Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World


Here’s a good idea that never quite comes off. Parts of it are funny, and the whole thing is thought-provoking, but it’s hard to skate a line between comedy and pathos, and this one veers around a lot.

We’ve seen a million films about things after an apocalyptic event, and quite a few about an approaching apocalypse. It is always either averted (Armageddon), or the disaster is not quite large enough to kill everybody on the planet (Deep Impact is a good example). But what if there is no escape? A 70-mile-wide asteroid is headed for the Earth. A last-ditch effort to divert is has failed as the movie opens. Seventy miles is easily big enough for a mass extinction event. I suppose it’s possible for a handful of people to survive deep in underground shelters, but even that seems a longshot to me. Bottom line, everyone has three weeks to live. How would you react? What would you do with your 21 days?

I guess it you are religious, you spend a lot of time praying to whatever paper fantasy you worship. Repent of your sins, and sin no more. That should be easy enough to do for three weeks. For others the answer is hedonism. We see parties where people are giving their children hard liquor (why not? Let them in on the party, they’ll be dead soon) and gleefully shoot heroin. An orgy develops at a restaurant. It’s never been easier to get laid, and the girls don’t worry about pregnancy or disease.

A huge number of people have just walked away from their jobs, their families, their whole lives before the death sentence. Services are breaking down, no planes are flying, travel is getting difficult. And there are those who like to smash things. Again, why not? Burn down that building, torch that car, it’s all going to be space debris soon. There are those who would kill, to settle scores, or just to see how it felt.

There is a handful who seem to want to go on with business as usual, and Steve Carrell is one of them. He is adrift, his wife walked away from him as they listened to the radio about the world-saving mission exploding. He goes to his job, where it is mostly empty. There are job openings, says the man in charge. Anyone want to be Chief Financial Officer? Anyone? No takers. Stuff like that is funny. But it’s hard to ignore the coming asteroid when you park your car and a man jumping from the building smashes your windshield. It’s also hard when the riots begin. Stuff like that is not funny.

Steve hooks up with Keira Knightley and they combine quests for what they’ve decided they need to do for the end of the world. Along the way they meet people like William Peterson, and Martin Sheen, as Steve’s father, with whom he has issues.

I was prepared to get mightily pissed off if it turned out there was a last-minute reprieve. I don’t think it merits a spoiler warning to say that there is no saved-by-the-bell, though we don’t actually see the end of the world—nor do we need to; this isn’t a special effects movie. It’s all on a human scale, not a cosmic one. I will say that I was a bit annoyed at a last-minute change, which was the sudden announcement that, oops!, we miscalculated, the asteroid will arrive a week ahead of schedule. What? Not only is that idiotically impossible (astronomers would be able to forecast that down to the second), it’s not even needed. It changes nothing. Keep to the damn countdown clock, damn it!

Like I said, the movie never quite manages to split the difference between things that are blackly funny (TV announcer with 16 hours left to go: Don’t forget to reset your clocks tonight for daylight saving time!) and things that are weepy. But I will say that it does get you thinking. What would you do? For myself, I haven’t decided, and if I did I would probably choose a different course if it was actually happening.