the show gains mileage. The End of The F***ing World is genius in its ability to showcase human weakness, as well as kindness while juxtaposing it with just how horrible and depressing life can be. Though despite being put through one terrible thing after another, whether it be due to their own incompetence or just bad luck, James and Alyssa form a real human connection, something that neither thought that they were capable of. 

 The End of The F***ing World’s aspects of gentle humanity framed in dark, yet comforting cinematography is absolutely captivating and keeps one coming back to see what will happen to James and Alyssa next. The visual style constantly shifts between the quirk and quick cuts of a Wes Anderson film, to a quieter, slower-paced style reminiscent of coming of age films. Actors Alex Lawther and Jessica Barden play their parts to perfection, keeping their characters inexpressive, but brimming with teenage angst at the same time. The two characters have gone through very real trauma, and the show does not hesitate to make them suffer more. Despite how it may seem, though, the show is not extreme in its portrayal of suffering, and it never tries to push itself into the territory of “edgy.” Everything in the show radiates an extremely dry wit, and even in its darkest moments, there is a glimmer of hope. The sparse indie-folk soundtrack strumming along while the two disheveled teens trot through the dim woods provides a portrait of beauty in the darkness, and the two teens’ interactions with each other and the unique characters they encounter feel so genuine. It helps the show stand out as a diamond in the rough in a sea of repetitive teen romance and drama, an endless whirlpool of pandering, cardboard cutout characters and ennui. 

As wicked as The End of The F***ing World can be, it is not for sadism’s sake. The show’s cruelty is a vessel for the characters to be broken down, a showcase that even the most hardened people are still capable of good. Every character in the show is broken, worn down by hardship and the unrelenting fury of life. But despite it all, they persevere. It’s all in the way that one handles that hardship that counts, and that is an extremely important message for anyone struggling. The End of The F***ing World is a beacon in the darkness, a sweet, sensitive show that exists to remind us that even in their lowest moments, people are still capable of kindness and barbarity in equal measure.