The idea of an odd set of characters stuck with each other during a mysterious apocalypse is really quite intriguing as a film plot, and Netflix’s latest psychological thriller, Leave the World Behind, comes with this very premise. Amanda and Clay Sandford, a rich modern couple from New York, go on a vacation with their children to a secluded Long Island neighborhood when they learn of an apocalypse breaking out over the rest of the country. Although the premise and plot in Leave the World Behind are gripping, the execution and the overall ambiguity maintained till the end are not as satisfying as an apocalypse film could be.
Plot Summary: What is the Netflix film about?
Leave the World Behind begins in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood, inside the lavish apartment of the Sandford family. Amanda holds a high position in the field of advertising, while her husband Clay is a professor of English and Media Studies at a college. Both of these characters are quite vocal about the drudgery of their lives at the very beginning of the film, especially Amanda, who almost feels personally attacked by the excitement and eagerness with which people around her start their day. Amanda is not fond of people at all, as she claims to hate being around others, and yet her feeling of being burned out makes her wish for a vacation. It is for this very reason that Amanda has just rented a sprawling vacation house in a quiet and secluded Long Island neighborhood for the family to spend a couple of days away from their usual lives.
Having to suddenly go away for a vacation does take Clay by surprise, but he is excited to spend a few days away from work with his beloved family members. During their drive away from New York, the Sandford kids, Archie and Rose, are not very invested in family time, though, as the teenager boy keeps playing video games while the younger daughter is obsessed over her favorite “Friends” sitcom. When they finally reach their destination, the lavish house with all its modern facilities really excites the family. During her short grocery shopping stint in the nearby marketplace, Amanda spots a man stocking on essentials like water and toilet paper, as if preparing for some doomsday, but she does not care much.
The really odd happenings begin later in the afternoon, when the family’s quiet time at the beach is interrupted and cut short by a massive oil tanker just uncontrollably crashing into the sand. Unconfirmed reports state that the ship’s navigation system had gotten disabled, leading to such an accident, and it was noticed very shortly after that internet and cellular connections were all lost. As the Sandfords spend the evening at the vacation house wondering what might have happened, two strangers arrive at the place with a strange request. G.H. Scott and his daughter Ruth introduce themselves as the real owners of the house and ask the Sandfords to let them share the property with them, as the Scotts had to leave the city for some reason.
Why had G.H. and Ruth left the city?
With the arrival of the strangers at the vacation house, doubt seeps into the minds of the Sandfords, especially Amanda, for she finds this request to share the house highly suspicious. After all, the real owners of a vacation home suddenly turning up one night, asking to share their house with guests, and even giving a refund of half of the booking price is indeed unnatural. For a long time, Amanda suspects that the Scotts are not the real owners of the house and are only lying to take advantage of them. There is also a slight racial tension and presumptions that can be felt in this regard as well, as G.H. and Ruth are from the Black community, and the white Sandfords almost have a hard time believing that someone from the racial minority community can be so rich. In order to prove himself as the real owner of the house, G.H. opens up a cabinet containing expensive alcohol that was locked away from the guests, but Amanda is still not convinced. She fears that G.H. might have stolen the key from somewhere, or even that the man might have forced open the cabinet without them realizing it.
But with time, it is indeed established that the Scotts are the real owners of the house, although the exact reason for their arrival is not made immediately clear. It is gradually revealed that G.H., who is an investment banker or someone who works with the stock market, had gotten a hunch about something massive about to happen. The man had some of his wealthiest and most important clients take out money only a day earlier, suggesting that they knew something big or terrible was about to happen. In fact, the man that Amanda had seen earlier at the marketplace, stocking up on essentials, was Danny, a contractor for G.H. Although Danny was always a sort of conspiracy theorist who believed in staying prepared for an apocalypse at all times, the other clients of G.H. did freak the man out.
It was for this reason that he decided to leave the city in time and take shelter at his Long Island house, which was far from the crowds of the city. It is suggested that although G.H. suspected something strange would take place, the man did not really know that it would be a cyberattack that would disrupt the entire country’s life and routine. G.H.’s wife would also have accompanied the man and their daughter Ruth had she not been away in Morocco for professional duties, and the woman is mentioned to be returning the very next morning. But when G.H. witnesses airplanes fall out of the sky, he starts to have the realization that he will probably never see his wife again. This grief is what sort of brings him and Amanda closer during the duration of the film, and the two even become friends at one point. On the other side, Clay strikes up a bond with Ruth, but there is almost a kind of sexual tension taking hold over this friendship. In certain instances like this, Ruth and G.H. also make presumptions about the Sandfords, like when Ruth is almost sure that Clay is someone who tries to take advantage of his students sexually, even though there is no real suggestion or evidence for this.
Towards the latter half of the film, the two families realize that they must work together to think of an escape from the apocalypse going on around them. When members of the two families have to split into groups, which is perhaps a rather important requisite in apocalypse or disaster films, the two sides merge with each other. Amanda takes on the role of a mother or at least an elder sister to Ruth when the two go to explore the abandoned shed inside the property. Ruth is then cornered by a large herd of deer, and it is Amanda who takes the charge to protect her from the wild animals. On the other side, G.H. readily tries to help Clay by driving Archie in his car towards any sort of help they can find to cure the ailing teenager.
Who seems to be behind the apocalypse in the film?
Till its ending, Leave the World Behind remains ambiguous and intentionally unclear about what exactly caused the apocalypse and whether it was really an act of terrorism, as suggested by some hints. Instead of delving into the particulars of the incident or explaining the fall of society, the film is more interested in showing how a set of peculiar characters would react to such an emergency situation. While the two families initially distrust and fear each other, they gradually get over their preconceptions about each other and try to fight the disaster together. Although the characters go through moments of despair in a number of instances, they still decide to push on and find any means of escape. To me, this human nature—to initially see others as dissimilar and different, to then turn them into friends, protectors, and family—is what this psychological thriller film is about.
The science fiction/apocalypse genre only exists in the background, and this is all the more felt because the makers do not really explain the occurrences. The first odd event of the ship crashing onto the beach is because of the loss of navigation, which is because of the cyberattack, and this is also the reason for the loss of internet all over, for the very cellular networks had been hacked into. When G.H. tries to use the satellite phone the next morning, it is revealed that the satellites in space must have been disabled, for the phone was completely unusable. There are flashes of news that reveal the cyberattack holding a grip over the entire country and how this has suddenly changed the migration patterns of wild animals. Although an effect of this change is evident through the large herds of deer in the lawn, or the flamingos flying down onto the swimming pool, the reason or manner of this change remains unclear.
There is also the extremely shrill and piercing sound that is heard at instances, which really affects the mental stability of some of the characters and then even physically hurts Archie, who falls sick after one such instance, with his teeth mysteriously falling out one after the other. When the boy is taken to Danny’s house for any help, the man links this to the development of microwave weapons in Cuba, the testing of which apparently made citizens fall sick in a similar manner, with some having their teeth fall out without any discernible reason. Danny then claims that the whole cyberattack, and the ensuing chaos were from the Asian enemies of the country—Korea or China. However, Clay had earlier found some menacing-looking pamphlets that had been dropped onto his car by an aircraft, and these objects had Arabic-looking words printed on them. According to Archie, these words meant “death to America,” which he had recently seen in a video game, suggesting that the Middle East was at war against America. Whether the words actually mean these words or whether Archie’s claim is from a racist misunderstanding of the text is also not clear. G.H. had also mentioned how Russian officials had been suddenly leaving the country only a day or two before the incident.
Therefore, within a short span of a few minutes, all of the countries with animosity against the United States of America are mentioned, starting from China to the Middle East. Danny also makes this connection, stating how their beloved country has made way too many enemies around the world. Once again, Leave the World Behind seems more about what the characters make of the apocalypse than what the disaster actually is, and so G.H. provides the final theory about what he believes. According to the man, the apocalypse is perhaps an inside job to cause massive disruption among the American citizens and turn them against each other, which would lead to a civil war. Such an internal conflict would then cause the government to topple and a new government and system to be formed. Thus, when the external enemies fall short, it is suggested that a certain portion of Americans are fighting against the other half, causing all this internal warfare and apocalypse for the country.
What Will Happen To The Two Families?
Leave the World Behind‘s ending looks extremely bleak for the two families as they realize the grave nature of their situation. G.H. reveals his idea or belief about what caused the apocalypse, and Clay realizes that the primary medication given to Archie will not really be enough for the boy’s recovery. On the other side, Amanda and Ruth find a spot amidst the forest from where the city of New York can be seen, and the sound of bombs and warfare from the city makes it evident that total chaos has broken loose. The only respite for the two families now would be a neighboring house belonging to the Thorne family, which is supposed to have a huge emergency bunker ready for any apocalypse.
A radio communication seen by Rose at the Thorne’s bunker had confirmed that the world was ending as messages of an attack on the White House amidst rising radiation were flashed. It is left unclear whether the remaining members of the two families will survive by finding the shelter, for Rose had refused to call out to her mother’s cries as Amanda had been searching for her. It is most likely that G.H. and Clay would eventually come to the Thornes’ house and find the bomb shelter, but how long the Sandfords and Scotts can survive the apocalypse is up to anybody’s guess.
What Happens To Rose?
Interestingly, young Rose had left their vacation home that morning and had entered Thorne’s mansion to spend time by herself. The girl has clearly not understood what the apocalypse is or what it means for everyone, except for the massive disruption in her own life. Rose was about to watch the final episode of Friends before the internet was disconnected, and now, as she walks into the emergency shelter under the house, the girl is ecstatic to find stacks of DVDs of numerous shows and sitcoms. Rose excitedly plays the last episode of Friends, and it is with the show’s theme music that Leave the World Behind ends. Perhaps through the character’s obsession with the ending of her favorite television series, the makers want to imply that many of us are so busy with our personal quests that we often fail to notice things happening all around us. The world order is on the brink of a collapse, yet we are fixated towards our personal achievements which often give rise to such chaotic scenarios in the world. Only if we keep our leisure aside to participate in the system with the intention to make it better for everyone, maybe there is a hope for us to save the world, but for the characters in Leave the World Behind, that train has already left. The best they can do now is to survive until a new government or order is established in their community so that each and everyone of them can resume their daily lives once again.