Romantic comedy poses apocalyptic questionby Euan Kerr, Minnesota Public Radio
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Movie director Lorene Scafaria wants to start a conversation about the apocalypse.
Her new film "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" opening this weekend is a romantic comedy, but it asks some serious questions.
The film starts out with a radio announcement, a scenario from the mind of Scafaria, writer and director.
"The final mission to save mankind has failed," the announcer reveals. "The 70-mile wide asteroid known as Matilda is set to collide with Earth in exactly three weeks time, and we'll be bringing you our countdown to the end of days along with all your classic rock favorites."
"You know I've been thinking a lot about love and death I guess my whole life," Scafaria laughed.
She watched all the apocalypse movies pumped out by Hollywood in recent years, but said they left her cold.
"I was watching them and I wasn't feeling too much emotionally," Scafaria said.
The problem, she says, were the characters and their lack of human relationships. In the wake of 9/11, Scafaria says it was clear that in moments of crisis people pull together, and remarkable things can happen. She was caught in the New York City blackout a few years back, and was amazed at how people just began helping each other.
"The restaurants started opening up their bars, they just started putting beer out on the street for people and it just became this block party," she remembers. "And there was no violence during that."
When Scafaria began writing her apocalyptic film script, it became a gentle story. There is some looting and bad behavior, but most of her characters begin to consider what is really important to them.
Some people gather their families, or complete long-held ambitions. Some people keep working. Others just go for long bike rides. In the midst of this, Dodge, a depressed insurance salesman played by Steve Carell meets Penny, played by Keira Knightley. She is a free-spirit who, much to Dodge's amazement, has lived in the apartment next door for three years.
"What are you doing with the rest of your life?" Penny asks.
"Oh, um, a little of this, a little of that," he says. "Probably catching up on some me-time, find God. Maybe move around some chairs."
"Well, maybe I'll run into you at a support group or an orgy or something," she says.
"Yeah, that sounds nice," replies Dodge, immediately wincing at his answer.
They are an unlikely couple, but they set off to try and do significant things before the world ends. It's a mash-up of disaster movie and romantic comedy, but at the center is Scafaria's question — what do you do when it's only three weeks to the end of the world? MPR News put it to members of our public insight network and quickly got a range of answers.
Jim Ferstle of St. Paul would look for a way out.
"I would probably find a way to dodge the bullet, or the meteor as it is in this case," he laughed.
In Schroeder up in Cook County, Laurence Landherr says he would kick into action.
"Do some good for someone who has nothing," he said.
Some respondents wrote about praying for salvation and gathering with family to arrange where to meet in the afterlife.
Shawn Ristvedt of Hawley had a simple answer to what he would do with those last three weeks.
"As much as possible!" he said.
One writer stated this: "Past girlfriends and an 11-year marriage notwithstanding, I would tell my co-worker that she is the only woman I have ever loved."
"That's remarkable," Scafaria said, on hearing this response.
Scafaria said while writing the script she posed that question to many people and got answers profound and mundane. She wants the film to spur further conversation.
"I hope this movie doesn't bring about some divorces or anything like that," she laughed. "But at the same time, part of it really is about are you the person you want to be and are you with the person you want to be with?"
She said the film was inspired partly by a co-worker who told Scafaria that when faced with the apocalypse he would go in search of a high school girlfriend that he now knew was the love of his life.
To Minneapolis resident Jodie Ebert's response, "I would quit working, spend time with my family, and also go to a park, lay back and look at the clouds," Scafaria says it's wonderful - but why wait for a disaster?
"I mean why not go right now? Go lay in the park and look up at the sky? It doesn't have to be falling, I think," Scafaria said.
- Morning Edition, 06/21/2012, 6:40 a.m.