There's no question time is running out for Steve Carell and Keira Knightley in the new dark comedy "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World." But for writer-director Lorene Scafaria, the film isn't so much about the time her characters have left but the realization of what they're going to do with it.
"I felt like time was the most important theme running through it," Scafaria told me in a recent interview. "It's so strange sometimes for it to take some cataclysmic, tragic event to have people open their eyes up to different things and finally experience life."
Opening in theaters Friday, "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" is about just that: the world coming to an end in three weeks, and hopefully for two people -- Dodge (Steve Carell) and Penny (Keira Knightley) -- they can find the meaning in their lives before it all -- specifically, a 70-mile-wide meteor -- comes crashing down.
In Dodge's case, the bad news has left the guarded, introverted insurance salesman without his wife (Nancy Carell) after she bolts when they learn there is no hope of averting the disaster. For their neighbor of three years who Dodge never knew -- the free-spirited, music-loving Penny (Keira Knightley) -- her last wish is to get home to her native England to be with her parents.
Despite the impending doom, Dodge still finds a beacon of hope: Not only does he discover his first, true love wants to reunite with him; his new, unlikely friend, Penny, inspires him to take a road trip with her to find the woman before the world ends.
Time, for the duration of the project, has meant everything to Scafaria. After selling her "End of the World" idea to Mandate Pictures as a pitch in 2008, the filmmaker completed a couple of drafts of the script before her father became sick with prostate cancer. She took six months off to spend time with him before he died, and she came back to the project with a new perspective.
"It made me realize how important even 15 minutes is. Time is really the only commodity that we have, and it's all I have to give to anybody," Scafaria said. "The only time I get upset is when someone is wasting is my time."
Going back even further, Scafaria, a New Jersey native, said the story was also somewhat shaped by the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001. The filmmaker, who lived in New York City for two years before moving to Los Angeles a week before 9/11, said she felt lost not having friends nearby.
"I found myself in LA, where I knew absolutely nobody and wished so desperately for human contact," Scafaria recalled. "I began calling old friends that I hadn't talked to in a while and really began reaching out to people."
When she made it back to New York, she found that "the city had changed, obviously, in tragic ways, but also, it felt like a community again."