[personal profile] teleen_fiction
This is both one of the best and one of the most underrated films I've seen in a very long while.  If you Google it, you'll find reviews that say it has "jarring tonal shifts."

It's a movie about the end of the world.  A very realistic one at that.  If you don't think that the real end of the world wouldn't have "jarring tonal shifts," you don't know much about people.

Those who have been reading here for a while know that I absolutely LOVE disaster movies.  I've seen "Armageddon," "The Core," "Volcano, and "Independence Day" multiple times.  Actually, it's more accurate to say I've listened to them, as I usually like to put on such films when I'm cooking because I've seen them so many times that I don't have to watch every moment.

I've also sat through "The Towering Inferno," "The Poseidon Adventure" (both versions), "Dante's Peak," "Daybreak," "Deep Impact" (one I used to hate, but which may move to the list in the second paragraph at some point), and "The Day After Tomorrow."  Not to mention watching multiple made-for-TV disaster movies over the years and more than one about some sort of supernatural "Antichrist" that must be stopped to save the world.   Or political thrillers where we stand on the brink of nuclear war if some brave individuals don't step in to stop it.

And the fact that my favorite pre-1977 Sci-Fi movie of all time is "When Worlds Collide."

The point is, I love disaster/adventure movies.  I love seeing what people think that people will do when they believe that the world is going to end.  I love seeing stories of survival and sacrifice of the few for the salvation of the many.

But what happens when the mission to save the planet fails?  What happens when all of the scientists and astronauts are killed in a fire and the only hope for mankind to stop the 70-mile-wide asteroid heading for us dies when there are only three weeks left before it hits?

That's the question that "Seeking" answers and answers brilliantly.

I've been wanting to write this review for quite a while, but haven't because I realized that I don't simply want to write a review, but what amounts to nearly a scene-by-scene analysis of why this movie is so brilliant.

The movie opens with what's obviously the sound of a radio broadcast played over the name of the production company.

It tells us that the mission to save the Earth has failed due to the aforementioned fire and that the station will be counting down to the end of days while bringing us all of our classic rock favorites.  We see Dodge (Steve Carrell) and his wife sitting in their car next to a playground at night.  Dodge says, "I think we missed our exit," his wife looks at him for a moment, and with no words spoken, gets out of the car and runs away into the night.

The second scene follows Dodge as he walks past a fence filled with messages: "I'm Scared." "Hire a hit man - cash or barter accepted.  Single or group rates." It also lists options for death.  "Seeking a Friend For the End of the World."  Unlike the one for the hit man, this last one still has all of its little phone number strips attached.  He gets home, finds his maid, Ilsa, there and has to argue with her about her continuing to come to clean even though the world is ending.  He finds himself giving in so that she won't feel bad about him "firing" her.  "See you next week, Mr. Dodge?"  is how their interaction ends.

Cut to the television telling us that because of the destruction of a tower, all cell service has been disabled.  And a succinct traffic report, "We're fucked, Bob."

Dodge goes to work in the midst of a massive traffic jam being caused by people "migrating" who-knows-where.  His job is at an insurance company, where many of his co-workers are crying and comforting each other.  At his desk, we see that his phone is lit up with calls, one of whom he is speaking to about the "Armageddon" package.  He gets half-way through his spiel before asking the customer to hold, hanging up on them, and vomiting.

The meeting that you may have seen in a preview happens.  Everyone can wear their casual clothes to work and because their have been so many "openings" in the company recently, positions are open in upper management.  "Anyone want to be CFO?"

A man commits suicide, jumping right onto Dodge's windshield.

Dodge goes to the gym, where a heavily muscled guy is watching himself lift in the mirror.

He goes to a party populated by most of the comics with whom Steve Carrell is acquainted, where the hostess tells him that she's surprised that Dodge's wife Linda hadn't left him sooner because she was terribly unhappy with him, a fact of which he was not aware.  She wants to set him up with her friend Karen, who comes to the event wearing "everything she never wore."  The party is filled with people all doing things that they never would have done Before.

Adults are encouraging little children to drink.  The hostess is excited that someone brought heroin.  Patton Oswald's character has a lengthy monologue about how "the sky is falling and it's raining pussy."

Dodge hides in the bathroom.  His friend's wife, the hostess, tells him that he doesn't have to do heroin if he doesn't want to and asks if he doesn't like Karen.  "I couldn't possibly give a shit," he replies, one of the best lines in that or any film, in my humble opinion.  His friend's wife kisses him.  He pulls away, saying, "You're Warren's."  Her reply: "Nobody's anyone's anything anymore."

Eventually, we meet Penny (Keira Knightly), Dodge's neighbor who had previously been seen running from a fight from her boyfriend in the atrium of Dodge's apartment building, when Dodge finds her crying on his balcony.  He asks if she's okay and she isn't - she's missed all of the planes and will never see her family again.  He asks her in, they chat for a bit, and she goes to sleep.  She has hypersomnia, to the point where she sleeps on his couch through Ilsa's vacuuming and Dodge holding her nose shut - him playing the harmonica finally wakes her.

He escorts her downstairs and she goes in to get all of the mail she's collected over the three years that the mailman has been putting it in the wrong box.  She also asks after his roommate, Linda, and her boyfriend, whom Penny thought looked very happy together.

Dodge keeps it together until he gets back upstairs, at which point he trashes Linda's part of the closet, goes out and tries to commit suicide by drinking cough syrup with codeine mixed with window cleaner, and wakes up with a dog tied to his ankle and a note under a rock on his chest reading simply, "Sorry."

He takes the dog home with him, feeds him a pot pie, and starts to go through the mail Penny gave him.  He finds a letter from his first love, Olivia, telling him he was the love of her life.  News about a riot breaking out is playing on the TV as he reads it and suddenly a brick is thrown through his window.  There's smoke in the hallway, so he climbs down to Penny's apartment to warn her.  She gathers her favorite records and we meet Owen, Penny's sort-of ex-boyfriend who's essentially a hipster loser who uses her as a human shield when they are shot at while searching for Penny's car.

The space in which the car is parked is tight.  Owen gets out and snottily tells her to cut the wheel as the riot approaches.  It's right on top of them and Penny can't get the car out when Dodge says, "If you get me where I need to be I know someone who has a plane to get you to your family."

They leave Owen behind in the riot, but the scene changes to them walking because Penny's run out of gas.  It's at this point that Dodge tells Penny to forget about the plane and he shouldn't have bothered saving her life when she ruined his by not giving him the letter when it came.

Penny's resolve firms to get him to Olivia and they hitch a ride with Glenn (William Peterson) who tells them his life story, talks about how important it is to have someone to be there when the lights go out, and then stops at a field and while Penny is walking Sorry (the dog's adopted name), tells Dodge to kill him quickly.

Glenn, friendly, nice, unassuming Glenn, had hired a hit man because you can't get into heaven if you commit suicide and thought that Dodge was that hit man.  Just as Dodge convinces him that he isn't said hitman, a bullet comes through the windshield, killing Glenn very quickly indeed.

The hitman sped away, with Penny coming back and asking, "Did you get the plate?"

They bury Glenn.  With his car keys in his pocket, so naturally that have to dig him up again to get them and take his truck.  They're having a conversation about Penny's past relationships when they spot a "Friendsy's" (think TGI Fridays on LSD) and it's still open.

"Hi, welcome to Friendsy's where everyone's your friend," the greeter tells them as he throws away a cigarette, smiles widely, and hugs them, telling them that everyone's welcome, even Sorry.  "A guy brought in a wolf last week, it's crazy!"

The entire staff is drugged to the gills, but they still manage to get some food - Dodge gets a hamburger with a doughnut for a bun, Sorry gets some spin-dip and for Penny, a Mudslide and some weed that she Conga-lines her way to.

They also manage to sing Dodge a song celebrating his very last birthday (Penny had told them it was his birthday when they came in), at which point they narrowly escape an orgy.

Outside in the truck, Penny tells Dodge,"I want you to be my last."

"That's a lot of pressure," he replies.

Afterwards, they're talking about what the sex did and didn't mean when they're pulled over by a police officer who's really serious about the quota and arrests them for driving a truck that wasn't theirs and speeding.

It's in jail that they have one of the best conversations of the film.   They speak of Dodge's family and we learn that his mother is dead, his dad drove away (they haven't spoken in twenty-five years), and his wife ran away.

"Your roommate was your wife."

"My wife was my roommate."

 Penny thinks she ruined Dodges life, but he tells her that he "had a really long head start."

The next morning a different officer comes in, curses the officer who had arrested them, gives them back Sorry, tells them that their truck was unfortunately impounded, asks if he can drop them somewhere (they say "Delaware" and he replies, "Yeah, no") and gives him a lift to a friend of Penny's who's in the nearby town of Camden, Speck, a soldier who is prepared to survive the coming apocalypse.  He also has a satellite phone, which allows Penny to call and speak to her family.

While she's on the phone, Speck tells Dodge that while Penny is welcome in the shelter, Dodge isn't.

Instead of staying, Penny asks to borrow one of Speck's "fleet" of cars.  They drive it to Olivia's parents' house, where they break in, Dodge finds a record player, and falls asleep on the couch while Penny cooks.  They have dinner and one can sense the subtle shift in their relationship as the meal progresses.  Penny tells him about her love of records, about how they require care and are easy to damage, but the sound is so rich that it's worth it, especially the heavier ones with the deeper grooves.

Then Penny finds an envelope in the kitchen with Olivia's return address.  They agree to go in the morning and separate to sleep, with Penny looking at yearbook photos of Dodge while Dodge sleeps in Olivia's old room, where his name is carved with a heart into the headboard.  He also finds some of the stationary that matches both the letter he'd gotten and the one Penny found.

As they drive to Olivia's the next day, they pass by both a yard sale and a guy mowing his lawn.  When he gets to Olivia's house, Penny is upset, but trying not to show it.  Dodge tells her to wait in the car and is back almost immediately.

He left Olivia a letter instead of seeing her.  Penny starts to ask him why, but before he can answer, they almost run over a line of people.

It's a baptism happening at the ocean.  Dodge takes Penny's hand, they kiss, and spend the morning and much of the afternoon on the beach with people who are all just congregating together, happy.  Dodge tries to teach Penny some harmonica and when Sorry runs away for a moment, Dodge chases him, giving Penny time to read the inscription on the harmonica, "To my little cowboy, Love Dad."

In the evening, they drive to what looks like a ranch and knock on the door.  Dodge calls out for "Frank" (Martin Sheen), who opens the door, recognizes Dodge, and lets them in.

We learn that Frank is Dodge's father.  While Penny is using the restroom upstairs, they talk about what happened between them, Frank apologizes, and Dodge tells him that it's not too late for Frank to be there for him.

There follows a montage set to the Hollies song "The Air That I Breathe," a song I don't remember hearing before this film though I know intellectually I must have done.  It shows them sharing a meal, Frank and Dodge playing harmonica together on the porch, Penny falling asleep, Dodge carrying her out to the plane his father owns, telling her sleeping form that she was "the love of his life," as he slips the harmonica into her hand.

The plane flies away.  Dodge drives back to his apartment, which is still standing despite the earlier riot, and finds Ilsa cleaning.  He yells at her again, but again, he winds up apologizing to her and "See you next week, Mr. Dodge," is the last thing she says to him.

He turns on the TV, where the announcer that the meteor is coming a week early, a fact that the government almost certainly knew but hid to try and keep the lights and water going just a little longer.  So instead of a week and sixteen hours, the world only has sixteen hours left.  The announcer also reminds their viewers that Daylight savings time starts that night - "Spring forward!"  He then gives his personal farewell to the audience.

Dodge goes down to Penny's apartment, finds one of her "heavier" records, and listens to it until the power goes out.

He lights candles, Sorry begins to whimper, and what follows is one of the best four minutes of film I've ever seen.

Now, if you read what I've written above, all you'll know is the parts of the film that I felt truly stood out and I've realized that while I've given a blow-by-blow, the true impact is lost.  There's more, much more, about which I didn't write.  I know that I haven't captured the true essence of this film, the softness in Dodge's eyes when he looks at Penny at the end or Penny's slight ADD every time a serious subject comes up.  The beauty of the subtle way their relationship changes so gradually and realistically.

This movie is not a comedy, nor a romance, nor an action thriller, nor a drama, nor a horror story, nor a historical drama.  It doesn't fit anywhere, really, though I'm sure that most people would try to pigeonhole it into drama, comedy, or romance.  The problem is that it is every genre and none.

It is a movie about the end of the world.

It is a movie about the end of the world and how that ending impacts two people who start out virtual strangers, but grow into so much more.

It's about how modern, middle-class, Western people would probably react.  It's about how United States of Americans would probably react.  There are so many scenes where deeper conversations about the "meaning" of life are interrupted by Penny seeing a Friendsy's or smelling weed or finding an envelope.

I've watched a lot of disaster films, but I don't think I've ever watched any that didn't focus on the people who would be the ones trying to save the world (or the city) instead of just two people who are living during the REAL "end days."  I've watched a lot of disaster films, but never where the "good guys" lose and yet win each other (a corny sentence, to be sure, but I couldn't think of another way to phrase it.)

This movie has no heroes in the "classic" sense.  All of the heroes are dead right from the start of the film.  This is just a story about a lonely man and his neighbor and their pre-apocalypse pilgrimages to reconnect with the people they love.  This is just a story about two average people who had average lives with average problems until everyone on Earth had the same, 70-mile-wide problem.

I know why it was underrated.  I've watched it all the way through three times (I think), but I've watched my favorite bits a lot more than that and I get why people didn't get it.

The world isn't supposed to end in a film about the end of the world, but it does in this one.  I cry through the last ten minutes or so every time I watch them, but they aren't unhappy tears.  The beauty of this film is that it isn't trying to be beautiful.  It's showing us reality.  It's showing us that while some people would riot or kill themselves or hire hit men or prepare bomb shelters, some people would just keep going about their lives like Ilsa still cleaning Dodge's apartment every week or the guy mowing his lawn when it absolutely doesn't matter anymore.

People would still have pointless conversations about things that don't matter.  Couples would have petty fights and dig at each other when they should be trying to be kinder.  Not everyone would appreciate the time they have left or spend it in a way that someone else would consider "wise."

Hell, Dodge still going to work and the gym that one day is a brilliant example of bodies in motion tending to stay in motion.

No one can say with any certainty how they would react if they knew that they and everyone they've ever known would be dead in three (two) weeks, but I believe that this movie gave us a pretty good cross-section of how it would go down.

Some people would rage, some would give up, some would suicide, some would soldier on, some would do everything they've always wanted to do (as much as was still possible with dwindling resources, anyway), and some would simply drift.

And a lucky few would get to lie together after the lights have gone out, holding each other and just talking while the world burns around them.



April 2017

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