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  • Writer's pictureeclectic Stefan

Leave the World Behind:”How awful we really are”


A young girl wearing a NASA t-shirt while standing in a woodland with her eyes glancing upwards

At its fundamental level, Leave the Word Behind is a dire warning of the deterioration of human and social values in the face of a life threatening global disaster. No-one is to blame and no-one knows what has happened. Human isolation allows the central characters to behave and unleash their true feelings, values and beliefs unfettered by society’s rules and their own personal values.


 

READERS’ REQUEST

Leave the World Behind was suggested to me for comment by a number of Screen Speak readers. They were uncertain and puzzled by the movie’s intentions and the perplexing, seemingly unresolved ending. Thanks to Cam, Sarah, Allen, Divya, and Aadrika for their suggestions and feedback.

Here are my impressions of the film. As many of you already know, I offer a money back film guarantee.  If you don’t like  my comments or assessment, I guarantee you won’t get your money back. Anyway, Screen Speak is free.

 

The Human World

Strangers in the night


The human world with its rules of propriety and restraint in Leave the World Behind is shattered when a successful professional couple, Amanda (Julia Roberts) and Clay Sanford (Ethan Hawke), and their children, Rose (Farah Mackenzie) and Archie (Charlie Evans), decide to escape from their everyday lives for an interlude in a luxury suburban home they rent through an online agency. It all seems relaxed and calming until they receive visitors at the front door on the first night of their attempt to leave the world behind.


a man in a tuxedo and a woman in a formal copper coloured dress meet a man at the front door

 G.H.Scott (Mahershala Ali) & Ruth (Myha’la)


Two strangers, a man and his daughter, G.H.Scott (Mahershala Ali) and Ruth (Myha’la), knock on the front door late at night.  Alarm bells for the audience and the family sound immediately.  Who are these people? Why are they knocking in the middle of the night? What is their purpose? Suspicions surface. Distrust appears. Suspicions are heightened by the undercurrent of racism, especially by Amanda, towards the strangers. Ruth expresses disdain for Amanda and Clay as well.


The man claims to be the owner of the home. These strangers, despite their formal attire, arriving at the door at night with an unknowable claim is strange. The Sanford’s decision to allow the strangers into the house is inexplicable. Then even stranger things happen.  Deer appear from the woods and seem to stare at the family.  A piercing sound shatters the windows of the house and perforates the humans’ ears. Communication networks cease working.


A failure of technology


Aside from technology, human speech fails to become an effective means of communication as Ruth demonstrates by proclaiming, “ No-one cares what I say.” Because the family and the intruders are isolated from the wider world, no-one understands what has happened. Neither do any of them know about each other and their intentions towards each other. The audience is clueless too.


Regardless of who owns the house, the house represents a refuge, a human construction that imposes itself into the natural habitat.  It becomes a survival bunker. Inside the house, Underlying all these events is the humans’ lack of comprehension about who and what has caused the disruption to their world.


The world order of humans within the house is in disarray. Each person, adult or child, suffers loneliness.  Each person is alone despite the reality that this group of castaways is all they’ve got. The only person who relishes loneliness is a local survivalist, Danny (Kevin Bacon), who has turned his house into a personal fortress and food bunker and he isn’t letting anyone into his house to share his pantry and shelter. He enforces his position by pointing a shotgun at anyone who attempts to share his house and food supplies.



The movie shows how awful we really are even when a global catastrophe necessitates that we are all we’ve got.

Not only are the onscreen characters puzzled and their lives disrupted, but the audience is also discombobulated. What do we make of this course of events? Should we expect audiences to do the heavy lifting when we watch movies or should the story be self evident? The question arises as to whether the director expects the audience to interpret and unravel the mysterious occurrences of the deer, the piercing sound, the authenticity of the night visitors, the crashing autonomous vehicles, the planes falling out of the sky and the lack of a phone signal.


I don’t have an issue with a film and its director expecting us to work through the issues and structure of a film to understand it properly. I don’t always want to be spoon fed the obvious meaning in a film. Then again, neither do I want a director to expect me to extract those ideas like extracting a tooth without an anaesthetic.


"If you really want to communicate something, even if it’s just an emotion or an attitude, let alone an idea, the least effective and least enjoyable way is directly. It only goes in about an inch. But if you can get people to the point where they have to think a moment what it is you’re getting at, and then discover it, the thrill of discovery goes right through the heart."

Acclaimed director Stanley Kubrick

(Stanley Kubrick’s films include Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, The Shining, Eyes Wide Shut, & Spartacus)



The Natural World

Five deer staring directly at the viewer with a large stag in the middle at the front

The spiritual meaning of deer


The natural world is also disrupted in  Leave the World Behind.  The appearance of the deer signals a shift in the natural order of things. The deer sense that both the natural and human worlds and human behaviour have become chaotic. The deer are still in their natural habitat and become observers of the humans in a similar manner to humans who look at animals when they are in their enclosures at zoos. The humans are on display and out of control.


 

Deer Encounters and Omens

Encountering a deer out in the wild can fill us with peace, compassion and warmth. And that's because deer are symbolic of gentleness, kindness, renewal, and spiritual awareness.

Deer move graciously, are genuine and pure of spirit, and serve as a reminder to always be kind and aware of others' feelings, as well as holding yourself to high standards of goodwill.

From Deer Symbolism & The Spiritual Meanings Of Seeing Deer, by Katrina Harris, fromYour Tango, 15 December 2021


 

In many cultures, the deer is a symbol of spiritual authority. During a deer's life, the antlers fall off and grow again and the animal, therefore, also is a symbol of regeneration. Although the humans are stressed, confused, and perplexed, the deer are symbolic of a chance for renewal and regeneration. This is underlined by Rose, who remains calm and unfazed by the deer. 


Encounters with the natural world


She seeks them out. Fully grown male deer—stags—represent strength, power, and transformation. The animals maintain  a sense of control and dominance over the human intruders. They are, after all, in their natural environment, unlike the humans. Rose, alone among the humans, provides a bridge between the natural order of the natural world and the disturbance of the human world. She, too, offers hope.


We, the viewers, are in the position of the onscreen humans.  We do not know with any certainty what has happened to the world, whether it’s a terrorist attack, an attack by a hostile government or a catastrophic natural disaster. We know one thing for certain, the humans regress to their natural, animalistic state.


It’s similar to how the rules of civilised society dissolve in William Golding’s book and director Peter Brook’s 1963 movie of Lord of the Flies in which a group of students are survivors on an island where they make their own rules. They form groups and govern using a system that picks on the weakest.


Official Trailer Leave the World Behind


THE ENDING

Now to the crux of the matter, the ending of Leave the World Behind, which is the subject of speculation, confusion and dissatisfaction and where this conversation first arose.


As one character in Leave the World Behind asks, “What could it mean?” To which another character says, “I’m sure it will turn out to be a big nothing.” It’s unfortunate that viewers are asking the same question, “What could it mean?”


Hollywood is known for audience screenings before a film’s release to gauge an audience’s response, especially to the ending of a movie.  Studios have been known to change the ending before commercial release if audiences’ expectations are less than enthusiastic.  Directors often work to get the director’s cut of a movie, which gives them the final say about the film’s ending, regardless and despite what a studio might want that’s different.


Leave the World Behind is a case in point of an uncertain ending.

The end of the world


Audiences tend to want clearcut endings with a cause and effect.  Movies that deal with the end of life as we know it don’t necessarily leave the audience feeling positive.


Think about what the end of the world might be like.  Leave the World Behind is just like that scenario. If you’ve ever had power suddenly disrupted in your neighbourhood with all power to your house, including fridges, phones, interior lights and street lights going dark and you are left standing on the footpath with all your neighbours standing in your dressing gown and bearing flashlights for illumination, that’s what it would be like. You are clueless and ask what has happened. Just like the ending of Leave the World Behind.


When you consider what our world would be like to navigate and live-in following a catastrophic event that isolates us and limits our ability to understand or survive, it makes sense for a movie to show the disarray, discomfort and fear that results. What if you actually couldn’t access anything—no food, no transport and not knowing what had caused the disruption. If our world as we know it ended, I don’t think we would understand what had happened.  Chaos would reign. In that regard, the movie makes sense.


That, however, is different from confusion within the film’s script, characters and symbolic elements that can simply result in a baffling movie.


Fear, chaos & self parking cars


Leave the World Behind prophesises doom and the end of life and civilisation.  There are clear signs that it is intended as a salutary warning and a definite sign that we can regenerate if only we can overcome our biases and prejudices and our innermost desire to survive at any cost and at the expense of anyone who is not in our immediate sphere of existence. Survival involves self preservation, the safety of our immediate families and retaining our property and life saving provisions.


Amanda and Clay’s daughter, Rose, seems to be the salvation for the group and a sign that there is a way forward within the mysterious events that have engulfed this group of humans. There is an instinctive connection between her and the deer.  Rose is similar to a fawn, with its gentle demeanour. She possesses a sense of innocence and purity. As the young offspring of deer, fawns symbolize the purity of new beginnings.


The deer understand Rose’s plight and she sees that the animals provide a sense of renewal and possibility of survival.  Her final gesture as she accesses Danny’s provision to share with the group is a sign that they can get through this catastrophic disruption to their lives and life on the planet. The human world may be obliterated but the natural order of things will regrow and regenerate the planet.


Survivalist Danny takes a stand


We simply think we are better than conspiratorial survivalist Danny and other survivalists rather than realising we are similar in the rawest way. We all would become survivalists. Clay and GH Scott are ready to engage violently with Danny to gain access to his provisions. Their civility has been stripped bare.


Human behaviour is more frightening than anything that this motley group confronts in nature.  They are a microcosm of the downfall and destruction of society and civilised behaviour.


The apocalyptic disaster in Leave the World Behind is important in the sense that it’s a catalyst for the racist mistrust between Ruth and Amanda, parental clashes with the children and, overall, the general lack of preparedness we will experience if our world as we know it suddenly, mysteriously and inexplicably was changed. A hint of what may have happened is shown in the final scene but it’s not the central idea of the movie.


The book and movie vary slightly. Both endings share the daughter’s benevolent approach and the deers’ symbolic nature as harbingers of good will, tolerance and the regeneration of nature despite human failings.  The daughter creates a nexus between the natural world and social order. The deer are god omens and suggest the world order will be restored even if it is altered due to the catastrophic nature of events.


There may be hope yet for the untrusting, selfish, and prejudiced humans.  They should appeal to their inner humanity rather than discarding all vestiges of civility and human kindness.


Movie poster for the movie Leave the World Behind with the names of the actors at the top, the title of the film in the middle and where and when the film will be shown at the bottom.  The picture on the poster is of a stag standing in the middle of a highway that runs through heavily wooded area

The movie has odd moments throughout its running time.  There are close-up shots of coffee and glasses of whiskey that serve little, if any, purpose. They intimidate but they are just coffee and whiskey. There are the mandatory drone shots and a tinkling piano that forebodes something sinister at odd moments without there being any sense of a threat and seemingly endless exposition.

The movie takes a long time to get going. This suggests the long form approach to making movies for streaming platforms, as is the case with Netflix’s Leave the World Behind.





Official Poster


As for the differences between the book and the movie, I follow Elmore Leonard’s response to a journalist asking him what he thought of the movie version of his book, Get Shorty.  His purportedly curt reply: “My book, their movie”.


The reaction to a movie and the way it ends is basic.  You either get it or you don’t; it either makes sense or it doesn’t.  From the reactions from many readers of Screen Speak, we think Leave the World Behind is part one of a series because it clearly requires a sequel to explain what happened or it’s confusing as it stands and will strain your brain.


We can analyse the ending and apply scholarly explanations about the deer, the strangers, and the failure of technology. Furthermore, the characters in the movie kept explaining to each other what they thought was happening or pondered on the appearance of mysterious animals and ear piercing sounds continuously. That suggests the script was unclear.


For my money, the director didn’t achieve his goal to his audience if there is a constant need to explain what he intended to convey to his audience. That’s my take on Leave the World Behind.  If this has added to the confusion or baffled you as much as the movie, please go back to the beginning of this blog and read my money back guarantee.


In the final cut, perhaps it’s best to leave behind the movie Leave the World Behind.


FILM EXTRAS: THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT


Lord of the Flies movie poster with a set of eyes running down the left side, the title in the middle on the right and endorsements  and accolades for the film above and below the title.



Lord of the Flies (1954)

Lord of the Flies is a film based on Nobel laureate British author William Golding’s debut novel. The plot concerns a group of British boys who are stranded on an uninhabited island and their disastrous attempts to govern themselves. The novel deals with the tension between groupthink and individuality, between rational and emotional reactions, and between morality and immorality.







 

Movie poster for film On the Beach. The background is yellow with a swish of red.  The slogan is at the top, title in the middle right, actors names on the bottom right with illustrated images of the actors below their names.


On the Beach (1959)

On the Beach is a 1959 American post-apocalyptic drama starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire, and Anthony Perkins. Produced and directed by Stanley Kramer, it is based on Nevil Shute's 1957 novel On the Beach depicting the aftermath of a nuclear war. Unlike the novel, no one is assigned blame for starting the war, which attributes global annihilation to fear compounded by accident or misjudgment.






 

Waybill  of Alfred Hitchcock's movie Lifeboat showing a lifeboat in the ocean with a group of survivors in the lifeboat and the actors names across the bottom of the image and the film's title above them.

Lifeboat (1944)

Alfred Hitchcock’s movie depicts how tensions erupt between the survivors of a sunken ocean liner and the Nazi responsible for the disaster. The entire movie is set in a lifeboat in the ocean. And Alfred Hitchcock makes his usual cameo appearance in the movie even though he is not a survivor in the lifeboat. Can you guess (without looking at Wikipedia) how Hitchcock appears in Lifeboat?



 

Movie poster for Testament with a family silhouetted against a blazing nuclear explosion in th distance.  The colours are mainly red, yellow and brown.






Testament (1983)

A California family struggles with dwindling supplies and radiation poisoning in the wake of a nuclear holocaust.












 

If you want more movies about the end of the world, please check this list:
 

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