Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
Plenty of movies have focused on trying to avert impending apocalypse. But what happens when there's absolutely no way out?
It's not an intimidating name. If you're of Australian persuasion, you might even feel like doing an impromptu waltz after hearing it mentioned.
Then again, if Matilda is a 70-mile wide asteroid that 12 astronauts on the Space Shuttle Deliverance have just failed to divert from its course—that being an unavoidable collision with Earth, an apocalyptic event certain to destroy all life on our planet—you might not feel like dancing.
When that news is dutifully delivered via Dodge and Linda Petersen's car radio, she looks at her husband, bursts into tears, opens the parked car's door and runs into a nearby park.
Dodge never sees her again.
Worse, he later confesses that the only real reason he ever wanted to get married was so that he wouldn't have to die alone. With three weeks to go before Matilda's impact, fate has thwarted Dodge's plan. "I regret my entire life," he tells his Hispanic housekeeper, Elsa, who keeps showing up to dust, even though grit and grime are the least of Dodge's—and humanity's—problems.
Housecleaning certainly isn't on Penny's mind at the moment. She's a free spirit about 20 years Dodge's junior, who has just broken up with her boyfriend. And missed the last plane back to England to be with her family. She's crying it out on the ledge outside Dodge's apartment when these two neighbors who've never met, these two neighbors who could hardly have less in common (she likes old vinyl and vintage signs, he's a cardigan-wearing insurance adjuster) find themselves alone together on the brink of apocalypse.
Penny eventually confesses she's been mistakenly receiving Dodge's mail for ages—and not delivering it to him. Including, it turns out, a letter from Dodge's old high school flame, a woman named Olivia. Her missive voices her longing to reconnect with him after going through a divorce. And Dodge and Penny suddenly have a mission: Find Olivia … before Matilda finds them.
But on the journey to the end of the world, things don't always go as planned.
[Note: Spoilers are contained in the following sections.]
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World takes the old "What would you do if you knew you only had X amount of time to live?" question and forces everyone on the planet to answer it. The film depicts four main responses: total denial (as in Dodge's housekeeper who just keeps showing up), total hedonism (more on that below), violent rage, and making the most of it.
Penny and Dodge choose the last option. Having been abandoned by his wife, Dodge decides he wants to try to find his first girlfriend. Penny promises to accompany him. In return, Dodge promises Penny he'll try to get her to a friend who has an airplane, a plane that can theoretically reunite her with her family. Instead of acting out of selfishness, then, both characters pledge to help each other as best they can as the clock ticks toward humanity's midnight.
Most phone service is down, but Penny and Dodge stop to see one of her old boyfriends, who happens to have a satellite phone. There, Penny has a tearful conversation with her whole family, and it's clear that her family loves her deeply.
Dodge, on the other hand, has been estranged from his father, Frank, for 25 years. (Frank abandoned his family, and Dodge has never forgiven him.) Dodge and Penny end up at his house, and the son grudgingly and gradually forgives the father. In this, the film begs the question of why we wait for horrific news to make amends for rifts that sunder our closest relationships.
Dodge and Penny come across a long line of people at a beach waiting to be baptized by a priest wearing white vestments with an embroidered cross. They get in line. Elsewhere, they end up jailed with a man who's wearing a sandwich board that reads, "THE END IS HERE." Dodge jokes about how Matilda's arrival has vindicated the man's belief in the fast-approaching end of the world.
Dodge attends a party dubbed "the last supper" thrown by his friends Warren and Diane. She insinuates that Warren's been drunk a lot. Warren counters, "You think Jesus was sober for His last supper? Do you think He turned water into lemonade?" Warren also observes that they're on the Titanic, not the Ark.
We glimpse a news magazine with the title "Best of Humanity" and pictures of Jesus and Oprah Winfrey. Dodge and Penny jokingly talk of using their remaining time to "find God." A TV anchorman ends his last broadcast by saying, "Good night, good luck and God bless."
When Penny and Dodge first meet, and he invites her into his apartment, she quips, "I won't steal anything if you won't rape me." It's clear that Penny's been living with her recent ex-boyfriend. She tells Dodge that she's not interested in pity sex.
Dodge and Penny have dinner at a restaurant named Friendsy's—where things get a little too friendly when it seems an orgy begins to break out. Employees spontaneously begin kissing each other; one guy suggestively grabs another man's backside.
When two people pour their lives and hearts out to each other for 21 days, they're bound to fall in love. And so Dodge and Penny do. But they do more than that. They also kiss and have (implied) sex. "I want you to be my last," she tells him. Afterward, Dodge is horrified to have had sex with someone two decades younger, but Penny tries to talk him out of feeling guilty. He says, "You try to be a good person," and she replies that it was just "end of the world sex. … A little sex was bound to happen." Similarly, the movie asks us to downplay the fact that Dodge's sexual act also constitutes adultery—partly because it's the end of the world and partly because his wife's been cheating on him.
At Warren and Diane's party, women wear dresses that reveal quite a lot of cleavage. Diane tries to set Dodge up with a friend, then kisses him herself. He says, "You're Warren's!" Diane replies, "No one's anybody's anything anymore."
Indeed. Another guest at the party suggests that the end of the world has been fantastic for him being able to find women to have sex with. He waxes crude about the fact that women aren't worried about getting pregnant, catching diseases, getting a call afterwards or the size of a man's anatomy. He wants Dodge to join him for a threesome. A public message board includes a sign that says "F‑‑‑ a Virgin."
One of Dodge's co-workers jumps out of his office building window and lands (fatally) on Dodge's car windshield. Riots consume Dodge and Penny's New Jersey neighborhood, forcing them to flee as vandals and hooligans gleefully break windows and set fire to cars. Penny's ex-boyfriend hits a wall and breaks his hand. He says he'll protect Penny during the riot, then grabs her and uses her as a human shield. Dodge and Penny leave him behind as they escape.
A man says he's hired an assassin to kill him when he least expects it because he can't cope with knowing exactly when the end will come. "If you ask me, a man's not supposed to know his time," he says. "It's not natural." He's talking with Dodge when he's killed by a rifle shot to the throat. Blood gurgles out of the wound.
Matilda's arrival is marked by a series of ominous, thunder-like rumbles before the screen fades to white.
Crude or Profane Language
F-words are heard a dozen times (including Warren telling his grade school-age son, "Go f‑‑‑ yourself"). We hear three uses total of two vulgar slang terms for the female anatomy. One use each of "a‑‑hole" and "d‑‑mit." There are about 15 misuses of God's name and three or four abuses of Jesus name.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Warren and Diane's party is overflowing with inebriating substances. Warren coaches a young girl on how to drink a martini, telling her to "fight the burn." Someone brings heroin, and several partygoers are excited to try it. ("Bucket list," one of them says.) Warren smokes a cigar.
Other scenes picture Dodge, Penny and Frank drinking wine. We see drinking and smoking (cigarettes and marijuana) at Friendsy's as well. And Penny has a regular marijuana habit. She says she uses pot to help her get to sleep and to wake up in the morning. At one point, she's toking while driving when a policeman tries to pull her over. To cover, she hands the joint to Dodge (who's never smoked marijuana). He puts the whole thing in his mouth (lit) to hide it. Much coughing ensues.
Dodge tries to drown his sorrows with a bottle of codeine-laced cough syrup. At one point, he drains the contents of the bottle and passes out.
Other Negative Elements
Dodge and Penny break into Olivia's parents' house (which has been abandoned). We see a man on a toilet with his shirttail strategically obscuring his crotch. Dodge vomits.
First-time director Lorene Scafaria told Entertainment Weekly, ''I was obsessed with love and death, and I was excited to tell the story of boy meets girl with a really ticking clock.'' It's the apocalyptic element of her tale that steers this film into territory road trips and love stories alone typically don't explore. That Dodge and Penny fall for each other is almost a foregone conclusion. More interesting than their romance is the way they—along with everyone else—must cope with the reality that time is running out.
On their ostensible journey to find Dodge's old girlfriend, they have time to process lots of experiences and emotions together. In hindsight, both see mistakes they've made. Both realize anew the importance of relationships. Dodge's awkward reconciliation with his estranged father, especially, invites us to consider what grudges and hurts we, too, would want to deal with if we knew our time was short. (Should want to deal with before time is short.)
For all that poignancy, however, this end-of-the-world reverie is an R-rated romp that includes profanity and drug abuse, as well as some nasty verbal references to sex and moments of shockingly unexpected violence.