Without giving too much away, the plot (in a nutshell) is as follows. In a matter of weeks, the world will end owing to an asteroid that’s hurtling towards the Earth. Nothing can be done to stop it. After Dodge (Carell) and Penny (Knightley) meet in the most unlikely of circumstances, the pair set out to try and make the most of their last days on earth.
The film is hard to pigeon-hole. It’s not an all-out romance because, as above, there isn’t a happy ending. It isn’t a comedy – although there are laughs, they’re juxtaposed with the bleak (and all-too realistic) setting; it’s not set years in the future, and its discomfortingly close to the here and now. Equally, despite the fact it’s about a science-y topic, there are no geeky breakthroughs; at no stage does someone in a white coat come on screen and squeal, ‘I’ve found the solution! The Earth is saved!’
What the film really does is ask what you would do if faced with the end of the world. Some people adopt a to-hell-with-it attitude and do the very things that in ‘normal’ life, they know they oughtn’t. For example, early on in the film, Dodge’s friends hold a party where children are encouraged to drink shots and guests freely inject themselves with heroin. However, some people decide that the ticking of the clock towards their final day on earth is too much to bear. ‘Suicide assassins’ lurk; people throw themselves from buildings. It’s a grim, bleak reality.
But in amongst all the darkness, there are splashes of hope and glimpses of the better side of human nature. When Penny finally manages to speak to her family in England, the audience cannot help but feel moved. And the introduction of Sorry the dog adds an oddly sentimental strand to the storyline, as well as changing our interpretation of the previously-stuffy Dodge.
Penny and Dodge form an unlikely relationship, and it’s touching seeing how they both try to help each other fufil their last wishes. It’s quite nice to see Carell not playing the vaguely nerdy middle-aged guy that he normally depicts, and Knightley is pitch-perfect as the flaky but self-aware Penny, who drifts through the film laughing and clutching an armful of her most treasured LPs.
The film’s conclusion left me satisfied but haunted. I suppose sometimes it’s actually quite pleasing for a film to not have a chirpy ending. Because, in reality, life isn’t always happy-ever-after, is it?
In cinemas now.