‘Seeking a Friend’ and the Apocalyptic Tunes of the Midcentury

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(Image via Awards Circuit)

When I decided to watch Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, I wasn’t planning to do a full post on it. I needed some background noise while reorganizing my book collection and when I need background noise, I turn to Netflix’s 21st century offerings. I thought I’d half-watch it on my Kindle and maybe write up a sentence or two for a “Modern Movies” post.

I will still contain my review of the film to a few brief paragraphs, but there’s one thing I want to talk a lot more about: the music. This film has a stellar soundtrack made up of mid- to late-20th century tunes.

But first, the film on the whole. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World offers an interesting and somewhat debaucherous take on the way the world would act, if it knew the world was ending. A destructive asteroid is headed toward the Earth, and mankind’s demise is inevitable within the next three weeks. A lot of people choose to forget all of the rules, focusing instead on their definition of fun (which includes a lot of drugs, a lot of booze, and a lot of smoochin’, to put it in more polite terms). Others try to live life as normal, carry on the routine, enjoy each other’s company.

Dodge (Steve Carell), an insurance salesman, is dumped by his wife when the news of the asteroid breaks. His neighbor, Penny (Keira Knightley), has just broken up with her own boyfriend, Owen (Adam Brody). Penny and Dodge meet as she’s mourning her relationship on the fire escape of their apartment building. With just a few days left before the asteroid hits, they shun the local parties and set off on an adventure to track down Dodge’s lost true love (his high school girlfriend) and to find a plane that can reunite Penny with her parents in England.

Steve Carell and Keira Knightley both give great performances film. Their age difference is a little much but despite this, I really enjoyed watching them together, and as their friendship grew I became very invested in the outcome of their story. The ending hit me right in the heart. Writer/director Lorene Scafaria has crafted something kind of special here — a story that, in the midst of an apocalypse, captures honest human connection. There are so many genuinely emotional moments in this film. And to think: this was only her second feature film as writer, and her first as director! You go, Lorene! I hope we see a lot more of her work in the future.

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(Image via Awards Circuit)

Now, that soundtrack. It would be difficult to find a more appropriate list of old songs to accompany an apocalypse. The soundtrack spans several decades, including an INXS tune and two from Wang Chung to represent the ’80s, but the film’s most impactful tracks are also its oldest. These were the songs that stood out to me during my viewing of the film:

“Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by The Beach Boys
Released in 1966
Plays: 
On the radio, after the announcement that the mission to save mankind has failed
Thoughts: “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” is the opening track from the classic Pet Sounds album, and what a perfect song choice to open the film as well. Dodge has just learned two things: that the world is going to end, and that his marriage has dissolved. The use of the tune is one part melancholy: “Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older?,” Brian Wilson sings, while humankind learns that the planet is, uh… not going to get any older, nor the people living on it. It’s another part symbolic, a song about young’ns who can’t wait until they’re old enough to marry, while Dodge’s marriage has ended, his wife literally running away from him. The song kinda-sorta gets another reference in the film as well, Penny telling Dodge that her boyfriend took her Pet Sounds album when they broke up.

“This Guy’s In Love With You” by Herb Alpert
Released in 1968
Plays:
Lightly, in the background, as Penny and Dodge share a meal; Also plays over the end credits
Thoughts: This song caught my attention in part because I love She & Him’s cover of it and recognized it immediately. It’s a sweet little tune, the least apocalyptic on this list, but significant in that it emphasizes the hopeful side of the film — the message that, hey, the world has ended, but at least Dodge and Penny experienced love and happiness before it ended.

“The Air That I Breathe” by The Hollies
Released in 1974
Plays:
After Dodge has reconciled with his father, over scenes of Penny and Dodge’s night with him. Continues through Penny’s departure on the helicopter.
Thoughts: I have adored this song for many years. I just love the sound of it. To me it’s always seemed to have a pretty heavily melancholic sound in the verses, building up to that ecstatic chorus. Very fitting that it plays in this film as Penny, Dodge, and Dodge’s father toast “to the beginning of the world,” recognizing that while the world is technically ending, it has in a way begun again for all of them. Freed from the routine of their lives, and connecting with each other, the end of the world really is a new beginning for them, however briefly it may last.

“The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore)” by The Walker Brothers
Released in 1966
Plays:
 As Dodge is laying on the floor alone (well, with the pup), listening to records, having sent Penny away via helicopter
Thoughts: This song was originally released by Frankie Valli in 1965 but became a hit when recorded by The Walker Brothers.

“The sun ain’t gonna shine anymore/The moon ain’t gonna rise in the sky/The tears are always clouding your eyes/When you’re without love […] The sun ain’t gonna shine anymore/Bring it back, baby/The sun ain’t gonna shine anymore.”

The lyrics can be interpreted quite literally in connection with the film. The world is ending; the sun truly isn’t going to shine anymore, because the world won’t be around to see it shine. Beyond this literal interpretation, the lyrics also speak to the greater loss brought on by the apocalypse: the loss of our lives, the loss of our connections with everyone we love, and our lack of ability to regain those things after we’ve lost them. On the flip side, there’s yet another interpretation, and a much brighter one. The sun doesn’t shine when you’re without love, but Dodge and Penny find love at the end of the world, so maybe the sun will always shine for them (metaphorically, at least).

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