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Leave the World Behind: Warning or Fiction?

See why audiences are spooked from Sam Esmail’s latest film Leave The World Behind and its real-world implications for American society.

Rose finally watches the final episode of Friends. Credit: Netflix

The Netflix thriller directed by Sam Esmail has critics and conspiracy theorists talking. Leave the World Behind, a film adapted from the 2020 book written by Rumaan Alam, was recently released on Netflix on November 22nd.

It’s been on the top 10 list for 93 countries for the entire month of December. But it’s not just the star-studded cast that’s drawing in viewers: it’s the eerie message that has viewers flocking to watch it. 

I recommend to Leave this Review Behind if you want to avoid spoilers. 

From left: Mahershala Ali, Myha’la, Julia Roberts, Ethan Hawke
Credit: Netflix

Leave the World Behind Summary

The film is split up into five parts. 

In Part 1: The House, Amanda (Julia Roberts) and Clay (Ethan Hawke) head to Long Island for a weekend getaway with their children, Archie (Charlie Evans) and Rose (Farrah Mackenzie). However, the trip takes a turn for the worse.

When the family goes to the beach, an oil tanker runs ashore. That night, G.H. (Mahershala Ali) and his daughter Ruth (Myha’la) greet the couple, stating that they are the homeowners.

Amanda is immediately suspicious and forces them to sleep in the basement until things are figured out. On the TV, the National Emergency System switches on, stating that a cyber attack has occurred.

G.H. and Ruth watch the emergency broadcast
Credit: Netflix

In Part 2: The Curve, Clay attempts to go into town to find a newspaper while Rose and Archie go into the woods, bored without Wifi and Friends. G.H. also leaves to see if his neighbors are around. 

Clay runs into a hysterical woman who only speaks Spanish and leaves her behind; while driving away, red pamphlets fall from the sky in Arabic. G.H. goes onto the beach and sees bodies and debris from a plane crash right before another plane crashes in the same spot. 

Back at the house, they argue that the U.S.’s satellites are down, causing entire navigation and communication systems to fail. But their hypothesizing gets cut off by an ear-splitting electric noise, leading into Part 3: The Noise.

After Archie translates the pamphlet as “Death to America,” Amanda and Clay pack up to go home. When attempting to go back to the city, they see that the entire road is blocked off by crashed self-driving Teslas. From this failed attempt, they return to G.H. and Ruth. 

Part 4: The Flood is where deer continue to show up at the house, flamingoes are swimming in the pool, and the noise returns. The next morning, Archie wakes up and his teeth start to fall out.

In the final part, Part 5: The Last One, G.H. brings Archie to his contractor, Danny, who is a survivalist. Rose goes missing, and Amanda and Ruth go out to find her. At Danny’s, he pulls a gun on them, saying that the U.S.’s enemies have teamed up; it’s every man for himself.

Ruth is cornered by hundreds of deer, and Amanda screams at them to run away. Danny relents and gives Archie medication. G.H. realizes that the people who are doing this are toppling the government in three steps: disabled communication and transportation, synchronized chaos, and civil war. 

Amanda and Ruth continue to search for Rose when they hear a huge explosion. They look over the water and see a bomb detonating over New York City. The film ends with Rose finding an underground bunker at a neighbor’s house. She finds an old D.V.D. of Friends and pops it into the C.D. player. 

One Huge Metaphor

The most poignant metaphor in Leave the World Behind is the role of Friends in the film. Rose becomes disappointed without Wifi since she only has one more episode of Friends to finish. But this isn’t just a little girl’s obsession: it’s her escape, which reflects society’s escapism as a whole. 

Media and technology allow us to fall in love with characters and stories while ignoring reality’s problems. Ruth states that Friends is “almost nostalgic for a time that never existed.” Instead of acknowledging problems, Americans hide in a perfect world that isn’t real.

All of the metaphors in the film represent the denial of issues. Amanda’s casual racism when G.H. and Ruth arrive illuminates white people’s bafflement at the existence of a black upper class. The deer show how humans will ignore nature’s signs until it’s too late. Danny’s gun reflects how politics has destroyed Americans and their relationship with each other.

The film’s allegorical nature feels like a scary yet possible progression toward America’s decline. It doesn’t help that a former U.S. president helped make the film.

Barack and Michelle Obama at the final White House Concert
Credit: YouTube/obamawhitehouse

The Obamas

Leave the World Behind is about the collapse of the U.S. government, and naturally, Barack Obama’s history spooks audiences. Barack and Michelle Obama operate as executive producers with Higher Ground Productions, their production company.

Esmail credits Barack Obama with providing details that make the film as plausible as possible. But he also says that Obama is a fan of the original book, and his goal was to make a great film.

Many fans aren’t buying this explanation. One viewer perfectly encapsulates their anxiety surrounding the Obama’s involvement:

Social Media Frenzy

While the director tells audiences not overly to examine, and rather experience the film, many conspiracies have bubbled to the surface on social platforms.

Since the release of Leave the World Behind, several TikToks show things going awry in society. One recent TikTok records a cargo ship crashing onto land, just like the oil tanker in the film.
Recent videos of ships crashing have Tik Tok users equating them to Leave the World Behind.

Conspiracy theorists are also using the film to predict wars and societal collapses. From hidden QR codes to specific dates on the emergency alerts, many people think of this film as a threat for what is to come.

The Big Picture

While fears can run wild, it is also important to remember the larger message of the film. Whether or not something like Leave the World Behind will happen doesn’t matter. It’s whether or not it can happen, which Barack Obama has proven true. America is divided and the nation’s enemies can use that to their advantage.

Even though subliminal messages and looming warnings scare viewers, the buzz surrounding the film highlights these larger societal issues that Americans choose to ignore. Instead of fixing the problem, people escape through Friends or any means possible.

Written By

Junior Screenwriting major at Chapman University

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