I recently posted a piece that pondered Hollywood’s reluctance to delve deeply into exploring what happens after death or providing an explanation for what’s behind the woo-woo in movies such as Field of Dreams.
A few nights ago I saw Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, and it entirely made my point. (If you haven’t seen it and want to view it without spoilers, stop reading and start watching.)
I gotta tell you, I enjoyed the film. Well, I ate up the love story within the film. It was a tissue movie in a few places, not from sadness but from gladness, love triumphant over stupidity and all.
But here’s the deal:
An asteroid was on a collision course with Earth, and everyone was facing annihilation in three weeks. There was a countdown and everything. Insurance guy Dodge Peterson played by Steve Carell befriended a much-younger neighbor Penny Lockhart that he had not previously known played by Kiera Knightley. This Penny was from heaven, at least yummiliciously.
So everyone was facing the giant splat … and yet the death topic was barley explored.
Death was assumed, not discussed. “We’re all gonna die. OK.” No lengthy conversations with God or about God. No one opined out loud what an afterlife might be like — or even if one awaits. No one mentioned anything the least bit woo-woo.
Everyone went on living with their fatalistic programming that death is the ultimate off and oh, too bad, asteroid zooming in to wipe humanity off the face of the Earth. So sad. Who can I screw?
WHAT’S UP WITH THAT?
What’s up with that? Seriously?
WHAT’S UP WITH THAT? (PART 2)
I don’t know why Hollywood is so wimpy when it comes to exploring the topic of death and after-death. Why is death so comic book simple?
In this case I do not know if writer/director Lorene Scafaria decided on her own not to acknowledge and explore the obvious, or if it was something the studio dictated. “You know that poignant scene where Dodge and Penny talk about how they want to share life in the next world together? Well, cut it. It’s gotta go. We don’t want to offend anybody’s religious sensibilities. Market share, box office.”
I don’t know what the real reason is, but I’m always so disappointed that characters facing inevitable end games are so philosophically lame about their fates. “Oh, well, maybe I’ll think about it after I’m dead,” they seem to say.
About the most philosophical statement in Scafaria’s movie was the horny quirky guy who observed that almost-dead women don’t worry about birth control, hygiene, STDs, and ethics. Yee-haw! Time to party.
WHAT’S UP WITH THAT? (PART 3)
I wonder how this scenario of the eminent asteroid-planetary collision would play out in what we call real life. Would broadcast news go on day by day and ignore the question of life after squish? Would any media entity step up to the plate and offer suggestions on how to cope with this existential crisis? Would they continue to keep death comic book simple?
Would everyone quit working as mostly happened in the movie, except for a few eccentrics like the overly zealous cop who jailed Dodge and Penny for driving without a license? Would no government agency step in for crowd control, or more appropriately, for crowd education? I think of those brave band members aboard Titantic who kept on playing to help soothe nerves, even though they knew they were goners.
I’m reminded of a real-life author and afterlife researcher who visited a hospice. He was startled to discover how little information was provided to patients about death and afterlife. What he describes is very much like the movie where everyone knew they were going to die but went on living as if they had already flat-lined spiritually. They had no questions about anything. They were just going to wait and see.
WHAT’S UP WITH THAT? (PART 4)
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World contained several avoid-saying-anything scenes. One happened just after Dodge parked his car in his reserved parking spot at work (yes, he was still going to work.) As he was shutting off his engine, a co-worker splat on his windshield from above. It was presumably a suicide, but there was no discussion about it later in the movie. If a guy splat onto and shattered my windshield, I’d probably mention something.
I also wondered why a guy would choose to throw himself off a tall building as being a better fate than waiting for death by asteroid from God’s pea-shooter. I’m missing something here.
You could also hire an assassin, the movie suggested. This was presumably if you did not have the cajones to kill yourself but still wanted something deadly before the fate the rest of the world would suffer. By the way, no one discussed assassination, either. It just happened by surprise in good ol’ Hollywood style.
Another scene involved a montage of a bunch of people supposedly at a mass baptism beach party! Presumably there was some God talk during that, but what was shown was like a big picnic with all the de rigueur food and games and smiles … and no talk about death. Let’s all have a jovial picnic before the big bang.
Even in the end when the asteroid started colliding with Earth, Dodge and Penny kept strangely mute about any possibility of meeting in some other dimension. I am not denying that they died beautifully together, but the way I look at it — joined by any of the millions of people who have had near-death or out-of-body or spiritually transformative experiences — it ain’t the end!
The end of the movie could have been how they awoke in a gorgeous meadow together. “Rise and shine, honey. It’s a new life!”
I believe that one reason why so many people fear death is that mass culture doesn’t pursue making peace with it much. We pursue exploiting the pain of death and the multiplicity of ways that physical death snatched us. Mass culture plays with themes of how people die — or how their bodies die. We worry about what’s coming without exploring what we know about it.
So the people in this movie did exactly what society in general teaches us to do. Don’t question fate. Party till the end. If that includes acts of violence, so beat it.