Armageddon is the Ultimate Break-up
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is a film about misery and sadness, tackling such grim concepts as humanity’s ceaseless quest to not die alone and their dogged effort to live out a routine, comfortable existence amid insurmountable adversity; a story of isolation, regret, despair, and loneliness set to a backdrop of interminable fatalism and utter annihilation. I suspect that it was intended to be a comedy, maybe even fall into that rom-com hybrid that women keep telling me about. Whatever the case may have been, I wasn’t laughing, and the story certainly didn’t warm my heart. I left the theater feeling sad and alone, the sudden realization of my own fleeting mortality weighing down each and every step. If that was the film’s intention, well, kudos; it excelled superbly at bringing me down. However, I get the feeling that wasn’t the point and the real drag for those involved in the project is that they’ve managed to pigeonhole themselves into a niche market that simply doesn’t exist, or perhaps I’m underestimating the lonely spinster, manic-depressive, death-obsessed, cheap-romance-reading demographic a bit too much.
The film starts just moments after a mission to save mankind has failed and an asteroid is set to collide with Earth in mere weeks. Dodge (Steve Carell) receives this information via his car radio while parked on the roadside. He turns to his wife and matter-of-factly says, “I think we missed our exit.” She stares back at him vacantly and then wordlessly exits the car and bolts into the night, never to be seen again. Already we’ve tread into territory that borders on humorous, but never really positions itself as such, veering closer to tragedy than deadpan comedy. As hard as it may be to believe, a suicide attempt by Dodge later in the film involving a bottle of Windex also fails to hit a comic tone. Who would have guessed that?
Yet, as the film’s title suggests, it’s as much about Dodge’s loneliness as it is his search for companionship during end times. His friends offer up very little assistance in this department, throwing parties in which they attempt to set him up with sex-starved companions and shoot up heroin during an end-of-days free-for-all that actually kinda makes sense in that go-out-with-a-bang sort of way. Dodge’s disposition suggests that he’ll ride out his existence alone. That changes with a chance encounter with a crying woman outside his apartment window. The woman is Penny (Keira Knightley) and Armageddon has hit her in much the same way it’s hit everyone— forcing her to confront a lifetime of regret. Dodge invites her in and her response — “I won’t steal anything if you promise not to rape me” — is one of the few moments where the film hits the mark with its morbid apocalyptic humor.
Like with most screenplays in this vein, Dodge and Penny are polar opposites. He’s passive and fearful; she’s a free spirit, so of course in terms of movie logic they’re perfect for each other even though in reality their relationship would be a fucking nightmare. Eventually the movie throws them on the open road together as Dodge searches for his high school sweetheart who was inspired by the apocalyptic catastrophe to write him a letter claiming he was her one true love and Penny tags along for reasons that don’t feel fully justified. In any case, it’s the crux of the film and everything pretty much depends upon them learning to understand each other.
This is where the movie makes a critical miscue. It tosses these two characters together with the expectation that they’ll fall in love, but fails to provide us with the chemistry to make this possible. It has nothing to do with the actors, who are both marvelous, or even necessarily the plot itself, which could have achieved a lot more. It’s that the characters are both too self-obsessed and distant. Dodge spends the majority of the film sulking, feeling put upon by his lot in life, while Penny wanders around aloof, seemingly unable to comprehend the circumstances of their plight, as if the end of the world is just an inconvenient hurdle in her existence. Their first sexual encounter is treated as a cheap thrill and, if you ask me, that’s where the romance should have ended. At least it would have been an honest conclusion.
I wanted to like the movie a lot more than I did. I think it had great potential. In a way, I admire it’s audacity and I respect that it followed it through to the only logical conclusion that such a story could present. In fact, the ending hits a near-perfect note, but that Robert McKee “wow them in the end” mentality really only works if you’ve earned it, and I’m not sure this movie does. Throw two people together, launch a catastrophe at them and it doesn’t automatically mean they’ll fall in love or that we’ll care about them. I could get trapped in my building’s elevator tomorrow with some girl; doesn’t mean I’m going to marry her.
The point is, the two characters in Seeking a Friend, like most people in relationships, are together because of convenience and proximity rather than on account of destiny or fate or whatever lofty romantic conceit you might want to apply to them. The film lacks one of those moments where Dodge sees something marvelous in Penny, where they connect on some more complex level. Their love is terminal and not just because a giant doom-bringing rock is falling from the sky, but because there’s literally nothing for them to build upon with their current sexual entanglement, Armageddon or otherwise.
In a way, it’s a bit too honest. I mean, what’s love if not a terminal arrangement, some mutual scheme to secure a death that isn’t so lonesome? Who’s to say that one person means any more to you than any other person? It’s all a bit situational and, given the circumstances, Penny has to be the one because there can literally be no one else for Dodge after that asteroid hits. Hell, he even abandons the girl of his dreams to be with her (ahem, spoiler), but before you say something like, oh, how fucking romantic! Think about this: if that was the girl of his dreams and he left her for another, what’s to stop him from leaving Penny as well other than, you know, the imminent destruction of mankind? That aside, is it really all that special when its subject to such fleeting whims? Or could it be that she was the last one left around when the music stopped?
But I’m getting a bit too sour here. Let’s not end this review with a categorical dismissal of the concept of true love. Let’s end it on a petty complaint. Near the end of the movie when Dodge is rifling through Penny’s records, he comes across Scott Walker’s Scott and promptly puts it on, at which point “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine” starts playing. Sorry, buddy. That song ain’t on Scott, it’s not even the same Scott Walker outfit. What kills me here is that the first song on that album is actually “Mathilde” which, coincidentally, is the code name for the asteroid about to collide with Earth. Seems like the perfect thematic fit, no? My guess is that that idea was floated out at some point but was dutifully shot down by some producer who was like, fuck it, no one’s going to recognize that song, just play that one that everyone knows — The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore or whatever, because — get it?! They’re all gonna die horrible deaths! If you ask me, for a movie all about missed opportunities, that’s a pretty big one.