“When 9/11 happened,” she told me when we sat down in Washington DC, “I had just moved from New York a week before it to LA where I knew nobody. I was sort of stranded out there by myself and I was just desperate for human contact, calling up old friends who I hadn’t talked to for a long time.”
The tone of the experience found its way into her script. As the movie opens, the last hope for the survival of humanity fails. A space shuttle sent to intercept an asteroid, ala 1998’s Armageddon, is lost, and with it hopes of warding off an extinction level event. The world has mere weeks left. At that very moment, Dodge’s (Steve Carell) wife decides she cannot spend one more of her suddenly limited minutes with him and literally runs away.
He’s all alone for the end of the world.
A neighbor, the much younger Penny (Kiera Knightly), finds her relationship equally incapable of sustaining her through the end and desperately regrets the whims that placed her an ocean away from her beloved British family.
The unlikely pair team up, as Scafaria put it “weaving through the chaos.”
“I had fun trying to explore who they would come across and what weirdos they would meet along the way and how everybody is handling everything differently.”
The dark humor of the film comes from the combination of a lifting of consequences and a panic of approaching death. An insurance office doggedly keeps selling insurance, utterly useless, after all, because who’s going to pay out and who’s going to collect? An upper class dinner group shoots its first heroin, finally doing the bad things their ambition had stunted. And a Friendly’s (think TGIFriday’s) restaurant becomes far too friendly with its customers.
Scafaria polled friends to find out how they would react: “Most people I talked to sex, drugs, and rock and roll is going to take place. People are going to eat their faces off. But it seemed like the thing people mostly want is friends and family, friends and family, your loved ones.”
For Dodge and Penny, however, who are their loved ones? Dodge no longer has family and Penny is far from hers.
“For me,” Scarafia said, “In terms of what death is like, you get really surprised by who is with you. Who’s not with you is shocking, but who’s sitting next to you when the big one hits, it’s like ‘You’re there for me?’ Sometimes it’s a surprise. Love doesn’t always look like what you thought it would.”
At its heart, the love story is a metaphor for life. Time is limited and the asteroid only speeds up and consolidates the inevitable. Why waste time with bitterness, as in Dodge’s anger toward his absent father (Martin Sheen) or regrets, as in Penny’s wasted time away from her family? A life well-lived looks similar whether it’s ninety decades or cut tragically short: Love, reconciliation, forgiveness, and self-sacrifice.
This quiet, well-acted and well-written movie is one of the best of 2012 so far and it’s seemingly hopeless ending nevertheless brims with hope for us all. What more can we ask than to lie down for the last time with the love of our lives, secure in the knowledge that we have lived well?
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is rated R for language, some sexuality, drug use, and brief violence. Material is not graphic. Bad behavior is contrasted with good. Could be appropriate for older, mature teens.