Last week’s approach of asteroid Apophis (above) within 9 million kilometres of Earth provided some fun in our office. The asteroid was expected to swing by Earth in 2036, passing within 10% of the distance between the Earth and the moon, but after this last approach, the odds of an impact with Earth have been reduced to an estimated 1 in one million chance. But still, we joked about how old we would be assuming the world doesn’t end another way, and creating a 2036 end-of-the-world party event on Facebook.
While we may laugh about the end of the world, the subject is often a taboo subject here in Australia and I suspect in other parts of the Western world unless someone makes a whacky prophecy or a celestial object swings by. But the questions of how one should spend one’s final months, and what lies beyond, sit front and centre in Seeking A Friend for the End of the World.
After a team of astronauts sent to destroy an asteroid hurtling towards earth, fails in its mission, it is certain that Earth will be obliterated within the month. As the clock starts ticking down, Dodge’s wife leaves him for another man. But Dodge (Steve Carrell) makes no changes to his life and continues to go to work, lamenting his long lost love (not his wife). After attempting to kill himself, he meets his neighbour, Penny (Keira Knightley), whom he doesn’t know very well, who has just broken up with her boyfriend because he caused her to miss the flight to visit her parents. When Penny gives Dodge some of the mail that the postman accidentally leaves in her letterbox, Dodge discovers his long lost love has written him a letter declaring that Dodge was the love of her life. So they team up to help each other, with Penny providing a car for Dodge, while Dodge promises to take her to someone who can fly her to England to her family before the end of the world.
At times, Seeking seems like two movies. The first half hour is essentially a wild adult comedy, whereas the second half is more like Dan in Real Life. However clunky the execution, I would like to argue that these two halves represent two competing worldviews.
Dodge’s friends invite him to an end-of the world party. Everything starts out relatively civil: the friends discuss what they want to do before the world ends. As the night progresses, and as various substances are consumed, the party all but turns into an orgy. One character argues that if the world is ending there is no need to consider the consequences of one’s actions such as disease and pregnancy. One may as well simply live for the present and fulfill all one’s desires because nothing will matter in a few weeks, knowing that the consequences will be wiped out.
Dodge and Penny, however, essentially reject this utilitarian worldview, choosing instead to pursue meaningful relationships, believing instead that spending time with family and friends before the world ends is a far better and fulfilling option. Along the way they make some friends, seek reconciliation, and enjoy the joy of life in community. In the final analysis, Dodge, who fears dying alone, sets out to reconnect with his past but instead finds a new love in Penny; this pair start out as awkward enemies but finish as the best of friends. Dodge concludes “I’m glad I got to know you.”
And then everyone in the world dies.
Now I don’t think I’m giving too much away by saying that. The whole plot is right there in the title: Seeking a friend for the end of the world. You shouldn’t have been surprised if you felt a little depressed at the end. Along the way there are some truly beautiful moments and we want Dodge and Penny to be happy, but rather we mourn this relationship cut short by a universe seemingly ambivalent to human relationships. We wish that their lives and their joy could somehow extend beyond and transcend death.
I wonder if, in these moments, we are confronted with our own mortality; our own fears of dying alone, losing loved ones and everything else we hold dear, including our vinyl records!
Existentialism says that because science and rationalism cannot provide life with meaning we should seek meaning in experience. And to some extent I agree that of the available options, friendship is probably a good one to pick. See I think the writer wants to say that friendship are the ultimate, perhaps by saving someone from dying alone, but if everyone dies in the end, and the end really is the end, what’s the net difference whether you choose rioting or relationships? If atheism is true, the only thing one can look forward to is knowing that your deeds won’t follow you when the end comes.
Still, it’s not as if Seeking is completely uncomfortable with the idea of God, perhaps even the Christian God:
- Dodge jokes about finding God on the road trip;
- Jesus (and Oprah) are singled as being the best of humanity;
- Dodge describes a man, presumably a preacher, warning people about the end of the world as ‘vindicated’;
- there’s a mass baptism and wedding ceremony at a beach.
It’s just that God is but one of three equally valid options to finding happiness before the inevitable, in keeping with Seeking’s existentialism, which only offers hope for the here and now. Which is why we feel depressed. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. That feeling might just be trying to focus our attention towards those things which are important to us.
Far from being simply another means to happiness before the end, the Christian Gospel speaks to the transcendence we want for Dodge and Penny, and perhaps for ourselves:
- Because the universe and humans are created by a loving God, they have inherent purpose, value and meaning; this isn’t a mindless material existence.
- Humans choose now, as they did in the past, to reject God’s rightful rule over the universe, resulting in destruction (rioting & disease), and the penalty of death. Christ’s substitutionary death for sin on behalf of fallen humanity, and his subsequent resurrection, secures victory over sin and death.
- Those who trust in Christ and his work at the cross will share in the resurrection, i.e. even though they die, they will be raised to eternal life to be with Christ their savior and His people forever; relationships broken by death can continue in the life to come.
One of the messages I get from Seeking is that if something is important when the world is ending it must be important now. At least, it should be. Perhaps thinking about the end of the world is among them, for we really don’t know when our own individual worlds will end.
Click here for a summary of worldviews, including atheism, existentialism and Christian Theism.