Sean K. Cureton

Finite Transcendentalism

In Movies on VOD: Recommendation of the Week on August 29, 2015 at 10:44 am
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World Poster

Theatrical Poster

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012)
Directed by Lorene Scafaria
Netflix Rating: Really Liked It

Lorene Scafaria’s directorial debut was released at the height of the Mayan 2012 apocalyptic event that never was. The film, like the pop-cultural speculation and tacit paranoia built into the end-of-times prediction occurring in real time alongside the film’s release, is also concerned with another fictional end of the world, though it features no zombies. There are a few scattered raids and nights of Bacchanalian revel and orgies, but for the most part the characters of central concern in Scafaria’s script go on about their business and daily lives with little to no real change. In the film’s opening shot, Steve Carell and his wife are in a car listening to a news broadcast concerning the impending collision of earth with the asteroid Matilda that will end all life on earth. When the broadcast ends, all Carell can manage to articulate is to articulate the thought that he and his wife may have missed their exit while driving, after which his wife leaves the car. There are no grand, operatic set pieces of mayhem or overt bad behavior as there are in Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s sophomoric take on the same subject in This Is the End that followed in 2013, which makes Scafaria’s comedy harder to take in on an emotional level, but is also all the funnier for it.

In Scafaria’s film, people confronted with the end of the world don’t take the tragedy as an excuse to throw aside all moral values and societal facets that serve to make up their very character and existential being. Instead of throwing large block parties or drinking and eating oneself into oblivion, Scafaria predicts a much more realistic reaction to the abrupt finality to not only life but the universe as we know it. Perhaps the most freightening aspect of an end of the world scenario would be the complete and total cessation and obliteration of all forms of human expression and art in books, on film, and canvas. The finite nature of our individual lives isn’t what’s so scary in a film such as Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, but rather the infinite end to all such short sparks of imaginative consciousnesses. A world without people is inevitable, but a world withwout emotion and self-aware, intelligent life to carry it is horrifying.

Some people find comfort in the fold of religious dogma and mythology when faced the finite nature of the end of human civilization. But what about the agnostics, atheists, and secularists who might wish to glean some purpose out of their fretful paces marched across the global stage? Is there much progression to be gleaned from our greatest works and achievements if they may all be blasted away by the fickle winds of time and geological events of physical devastation that collapse entire civilizations in their path? Scafaria puts her hopes on the shoulder of the other people around us, with Carell and his co-star Keira Knightley forming an unlikely bond with one another in love, compassion, and transcendental enlightenment. Upon the eve of self-obliteration, Knightley’s character in Scafaria’s film turns to Carell wondering why they couldn’t save one another from the end of the world, a question to which the finally contented and happy Carell replies, “I think we did,” an answer, however finite, to the perennial pang of existential despair and the ache of an entirely human longing for the saving embrace of another.

Which is not to say that Seeking a Friend for the End of the World doesn’t have its many moments of lighthearted self-abandon necessary to enjoy life regardless of its final conclusion. Throughout the film other lives and means of coping with the dread and most primal fear held by all mortal beings is upheld and examined under the microscope of parody, satire, and nervous mock-gesture. But none of Scafaria’s characters, however immodest and bad in their own nature, are ever held up to the light of ridicule as they might be in a film such as This Is the End. Every person is deserving of a friend to share their ultimately transient and insubstantial mortality with, regardless of age, race, sexual orientation, or culturally ingrained behaviors and traditions in regards to the meaning of life itself. Where God is the ultimate stand-in for the fears and hopes of many theistic believers around the world, art via human expression and interconnection is the only other option for everyone else, a fact that Scafaria’s film makes easier to swallow in its compassion and exuberance of and for the human spirit.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is available on Netflix Instant View, and is My Movies on Netflix: Recommendation of the Week.

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