Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
What would you do with the last three weeks of your life before the apocalypse? Reconnect with a long-lost love? Attend a round of hedonistic end-of-the-world parties? Lie on the floor and listen to Mick Jagger records? Or just carry on with your day-to-day drudgeries as usual?
These are all things we see Dodge, played by Steve Carell, attempt—some more successfully than others—in the whispy Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. At the beginning of the film, Dodge’s wife has left him to be with her boyfriend, but the news of an impending, globe-killing meteor doesn’t change Dodge’s dreary life hardly at all. At work, as the rest of the staff disappear or throw themselves off the building, Dodge goes to his insurance sales job and offers “apocalypse” packages and deals. He then comes back to an empty apartment, but hey, at least it’s clean. His diligent maid, Elsa, won’t quit her job either.
Unfortunately, all air travel has been suspended because of the impending doom, but Dodge knows a guy with a plane. The two make a pact: Dodge will take Penny to the plane if Penny will drive Dodge to find the maybe-love-of-his-life, Olivia. We’ve got ourselves a road trip!
Of course, Penny’s car doesn’t last long, and the pair end up in some wacky places and weird situations. They meet a trucker with a self-paid bounty on his head (William Petersen), a group of extra friendly waiters ready to serve every need, and an ex-beau of Penny’s who is holed up in a titanium bunker.
I’m sure the party was intended as a comedic scene, but the debauchery was so vacant and the attendees so cynical that it comes across as more depressing. There are some truly funny parts in the movie, most memorably at the Friendsy’s restaurant scene where the waiters have taken their jobs of making friends with the customers to a whole new level of service. It’s one big riotous party in there, and at least it doesn’t have the pessimism of the earlier house party.
But even that scene doesn’t feel right in juxtaposition with more dramatic scenes, like Penny talking and crying with her family on the phone or Dodge seeing his father for the first time in 25 years. It all felt too unnatural. Knightley and Carell play their roles adequately, although the mopey Dodge isn’t new territory for Carell. Knightley’s Penny is the brightest, sweetest flower blooming out of Seeking a Friend. She gives us the most heart and personality of anyone we see, but it’s not enough to carry the whole film.
But most disappointing of all, Seeking a Friend never addresses any of the big questions of what will happen after the earth is wiped out. Religion is never part of the discussion except in a few, tiny moments. When Penny and Dodge meet, she asks him what he’ll be doing for the rest of his life, and he jokes about “finding God.” During the road trip, Dodge and Penny end up on a beach where a long line of people are being baptized in the ocean, but the two of them don’t join the people or even comment on it. We just see it—meaninglessly.
If there is a message in this movie—and I’m not sure there is—then it might be to seek every moment as if it’s your last and live without regret. Because, according to Seeking a Friend, these are the only moments you’ll get, and if you’re lucky, you will spend them with someone you love.
If that sounds like a thoroughly depressing time at the movie theater, well, it might be, depending on your point of view. But I didn’t leave feeling too discouraged. If anything, the movie brought my sight into clearer focus. It made me joyful to remember that I believe a different message, one where “What’s the point?” actually has an answer – and our hope isn't limited to this world.