Film and drama Opinion

Leave the World Behind warns of America's doomful destiny

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A family's getaway to a luxurious rental home takes an ominous turn when a cyberattack knocks out their devices and two strangers appear at their door. Digital editor Dan Jensen dives into a new Netflix film that has everyone talking.

AT FIRST, one might think Leave the World Behind is a simple thriller about what could happen if technology backfired on humanity. But the first clue to how deep the narrative goes lies in the opening credits, seeing that Barack and Michelle Obama are among the executive producers.

The film tells the story of a family on vacation in Long Island, renting a luxurious house to escape from the world they know. But they are soon thrown into a catastrophe set to destroy America. Julia Roberts and Ethan Hawke play Amanda and Clay Sandford, two distinctly interesting characters that seem mismatched. Amanda is bitter at the world and what the human race has done to it. Clay is far more passive and just wants everyone to be happy.

Regarding the children of the family, Rose (Farrah Mackenzie) and Archie (Charlie Evans), Rose is the most interesting of the two and drives the plot along more than her brother. Having discovered the show Friends, Rose is determined to reach the end of the series, the show representing a perfect world and providing her comfort. But during the final episode, the internet is lost and she’s unable to see its conclusion.

During the first night of the technological malfunction, the family is visited by a Black father and daughter seeking refuge in the house, claiming to be its owners. GH Scott (Mahershala Ali) and daughter Ruth (Myha’la) appear to be decent, kind folks, but Amanda’s distrust in people causes friction.

It doesn’t take long before all hell breaks loose. Strange sonic blasts ring out from nowhere, causing agony to those within range. Planes fall from the sky and ships run aground. Communication devices are inoperable. Power fails. And that is only the beginning.

One could watch Leave the World Behind and enjoy it as an apocalyptic tale of characters dealing with an end-of-the-world crisis. But it’s hard not to see the metaphors and subtext running through the story, which is what makes the film so compelling and one of this year’s most important films.

The story essentially tells us that America is collapsing on itself. Having made far too many enemies across the globe, the nation is in danger of being attacked and it’s only a matter of time. In one scene, a plane drops ominous flyers written in Arabic which Archie is able to translate as ‘Death to America’. Yet later, the Koreans are also blamed for the assault.

The film doesn’t hide the fact that America is destroying itself by arming its citizens when the possibility of a civil war is present. One shocking scene towards the end shows us the potential consequences of a heavily armed citizenry and it should serve as a warning of what could happen.

Leave the World Behind also explores how we’ve destroyed the balance between humans and nature. A huge herd of deer play a role in the story, occasionally seeking refuge near the house and it’s up to the viewer to decide what it means. Perhaps it’s nature trying to co-exist with us in a time of crisis and we’re painfully reminded of the way we’ve forsaken wildlife in one scene where Amanda and Ruth, terrified of the deer for no reason, do what they can to frighten the herd away.

It’s probably no surprise that the film also examines our dependence on technology, particularly screens. The story pulls no punches in showing us how society would collapse if it was sent back to the pre-digital era. Rose’s obsession with Friends is a metaphor for the way we cling to entertainment as a crutch, to escape from the harsh realities of the world in which we live. Without giving anything away, the final shot of the film is just perfect.

Amongst all this, we have themes of racial intolerance, class inequality (depicted brilliantly in one scene involving Kevin Bacon) and the need for human connection. While the themes are heavy, they’re important and hold a mirror to show us what we’re doing to our planet. The direction from Sam Esmail is flawless and the film features some absolutely stunning cinematography and camera work.

Much like 2021’s Don’t Look Up, Leave the World Behind is designed to get people talking about some of the more serious issues affecting our future. It’s not easy to watch in parts, particularly when Archie suffers the effects of the sonic blasts and undergoes physical horror. And while there’s an element of mystery and confusion from start to finish, the story was designed that way, putting the viewer among the characters and empathising with their plight.

Clocking in at 141 minutes, the film might feel long to some but it never feels boring. There are a few minor plot threads that don't really hold the story's fabric together, but they don't ruin the film in any way.

Everything from the performances to the production design, the score to the editing are all top-notch and make for not only an entertaining watch but something that will get you thinking, talking and maybe even wanting to make this world a better place.

Leave the World Behind is now streaming on Netflix.

You can follow digital editor Dan Jensen on Twitter @DanJensenIA. Follow Independent Australia on Twitter @independentaus and on Facebook HERE.

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