We can’t escape the news. Tomorrow — December 21, 2012 — marks the end of the 5,125-year-old Mayan calendar. Is this a portent for the end of days or just another day like any other? NASA is issuing rebuttals: There are no planetary collisions on the radar.
But what if we were indeed headed toward a grand cosmic accident?
Lars Van Trier’s MELANCHOLIA (2011), starring Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg, was, well, melancholic. Riveting to watch, the film is full of memorable, dreamlike images, albeit self-absorbed (and pretentious?), a drama of depression and other end-of-the-world maladies. Spoiler alert: Everyone explodes.
But for my end of the world movie, I would pick SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD (2012) starring Steve Carell and Keira Knightley. Carell shines as the regular guy who, like everyone else, has learned that an asteroid will slam into Mother Earth and destroy the planet in 21 days.
As the world prepares to meet its doom in assorted and various ways, Carell keeps going to work selling insurance.
He is numb, dutiful, and regretful — trudging on because that’s what he’s done his whole life. His wife leaves him. His friends have parties featuring heroine (why not?) and indiscriminate sex (“The apocalypse levels the playing field,” his less-than-attractive friend tells him, quite pleased that the end of the world has increased his opportunities for casual interludes). People do things here that make perfect sense, including wearing improbable outfits. A woman in a crazy getup tells him, “It’s everything I never wore.” That sounds like something many women would do when one’s days are limited, including me.
But it’s not all fun and games. There are riots in the streets. People jump from buildings. Carell stares blankly at the television screen as the announcer counts down the days. There is no hope.
Carell, too, loses his hope and drinks a bottle of Windex. But he doesn’t die. Nothing happens at all. All those label warnings about life were meaningless. He has no choice but to get on with what’s left. He wants to find an old love, “the one that got away.”
He gets a dog and a traveling companion in Keira Knightley. A road trip ensues.
Knightley’s performance is flat and doesn’t add a lick of soul to the movie. (If only she could have conjured a performance like Liza’s in THE STERILE CUCKOO or Diane Keaton in ANNIE HALL.) But Carell is so good that you don’t even notice Knightley’s flawed performance. The best thing she does is carry a Herb Alpert record around with her.
And records are important to the story here. Vinyl gets pulled out of paper sleeves for pitch-perfect songs like “This Girl’s in Love With You,” “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore,” and “All I Need Is the Air That I Breathe.” Of course, we would all play our favorite records if an asteroid was heading our way.
SEEKING A FRIEND is the first for writer and director Lorene Scafaria. It looks like a made-for-tv movie and doesn’t always hit the mark with the plot, but there are also some absolutely brilliant moments filed under “hilarious” and “remarkably poignant” that kept me believing in and loving this film.
Like MELANCHOLIA, there is a big explosion at the end. But there is also salvation right before the white light.
After seeing this movie, I thought about some of of the records I would play at the end of the world. One of them would be Todd Rundgren’s “Love Is the Answer” — with lines like “Who knows why? Someday we all must die.” Check out his 1980 performance on the Mike Douglas Show.