Leave the deer behind. They're smelly and very bad tippers.
dir: Sam Esmail
When I hear the words “Leave the World Behind” of course, having come of age in the 1990s, the first thing I think of isn’t the book that this Netflix film is based on, by Rumaan Alam. It is the legendary song by Ride off their second album Going Blank Again, being Leave Them All Behind, which would have been a way better title.
The arguable pinnacle of the shoegaze genre of music, the song and the album were so great in fact, so much of a magnum opus that the band never again achieved anything close to as good, degenerating into acrimony, jealousy, and one of them going over to Oasis after killing time as sub-standard The Black Crowes sound-alikes. The “Britpop” era of the 90s meant everyone thought they should sound like Primal Scream trying to sound like the Rolling Stones all over again.
But that song… my gods, it’s at least up there with the best of My Bloody Valentine, or peak Swervedriver, Slowdive or The Jesus & Mary Chain.
What’s that got to do with this film, you ask? Well, nothing, to be honest.
I just wanted to talk about how much I loved that song, and the shoegaze era, is all.
And they don’t even use it on the soundtrack, which is even more of a shame.
Yet again, in talking about one thing, I am going to talk about a completely different thing. Back when Steven Spielberg made War of the Worlds, an updated Americanisation of the H.G. Wells classic, the point wasn’t to mock the audience by having Tom Cruise playing a blue-collar regular joe, even if it really felt like that, and that they were taking the piss at our expense.
No, no, I assure you, Mr Spielberg is too self-serious for that. The whole point of the film was how little it would take before regular, decent, hard-working Americans turned on each other and started shooting / eating each other. Based on that very pessimistic flick, it would take about half an hour after an alien invasion before Americans started whipping out their guns.
I think they were being too optimistic. Consider this – many places in the United States have made it literally legal to walk around with a weapon of mass destruction in public as if you’re going to shoot a bunch of people, and even the cops won’t do anything about it (presumably unless you’re black / brown / ethnic looking). Because, freedom.
It’s almost like they’re desperately waiting for the end of days, for the collapse, just so they can live out their rugged individualist fantasies of killing their neighbours and taking all their food / jet skis.
Sure, this story has a calm, measured, rational character who urges the people around him to not devolve into screaming maniacs, and to help each other because it’s the Right Thing to Do. But he is definitely in the minority.
I would like to think that the characters in this flick are actual characters, and not archetypes, or even worse, little more than stereotypes. But I don’t know if I’m really on firm footing in asserting that, especially since there’s a scene where Ethan Hawke’s character of Clay yells at another character, after hours of showing us what a useless man he is, saying “I am a useless man!”
A (white) family goes on a weekend getaway from New York across the river to Long Island. A mum (Julia Roberts), a dad (Ethan Hawke), a teenage son (Charlie Evans) and younger daughter (Farrah Mackenzie). The mum, Amanda, explains at the very beginning that she woke up that morning and decided she wanted to get away from the city because she fucking hates people.
We know they are wealthy, because their weekend away is an incredible two-storey mansion away from other houses. A palatial country estate, if you will, with all the mod cons.
When the internet and their mobiles stop working, they don’t think too much of it. The daughter, Rose, is upset because she’s been streaming the series Friends, and she’s up to the last episode, and now she’s unable to watch it. It really bugs her. She really loves Friends. She wants to know that everything works out for Rachel and Ross in the end, and the other dickheads.
Is it ironic that Julia Roberts guest starred on Friends, and / or that people can watch Friends on Netflix, or that this flick is a Netflix exclusive?
I’m…not sure anymore. Rose needing to watch Friends plays a major role in this flick. You might be surprised by how much it’s mentioned. Or maybe not.
What does the other kid Archie have going on… not much. Other than being surly, a perv and a prick to his sister, the only thing he really contributes is some body horror later on.
That first night that they’re staying there, there’s a knock at the door. Amanda is the kind of Karen who starts dialling 9-1-1 before even finding out what’s happening, but, you know, phones aren’t working anyway, but she wants Clay to go downstairs with a baseball bat or something.
He selects something close to bat-like, in that it’s some kind of objet d’art that looks vaguely conical.
Two people stand out front, one in a tuxedo, the other in an evening gown. They’re ever so apologetic, and the more they explain, the less Amanda trusts them. They claim to be the owners of the house, the ones who’ve rented it out to them for the weekend.
But why are they there? New York is in blackout, and the elevators to their other apartment in the city wouldn’t be operating, and so they thought they’d come out and stay at their country estate until things settled down.
Amanda is completely rude and distrustful, convinced they are being scammed. Clay is agreeable and amenable, and of course agrees they should come in, sit down, have a drink, stay. Of course Amanda resents her wishy-washy husband for not being as embittered and abusive as she is.
Oh, did I mention that the man claiming to be the owner G.H (the always great Mahershala Ali) and his daughter (with the suspicious mononym of Myha’la) are African-American?
What a twist! Black people being wealthy. At one point Amanda says out loud, and with no equivocation that they don’t look like the kind of people who would own such an expensive house.
The fucker was wearing a tuxedo, Amanda. Imagine the scam where someone tries to trick someone at an AirBnB by hiring a tuxedo for the evening just to trick some white people out of, I dunno, their cookies or their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
G.H. is polite and reserved no matter how openly rude Amanda is, not because he fears her wrath, or fears the cops being called (all the phones are still down), and not because he wants or needs to be liked by these white people specifically or white people in general. It’s because he has a broader view of what might be going on, and in a way he’s choosing to show mercy to them because he wants to be able to embrace collective protection instead of dog-eat-dog with the days ahead.
The reason is, everything keeps getting worse, ships beach themselves on the shore, planes are falling out of the sky, the birds and deer are acting very weird, and it seems like everything is falling apart. But what does that mean?
Wisely, neither film nor book entirely explain what it is that’s happening, because that’s not the point. We get snippets of things, words like cyberattack or hackers being responsible; is it the Chinese, is it the North Koreans, is it the Russians, is it the Belgians, is it Tasmanians, is it an accident or something deliberate, will it be over soon with life returning to normal eventually, or is it all down hill from here civilisationally speaking?
Well, we don’t know. The characters don’t know, but Americans being Americans, of course the point is whether people have been so isolated by their time on screens and on their phones, without fostering links with the people around them, living in such deliberately paranoid ways with the media having trained them to fear everyone, regardless of race, because everyone wants their stuff, well, if it all turns to shit, what are people going to do?
The assumption is look out for Number One (yourself), and fuck the rest. But if you have a family, and still like them, well, maybe you’ll do everything you can to protect them or get them what they need to be safe. Okay, well, what if everyone only wants to look out for themselves and their families, and no-one else? What’s that going to mean for humanity?
I guess we’ll find out. This is not neat or easy, nor easygoing or comforting. Everyone acts like you think they’re going to act, based on past performance, but this flick is trying to argue against the popular paranoid delusions that we assume apply to American society ie. that the merest suggestion of something going wrong will result in people everywhere acting like it’s The Purge, but now every day and every night for ever more. It’s not a grim slog like you might think, but it’s also not trying to horrify and bore us with ten seasons of people being to worst to other people like The Walking Dead.
Julia Roberts and Mahershala Ali are phenomenal in this, for very different reasons. I mean she’s been great in other roles playing prickly characters (I’m especially thinking of the work she did in flicks like Closer and August: Osage County), but she’s never played such an openly misanthropic or racist character, to her credit.
If there’s a fault with Mahershala’s coolness under pressure, it’s that he says some stuff that’s pure speculation, but says it with such authority and conviction that you’re convinced “Uh huh, what he said must be absolutely true”, when he knows as little as the rest of them, and that maybe unbalances the film.
The daughter character who rubs Amanda up the wrong way is an absolute delight as well, seeing as she manages to irritate Amanda profoundly not just by being Black (and knowing it), but by being young and abrasive as well, which means two for one.
Ethan Hawke’s role is to play a character older and dumber than you’d expect from him (despite the fact that he’s playing a professor of media studies), but the story makes its point very well that if everything turns to shit you’re going to need to people around you more useful than media professors: They don’t bring a lot of useful skills to the table in a post-apocalyptic scenario.
I “enjoyed” it, but it’s not really meant to be that enjoyable. The director clearly goes out of his way with discordant atonal music selections and pointless spinning camera angles to unsettle and disjoint, I would argue unnecessarily. And it’s long, at two hours twenty minutes, but I didn’t have a problem with that, since I wasn’t in a cinema, pining to be released.
Leave Them All / The World Behind. Anti-fun for the whole family.
7 times Kevin Bacon is the secret star of the film if you’re a right-wing nutjob out of 10
"We fuck each other over all the time, without even realizing it. We fuck every living thing on this planet over and think it'll be fine because we use paper straws and order free-range chicken. And the sick thing is, I think deep down we know we're not fooling anyone." - you may be right about that - Leave the World Behind