Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Note: this post contains a ton of spoilers. If you want to watch the movie, do not read.

About halfway into Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, I realized I had already seen the 2012 movie, but so many incarnations later, my views on it were entirely different.

The premise: as an asteroid hurtles toward Earth, conservative, middle-aged Dodge (Steve Carell) meets free-spirited, 28 year-old Penny (Kiera Knightley), and for the first time, in the weeks leading up to the destruction of the planet, he finally lives his life in a way that is unconventional and fulfilling.

The film does a good job at showcasing things people would probably likely do if the end of the world scenario were real:

  • Wear the special occasion jewels on a Tuesday, even a tiara, because fancy days are limited.
  • Create a ‘fuck you’ list and give all those who annoyed you a piece of your mind, or a punch in the face.
  • Spend time with the family.
  • Find a friend with whom to experience extinction.
  • Pursue a lover without caring about commitment or worrying about a 401K or thinking about children.
  • Catch up on me time.
  • Have an orgy.
  • Attend a support group.
  • Take illegal drugs.
  • Move around some chairs.
  • Commit suicide, or commit suicide via homicide.
  • Break the law.
  • Sell locked away treasures in a garage sale, for even if no one buys them, expose them to the light of the outdoors.
  • Allow spiders to live when found in the bathroom.
  • Seek lost love and rekindle the flame.

As everyone is frantically asking the question, “So what are you doing with the rest of your life?”, Penny gives Dodge his answer when she finally returns 3 years’ worth of mis-delivered mail.

One long forgotten letter is from Olivia, who states that Dodge is “the rue love of her life”. The strong emotion is heavily contrasted in the opening scene of the movie, which shows Dodge’s then-wife hearing the news of Earth’s impending doom and literally running away from him as fast as she can manage. Later, Penny tells him that his wife had a ‘mistertress’ for quite some time. The realization is shattering, but because everything about him is dull and uneventful, it is likely that were that mail delivered in a timely fashion, he still would not have pursued its message if it weren’t for Penny.

It is not natural to know when a man’s time is up.

We are not dying alone, we are dying with everyone.

Nobody is anybody’s anything anymore.

Penny, much like her ex-lover, Speck, is an optimist. He hopes to survive in a bunker with “a lot of guns and a lot of potato chips,” and six months after the asteroid, plans for the resurrection with very fit men who will eventually resurface to repopulate the earth.

Penny suffers from hypersomnia, initially stating she could easily sleep through the apocalypse.

Penny leaves her apartment with records, the most impractical items to carry around, but she is analogous to them:

Records are not for everyone. They require a lot of care. They are delicate, can wreck easily, and are heavier to carry around, but the sound is full and they are well worth it.

She and Dodge have sex simply because he is there and she decides she wants him to be her last. When they finally make it to his ex-girlfriend’s childhood home, no one is there, but Penny cooks Dodge a meal in the the kitchen, which shares the same wallpaper as Penny’s childhood home in England. They eat, and she shares what she will do when it’s all over:

I’m not going to waste my time on the wrong person. I’m not going to waste my parents’ time introducing them to a future stranger. I’m going to listen to my Mom play the piano and spend time in my Dad’s garden. I’m going to hang out with my brothers and play with my nieces and nephews, everything I’ve missed out on for so long. No more days spend picking out what to wear for nights that don’t mean anything. No more wondering if you’re with the right person or if this is the guy you’re meant to have kids with. No more ridiculous questions. It’s liberating.

Dodge says she just hasn’t met the right guy yet, and Penny realizes she loves him. In loving him, she still wants him to accomplish what they set out to do, to find Olivia, and so, she shows him the forwarding address she found in the kitchen.

They go to the new location the next day, but Penny is surprised when Dodge quickly returns to the car and tells her he is not staying. In spite of his belief that Olivia is, in fact, home, he chooses to instead leave a letter on her doorstep. He will not pursue anything with Olivia when he is happiest in his present, with Penny.

When I first watched the film, I was horrified from this moment until the end. How could he not follow through on his first love? How could he not requite what he thought was unrequited? But then I realized who I was in 2012: a girl who was hoping things might magically work out with her first true love.

This time around, I was free. I finally understood. Dodge loved Olivia because he never allowed himself to change. And he loved Penny because she loved the person he wanted to be as the world ended.

Long after that first boyfriend for me, and long after Dodge’s first girlfriend, there’s the common experience of rushing to get know new lovers because it feels almost like that initial commitment is, in retrospect, a waste. I was happy to meet and to be with that person. He helped shape who I am in the present and set me on the path to freedom. Only, there is now a concerted effort to try and make more happen faster with new boys, as I almost try to soak up every bit of them, realizing I am older and my days are limited. But as Dodge and Penny lay in bed with sounds of destruction gradually getting closer, and as they try to quickly learn about one another, he calmly tells her:

There never would have been enough time.

That beautiful line is what now makes this movie one of my all-time favorite romantic stories, for no matter how hard we try to hold on to memories and to moments with the ones we truly love, there will just never be enough time. In the end, all we can do is appreciate what we do get and simply say,

[Penny], I’m really glad I got to know you.

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