This week, I’ve taken a look at the melancholic elements in Lorene Scafaria’s indie drama, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012). For anyone who has already seen this film, you may be wondering how it even qualifies as something melancholic with its quirky and romantic-comedy themes. While it’s true that such themes run rampant throughout the film, I do believe that they aid in a different kind of sadness — one in which the audience hopelessly sympathizes with the main characters. Coinciding these themes, Scafaria uses graphic or violent scenes in order to bring the audience back to the reality of the dire situation. Scafaria alternates and often even combines such themes and scenes, challenging the audience to view this film with mixed feelings — wherein lies the melancholic elements of the film.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World opens with a radio broadcast announcing that efforts to stop the seventy-mile-wide asteroid hurling towards Earth have failed, and that there will only be three weeks until impact and ultimately the end of the world. Dodge (Steve Carell) and his wife Linda (Nancy Carell) are silently driving at night as they listen to the broadcast. The broadcaster goes on to say that they will continue up-to-date coverage of their “countdown to the ‘End of Days’” alongside playing “classic rock favorites.” Dodge comments how he thinks they’ve missed the exit, which subsequently causes Linda to flee from the car without a single word.
This bizarre opening scene is extremely significant because it sets the overall tone of the rest of the film. The contrast of the broadcaster casually speaking of the approaching end of the human race versus Dodge’s subdued shock that causes his wife to run away is one of many strange moments that tampers with the emotions of the audience.
The following day, Dodge is one of a few who returns to his job as an insurance salesman, ironically now selling “Armageddon” insurance packages. In a meeting, his manager enthusiastically announces that there are higher-up positions available if any of the employees are interested. This scene sees the beginning of the perpetual clash of the absurd nature of the films with the gravity of the asteroid situation.
Dodge has remained despondent since the news of the asteroid, and although we as an audience are never told what became of his wife, we can assume that she has not returned. On another day, as Dodge pulls into the near-empty parking lot outside his work, a man’s body crash-lands on his windshield. This surprising moment pulls the audience back into the severity of the situation that has befell these characters, with a man committing suicide from Dodge’s work building in order to kill himself before the asteroid’s eventual arrival.
Dodge later attends a friend’s house party where all the guests are essentially letting loose due to the news of their impending doom. One woman wears the clothing and jewelry she’s yet to have shown off, many of the guests are highly intoxicated and talking of the crazy things they’ll do with their last days, and someone even brings along heroin in which many of the guests enthusiastically partake. Everyone seems to be on the same page celebrating their final days, save for Dodge, who hides in the bathroom. We see that Dodge is processing the situation much differently than everyone else. The party’s hostess suggests he finds someone new to be with since Linda left him. This could be seen as absurd in itself since everyone is going to die anyway, which would make meeting a new love interest pointless.
Dodge then meets Penny (Keira Knightley), a neighbor across the hall whom he’s never properly met. Mass riots later erupt outside of their apartment complex, with people mindlessly throwing bricks through windows, starting fires, and shooting guns. Like the suicide we witness earlier, this scene also brings the audience back to the severity of the characters’ situation. Dodge and Penny decide to embark on a journey to find Olivia, Dodge’s first love, so that he could possibly reconnect with her before the asteroid hits, since she was “the one that got away.” In exchange, Dodge has promised Penny to find someone to fly her to England so that she could be with her family before the world ends.
When their car runs out of gas, Dodge and Penny hitch a ride from a passing truck driver. The driver later asks Dodge how he plans to “do it,” which confuses Dodge. The driver explains that he has hired an assassin to kill him when he least expects it, so that he wouldn’t have to deal with the knowledge of his impending death by asteroid. Coincidentally, the trucker is shot right then and there by said assassin, once again bringing the audience back to the film’s reality through shock value and violence.
The tone of the film then alternates back to the absurd when Dodge and Penny are pulled over by a police officer for speeding, leading to them being brought in. A fellow officer reprimands the officer that brought Dodge and Penny in, stating that they shouldn’t be so concerned with meeting their quota. Between the back-and-forth of seriousness and frivolity, it makes the audience wonder what Scafaria is trying to say about the human race when it comes to crucial situations.
As you can imagine, the end of the film concludes with the end of the world. Despite the feelings of confusion that comes from the constant mix of rom-com elements and guilt for laughing at comedic situations throughout the film, the touching moment between Dodge and Penny erases all those feelings, leaving the audience only with complete sympathy and sorrow. The audience is aware of the outcome of the film from the very beginning, but it isn’t until the end that emotions of remorse for the characters finally come through. The audience has followed Dodge and Penny’s strange journey and are there at their end.
Of course, not everyone will find this film particularly melancholic, but I certainly did. In any case, though, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is an intriguing watch that I highly recommend. It’s not every day that we are given such a unique plot to follow.
— Bree Scott, Assistant Blog Editor