LEAVE THE WORLD BEHIND. This is how it would look [REVIEW]

The Netflix film may not appeal to every viewer, but it excels primarily in arousing anxiety and the accuracy of social commentary.

Marcin Konczewski

10 December 2023

If you expect a vivid vision of the apocalypse, explosive pandemonium, you may be disappointed with Sam Esmail’s film. This is not a production that provides answers to all questions but deliberately avoids them in favor of playing with patterns and audience expectations, hungry for a detailed instruction on how to cope with the end of the world. Leave the World Behind might even be… annoying in this respect. It is, in its own way, subtle, hermetic, and at the same time, a powerful and very accurate social commentary on human attitudes towards a possible catastrophe. The creator of the famous Mr. Robot allows us to see it only from a distance. Instead, we are to step into the shoes of ordinary people who know nothing about it. This is how it could look from our perspective. I bought into it.

I liked the Netflix film for several reasons, which some viewers may perceive as flaws. From the beginning, it plays strongly with the viewer, avoiding a clear definition of the genre norm. Despite some strong hints, such as the scene with the tanker or the deer, it is difficult to determine unequivocally whether we are dealing with a real attack or some kind of theft conspiracy. Esmail leads us by the nose here – touching on family and marital issues, later playing with the issue of racism, but not making it the main focus. When, at a certain point, the cards are laid out, and the creator no longer plays with confusing tropes, he shamelessly avoids the spectacle and bombast typical of disaster cinema. Instead, he chooses the micro-scale – the reactions, behaviors, and thoughts of ordinary people. They are the focus of attention. And that is incredibly interesting, fresh, and intriguing.

I noticed in Leave the World Behind a correspondence with another Netflix production released two years ago, namely Don’t Look Up. The message is similar in many places, but here we are on the other side of the barricade – very far from the epicenter of events. We only learn about them through speculation, rumors, and conversations between members of two families whose fates have randomly intertwined on the day of a cybernetic attack on, well… the world, the USA? We don’t know. This is the interpretative key to the whole thing – the pervasive sense of being lost, confused. We are supposed to feel what the characters feel. This is a risky move because it abandons some of the drama associated with the scale. Everything here is more intimate. Apparently, not much happens in terms of action, which could be a criticism of the film itself, but in the details, we get at times… perhaps too much, as some threads are barely touched, others left open. Therefore, the film could serve as a starting point for a series. Still, I dare say that this is also an intentional move, challenging narrative conventions. Esmail builds a constant sense of tension that allows many formally and tonally intriguing scenes to resonate (cries by the deer herd, a conversation with the prepper, or the tooth scene). It’s ostensibly a slow-burner, but one that doesn’t explode in front of the audience.

The execution of the film deserves immense praise – evocative, distinctive music, directing actors, and certainly camera work. At times, it’s cinematographic virtuosity that simply amazed me. Wide shots, smooth transitions along buildings, precise camera work, close-ups of actors – it all serves a purpose, justified not only aesthetically but also adding a lot to the layer of meanings and message. It’s about focusing on the characters, their exposition. And here we come to another huge advantage of Leave the World Behind – the acting. To carry the weight of driving the action mainly through dialogues, you need outstanding actors and great lines. We have the former, and the latter aspect is often good, though not always consistent. Nevertheless, a few accurate quotes can be confidently framed and used as perfect comments on our reality. One thing is certain – we get a fireworks display of acting, and each character is distinctive, well-developed enough that we can identify specific personality types in them. Almost all the personalities on the screen deserve praise – Julia Roberts (!), Ethan Hawke, Mahershala Ali, Myha’ala Herrold, the young Farrah MacKenzie, or finally, Kevin Bacon. Besides a few scenes that could be counted on one hand, there are perhaps no artistic excesses. We get a kind of slow intensity because the characters are not on some path; they are only at its threshold, and human behavior figures are only taking shape. Yet, at this stage, demons emerge, irrationality takes over. After all, animals show that in the face of catastrophes, we should form groups, but people do the opposite – they alienate themselves, tearing each other apart. And that’s terrifying. And that it somewhat breaks off? Well, that’s the idea. Maybe there was potential to expand this story, perhaps the whole thing is more suitable for a series, and some narrative elements and tricks deserved more, but I’m sold. I forgive a lot if I’m engaged in a woven story. And here I was.

The Netflix film may not appeal to every viewer, but it excels primarily in arousing anxiety and the accuracy of social commentary. It’s a film about the fear arising from a lack of awareness of what is happening. I haven’t seen such clearly exposed truths about how helpless and defenseless humanity is in the face of a simple loss of the internet, connectivity. Leave the World Behind also wins with the constantly built tension, pervasive mystery, acting, character exposition, and may lose where it takes the most risk, i.e., in the pace of narration and the resolution of plot threads. It’s a typical slow-burner, almost television theater, from which I am aware that one could bounce off. However, if you approach it with concentration, you will be pleasantly surprised. And in the meantime, you will understand that watching the last episode of Friends may be the only right remedy in the face of the end of the world and that it is worth investing in DVDs and physical media after all. A fact, not an opinion. Ironically, in the context that it is a production… created for a streaming platform.

Marcin Konczewski

Marcin Konczewski

The founder of the Kon (Horse) Movie fanpage, where he transforms into a film animal who gallops with pleasure through the multiverse of superhero productions, science-fiction, fantasy and all kinds of animations. If he had to say something about himself, he would say that Kon is a pop culture lover, a self-proclaimed critic constantly looking for a human in cinema, a fan of non games, literature, dinosaurs and Batman. Professionally, a teacher (by choice), always opposed to the concrete education system, strongly pushing alternative forms of education. He quietly writes fairy tales and fantastic stories for his little son. A Polish philologist by education. He collaborates with several publishing houses and YouTube channels.

See other posts from this author >>>