With just weeks to live, some people would be checking off their bucket list, traveling to exotic locations and chasing final adventures. Others might opt out of the whole experience with a simple suicide note. Surely at least a few would pull out sandwich boards and megaphones to proclaim "The end is near!" All of these responses appear in this movie, but Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is about something more, something timeless. The haunting hollowness that so many feel, but few admit except in the face of death: Loneliness.
Knightley is Penny, Dodge's strange, hipster-ish neighbor who has been collecting his mail for the last three years and just broke up with her deadbeat live-in boyfriend. When rioters begin trashing her ground level apartment, she begins flipping through her collection of vinyl rather than fleeing to safety. When Dodge and Penny team up for their last few days on earth, it is this slightly quirky, naive side that offers a balm to Dodge's stoicism and makes them work as a duo.
As society falls apart around them, Dodge finally realizes how unsatisfied he is with his life, decides to spend whatever time he has left trying to reconnect with a high school sweetheart. Meanwhile, Penny is trying to reach her family in England, but all flights have been cancelled. Dodge tells her he knows someone with a plane and offers her a ride, and so their journey begins.
The crisis left both of them without their partners, but as a viewer you don't feel bad that they are gone. Instead, you feel the tragedy of their broken lives, what psychologists call "foreclosure." Both Penny and Dodge have accepted versions of themselves that are far from complete, and cope with their unhappiness by burying everything that unsettles them inside. When Dodge's wife leaves him in the opening scene, he doesn't chase after her; he begins daydreaming about his first love. Not exactly a sign of a satisfied couple. Penny accepts a ride with a complete stranger and leaves her ex to fend off a baseball bat wielding mob. Why is she alone? Where are her friends? Is there no one else to find solace with in her moment of need?
In some Orthodox Christian traditions, they routinely pray for a slow death. They rightly understand that death is our last offer of salvation, a moment of heightened awareness that allows us the chance to right our wrongs. I don't know if this is popular in our culture. We seem to want a slow death because we think we might be immortal, so we hook ourselves up to cold metal machines that extend our heartbeats into a Frankenstein existence far beyond what other cultures would call "having a life." Or we pray for a quick death in our sleep. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World confronts these ideologies with something like that Orthodox prayer. It is a parable about finding healing and coming alive before the end. It challenges us to live full lives now, regardless of how much time we have left. In the final moments of the film, as the clock ticks down to impact, the tears in my eyes are not tears of sadness. They come from the hope that even those with deepest wounds may become whole.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is now on Netflix.
Rated R for language including sexual references, some drug use and brief violence