I finally caught This Is The End this weekend, and while it’s an utterly disposable (though quite funny) buddy stoner comedy and herald of the full-on emergence of nineties nostalgia, I was particularly impressed by one set piece, a very well-executed rape joke. That’s not necessarily what would have been the selling point of a movie starring Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel as themselves, in which a visit by Baruchel to Los Angeles happens to correspond with the apocalypse, which leaves them stranded at James Franco’s new house, along with Jonah Hill, Craig Robertson, and Danny McBride. But the scene works in ways that I think are interesting, and are worth breaking down.
In the sequence, Emma Watson, who turns out to have been surviving in the Los Angeles sewers, makes her way to Franco’s house, and is settling in for a long night’s sleep, when she overhears a conversation that sounds very different to her, and to the people involved in it. Baruchel, well-aware that a scenario involving a young, very attractive actress marooned in a house with six guys, tries to do a reasonable, kind thing, and engage his fellow dudes in a conversation about how they can avoid coming across as creepy. They all get upset that he’s raised the prospect that they might behave in a sexually untoward fashion, and a vigorous debate about why Baruchel might think one of them wanted to assault Watson ensues. All the men are acting in good faith, but what Watson ends up hearing through the door of the room where she’s ensconced is a conversation about her getting raped. So she does the most reasonable thing she can think of: wields a fire axe like a pro, smashes Rogen’s glasses, makes off with the house’s supply of water, and heads back to the sewer. “Hermione jacked our shit,” McBride, who was excited for the opportunity to ask Watson about the Harry Potter movies, tells a video confessional in a mix of irritation and awe.
What’s funny about the sequence isn’t that it relied on the idea that it would be hilarious for Watson to get raped, or that it suggested that Watson’s fear of sexual assault was somehow paranoid or unwarranted. If anything, the movie suggests that she might have been right to be a little anxious in a later sequence in which McBride’s become the leader of a tribe of cannibals, and turns out to have taken Channing Tatum, who really must be the gamest actor working right now, as a sex slave. Instead, the joke is about how hard it is for men and women to talk about rape, to communicate their good intentions to each other, and to avoid creeping each other out. Baruchel isn’t wrong to worry about how he and his fellow actors might come across to Watson if they want to make her a part of their makeshift community. The other men aren’t wrong to be indignant about the idea that they might sexually assault, even in tremendously trying circumstances. And Watson isn’t wrong to go for the axe and head out on her own, given the circumstances, and what eventually happens to the residents of Franco’s house. The joke’s on all of them, and on all of us.