Friday, December 8, 2023

Leave the World Behind


Bored couple Clay (Ethan Hawke) and Amanda Sanford (Julia Roberts) decide to take a break and rent a snazzy beachside home to get away from their miserable daily reality. The kids, Archie (Charlie Evans) and Rose (Farrah Mackenzie), seem to be enjoying the experience until weird things start to happen. An oil tanker almost rams them as it goes aground at a public beach. And then, without warning, the owner of the house G.H. Scott (Mahershala Ali) and his daughter Ruth (Myha’la) drop by and ask to stay with them after the city suffers a massive blackout and internet disruption. As more strange things begin to occur, like planes falling off from the sky into the sea and Tesla cars on auto-drive playing bump cars on their own, the group begin to speculate that the country might be in the midst of a terrorist attack using misinformation and technological upheaval to turn citizens against one another and provoke a civil war. In short, destroy ‘Merica from within.

Now I understand the uproar about the ending. However, we seem to be missing the point as to how the entire 2 ½ hr runtime of the movie is really just a showcase of human behavior. How would humans behave if they knew the world was ending? Since the film wrapped up through the perspective of a 13-year-old girl whose biggest concern in life is to know how Rachel and Ross would end up in the series finale of Friends, that is exactly what we got. Let’s not flatter ourselves, though. If we were on the verge of an apocalypse, y’all would probably just be uploading Tiktok videos as the world burns, at least until they turn the WiFi off. No?

In a way, we can also consider this as lazy writing. By ending the film there, the writers would no longer have to answer all of our burning questions. Who is attacking America? Is this part of a larger world war or an inside job? Will Julia Roberts ditch Ethan Hawke for Mahershala Ali? Which of those grown up deer is Bambi? Will Rachel and Ross end up together? This is the writer’s way of telling us that he doesn’t really give a damn about our unresolved issues regarding his movie. It’s anticlimactic somehow, which is the reason why a lot of people have a beef with it. And not without reason.

You see, this film is 140 minutes long, and the director makes every minute of those two and a half hours count by letting us simmer in his ominous original score while withholding all the answers to our questions. In effect, we are as blind to the truth as the lead characters who serve as our anchors in that universe. Since the director mastered this art of keeping you at the edge of your seat for that long, obviously you will want a huge payoff in the end, only for him to tell you that there is none. If that is the intent because there will be a sequel series or something in the works, then good, but it looks like there is none.

Having said that, is Leave the World Behind still worth your monthly Netflix subscription? To be fair, I personally enjoyed the film despite that letdown of an ending. I watched it right after waking up in the morning because I thought that was the best time to get bored with it, except that I actually enjoyed it and it jump started my day spending the entire morning digging up analyses on Reddit. It is one of those films that you would love to discuss after watching. In that regard, I consider it a good watch. Perhaps the good acting is also worth a mention here. It would’ve been campy AF otherwise.

As for the plot execution, the first half hour or so makes you think that this would be some sort of slasher flick, and this is one of the movie’s charms because it conceals what it is from the get-go, making your imagination run wild. Once the plot points fall into their respective places, the scenario starts to become clearer. There are also some hints of the supernatural through the animals or the existential thanks to those gorgeous planetary snapshots from space. In short, you really wouldn’t know what the heck this is all about if you are to go in blind.

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