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BY Carrie Dobbin
LORENE Scafaria’s directorial debut SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD (2012) stands out amongst a crowd of predictable disaster films where their protagonists endeavour to avert an impending apocalypse. Instead, Scafaria’s film embraces an imminent doom, wherein characters face the terrifying reality of no escape. SEEKING A FRIEND plays with many popular themes present in movies of catastrophe: the confrontation of fear, death and mortality, revolt and the collapse of society. Particularly, however, the film explores the idea that somewhere amongst the chaos there is a community where hope and friendship continue to thrive. While the world does meet its unfortunate end in this feature, the message remains that characters must meet some level of acceptance and calm in crisis in order to survive.
The announcement of an asteroid on a path to Earth leaves the population with no more than three weeks to live. Insurance salesman Dodge (Steve Carell) is the epitome of a victim of life, merely accepting every fallout he faces in his very mundane existence. He does this from the moment his wife leaves him, to the announcement of the very end of the world itself. Penny (Kiera Knightley) enters Dodge’s life boldly and leaves nothing undisturbed. The young, self-proclaimed serial monogamist is on the search for a romance as hopelessly amazing as her parents, not settling for anything that falls short. It seems that spontaneity is a central temperament of Penny’s, which is evidently a common attitude in characters on the brink of the end of the world. When Penny passes on a very belated letter from Dodge’s high-school sweetheart, the two embark on a journey to find her before all is lost.
Scafaria unapologetically demonstrates how people can abandon all morals in times of unrelenting crisis in depicting rioting, looting and suicide as a common consequence of disaster. The most pivotal moment in establishing the total loss of order takes place at a dinner party hosted by Dodge’s friends Warren (Rob Corddry) and Diane (Connie Britton), who have taken to swearing at their son and drinking at all hours. As the party escalates, parenthood is abandoned, children are drinking, heroin is introduced and adultery loses its label when Diane throws herself at Dodge, claiming no one belongs to anyone anymore. After a night mingling in an increasingly defeatist society, Dodge storms off alone, drinking cough syrup and window cleaner in an attempt to commit suicide. When morning comes, he wakes with a dog tied to his foot and a note reading “Sorry”, which soon becomes the dog’s name as he takes a prominent spot in Dodge and Penny’s peculiar clique and road trip journey. Elsewhere, we see people carrying on with their everyday lives and still going to work, showing the opposite end of the spectrum, where people try to maintain normalcy, not knowing how they should act at the end of the world.
Dodge and Penny portray community and balance in a world of fear and chaos. They prioritise survival and self-preservation but in a mostly humble manner. Their friendship, while one of unlikeliness in other circumstances, establishes a message that somewhere in each dystopia exists a collective that supports and comforts in trying and unprecedented times: it is important to reach out to those around you. While SEEKING A FRIEND avoids the cliché of hope for a better world and better days, it plays on the theme at a more individual level. Penny hopes for Dodge to find his true love; Dodge hopes for Penny to spend her final days surrounded by family. The driving force for both characters is the hope of not dying alone but loved and content.
The positive lesson learned in times of devastation here is to appreciate what you have as opposed to what has been taken away, that you should acknowledge the people you have around you, look after one another, put away grudges that no longer serve you and face a discovery of what is important and worth your energy during this period. In trying times, it can be common to fall victim to panic and impulse. But SEEKING A FRIEND demonstrates that even in the most unwitting of circumstances, generosity is not to be forgotten, friendship and family is a priority and this acceptance is key to inner peace.
In our current, equally unprecedented context, the world beyond the screen is rife with change and uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. But there is another side to the coin. The world is not at its end, coronavirus is another major obstacle in billions of years of existence and, unlike Dodge and Penny, we have every reason to hope for better days. Pandemics are temporary and while the duration is difficult, crowded with struggle, impatience and bereavement, as a collective we have to look after one another in order to honour those gone and protect the rest of us. Disaster has struck before and it shall likely strike in the future. Yet at this moment in time, the importance of compassion has never been so relevant and disaster films like SEEKING A FRIEND confirm this. We have never had so much time to accept and appreciate what and who we have. The rose-coloured glasses have been lifted. There is no need to seek a friend for the end of the world but there is every need and reason to seek a friend.
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