Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is an apocalyptic romcom in which two strangers help each other out during their last weeks on the planet — before a giant meteorite crashes into the globe, obliterating all life.
We spoke with writer and director Lorene Scafaria (Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist) about the strange connection between love and death, and how your end-of-the-world agenda is a pretty accurate test of how you're living your current life.
Why did you want to tell a story about both romance and death?
I've always been obsessed with both subjects. Love and death have always been themes that have been running through everything I've been writing for a long time. I guess I've been thinking about these kinds of ideas for about ten years. There were those end-of-the world movies in the late 90s that sort of obviously covered it from a different angle. I remember seeing things like Deep Impact and being really impacted by the moment where Téa Leoni is standing on the beach with her father, waiting for the big wave to hit. I really liked the idea of telling a story like that from a much more personal, human standpoint. And then 9/11 happened. I'm from Jersey, but I moved from New York to LA a week before it. So I was suddenly in a new city where I didn't have any friends or family, I didn't know anybody. I was just so desperate for human contact. And that stayed with me for a long time.
Right before Nick & Nora came out, I was thinking about these things and the idea that in that film, Infinite is in the title, the romance feels like something that could go on forever. There wasn't exactly a loud ticking clock for the characters other than the sun coming up in the morning. I was thinking, well what if we did the exact opposite to these people? What if we gave them the loudest ticking clock you could imagine? What would happen to that kind of a love story if you took forever off the table? How does that impact a budding relationship? That was really what sparked the idea.
And as I was writing it, I was really excited about taking the two genres — an end-of-the-world movie and a romantic comedy — and putting the two together. It's less of a reaction to end-of-the-world movies and more of a response as to how I feel about romantic comedies in general. I love relationship movies, I'm a romantic, I love movies about love and people falling in love. I wanted to use that epic backdrop but tell the story in an intimate, character-driven way.
I'm curious — if the world wasn't ending, do you think that these two characters would be drawn to one another?
No! No! Not at all. I like the idea that these two people, especially as neighbors in the same building, that they've been passing each other in the hall and passing each other without paying much attention. That it actually requires an event like that to open up people's eyes sometimes. I do think that sometimes it takes a very grand event for people to open up to new ideas and new people. I think the end of the world is exactly what they needed to find each other.
Do you think that romance and death, those two things, are linked in some way?
I do. I don't think there are any two emotions that are stronger than that. I think the same way that death is inevitable, but it's there for us to appreciate life. I think that without that, we wouldn't understand anything about living and be able to put things in perspective and understand what's important. Love, I think, is another sort of heightened, surreal feeling. I've always sort of found a link between the two, in my life even. I do think they are both heightened and surreal and as painful as death is, I think it's almost equally as beautiful. It's that kind of poignant end to something that helps you appreciate the rest.
When I was thinking of it, in terms of the movie, I was thinking that if there is a metaphor to be seen in here, the end of the world impacts the main character Dodge like a breakup or a divorce. [Going through a breakup] actually feels like the end of the world. The last thing you want to do is get to know somebody new or meet their family and hear their stories. It's so daunting of an idea when you've sort of had your heartbroken. The idea that the end can also be the beginning, is the furthest thing from your mind at that point. The idea that there can be something new ahead is the last thing that Dodge can imagine at that point.
Yeah, I really do see a direct link. I've always sort of felt like there's that feeling. I don't want to be morbid about it, but the idea that this is who you want to spend the rest of your life with, and the idea that that's what love is, that commitment. That really is who you want to be lying next to when the lights go out. I do think there is a really strong link.
Now that you've written and directed a movie about the end of the world, are people coming up to you and telling you how they would spend the end of days?
I imagine there will be more of that as people get to actually get to see it. I haven't seen this cut of the movie with an audience yet. So I imagine I will be experiencing that more later. But I did so much research beforehand while I was writing the script. I talked a lot with friends and family about what they would do, and got a wide variety of answers, including a family member who said he would go in search of his high school sweetheart.
Certainly sex, drugs, and rock and roll come up as well. But for the most part, everybody really had the same answers of wanting to be with friends and family. I sort of think it's a sign of how honestly someone is living their lives, if what they would do isn't that far off from where they already are. Versus certain people who would throw in the towel and do everything differently. My answers pretty boring, I like to think I live a fairly honest life. I'm sure I would indulge in some vices as well, but I would gravitate towards friends, family, and my dog.