The Apocalypse In ‘Leave the World Behind,’ Explained: Is US Military The Enemy?


Sam Esmail’s Leave the World Behind is based on a novel written by Rumaan Alam, and though it has a very indistinct and vague storyline, it leaves you thinking about what the writer and the director wanted to say through it. Credit has to be given to the team for creating an air of tension, which is elevated even more by the solid performances of Mahershala Ali, Julia Roberts, and Ethan Hawke. So, let’s try to decipher what was happening in Leave the World Behind and who was behind the attack that aimed to disrupt all the man-made systems and bring the entire nation down.

Spoiler Alert

What happened during Amanda’s family vacation?

Amanda decided one day that she was sick and tired of dealing with the hypocrisy of people and that she needed some downtime with her family in a place where no soul could reach out and bring chaos to her life. Amanda was just done with people. She believed that humans were the worst species to inhabit the planet. She believed that we all suffered from mass delusion, where we constantly lied to ourselves and made ourselves believe in how environmentally conscious or empathetic we were, but in reality, everybody just cared about their own vested interests. Amanda and Clay believed that the mini vacation would help them get a little break from all the madness, but the opposite happened. Strange things started occurring, and for a moment or two, Amanda and Clay just negated the possibility that all these were the warning signs before a catastrophe. But soon they saw that their worst nightmare was coming true. There was no mobile network whatsoever, and from Deers to Flamingoes to other migratory birds, everything had started behaving in an erratic manner. To make matters even more tense, G.H. Scott, the owner of the villa where Amanda and Clay were staying, came in the middle of the night with his daughter Ruth. Amanda was suspicious about them, as the word trust, according to her, didn’t go well with humans. But it was their house at the end of the day, and Clay convinced Amanda to let them stay. At this juncture, none of them had any clue that the state of things would deteriorate so much, and they still lived in their own privileged cocoon, where things happened mostly according to their whims and fancies.

What was Danny’s theory?

In Leave the World Behind, we saw that Clay and Amanda’s son, Archie, woke up one morning, and he found that his teeth were falling out. Nobody understood what was happening, and George suggested then that they should take him to that one man whom he knew to be a survivor, as it was their only chance to find some medicine for Archie. Danny was a sort of conspiracy theorist, and he had a habit of stocking supplies at his place as he believed that the apocalypse could come at any time. At first, he wasn’t ready to give them anything, but when he saw the miserable state that Clay was in, he decided that there was no harm in helping them out. According to Danny, it was either China or Korea that had attacked their nation. He said that a few days before this happened, the Russian delegates had mysteriously left the country, and when he got to know about it, he aggressively started stocking up on things. He was of the opinion that Archie’s condition could be an effect of the high-pitched sounds that they had heard earlier. He said that a similar incident had happened in Cuba, where some groups used microwave weapons, and people experienced similar symptoms. Though Danny did tell them some useful things, it still wasn’t clear who was behind the attack.

Was the US military behind the apocalypse?

Clay and Geroge Scott sat in the car, and the look on the latter’s face told us that he knew something about what was happening. George had a lot of friends in influential places, and he said that one of his friends who did a cost-benefit analysis for the military campaigns some time back told him about a dangerous discovery of his. Now, according to the research, he came to know about the most cost-effective campaign that a military could carry out to topple a government, and in George’s opinion, that was what was happening in their country. George said that it was a 3-stage maneuver plan where, firstly, the rogue army isolated the people. They saw how all communication and transportation channels were blocked or destroyed in their area and probably in other places, too. In the second stage, the perpetrators conducted synchronized attacks on the people to create a state of chaos and utter confusion where nobody knew who was the real enemy. George then stopped for a brief moment, and we knew that he was going to say something devastating. He said that the third stage came on its own after the first two were successfully carried out, where the citizens turned against one another, and the nation witnessed a civil war. George was very sure that their army had gone rogue and that they were the ones who were conducting a coup.

At the end of Leave the World Behind, we saw Rose entering the house of Thornes, and she found that bunker that Danny talked about. There was a screen on which it was relayed that a rogue armed force was behind the attack and that the radiation in and around the area was at an all-time high. So basically, we can surmise that George’s speculation was not wrong and that something along the lines of the 3-stage maneuver had actually happened.

What did the apocalypse symbolize?

We won’t deny that the narrative of Leave the World Behind was quite vague, and in the end, we did not get any concrete answers. We could say that though the attack was to conduct a coup and topple the government, it also showed the true colors of human beings. It showed how we turn against each other and abandon our principles at the first sign of danger. Amanda was, after all, right in saying that hypocrisy was ingrained in the soul of every human, and no matter how righteous one pretended to be, selfishness overpowered everything else during times of crisis. The attack also showed how fascism came back to haunt the very people who orchestrated it, and it was like they got the taste of their own medicine. Danny very casually said that the United States of America had made many enemies in the past, so the attack could be carried out by any one of the nations. Maybe Sam Esmail didn’t give us any specific reason behind what was happening intentionally. Maybe he wanted to say that some things cannot be explained, and you have to gulp it down since there is no other option. It could also be a possibility that Esmail wanted to tell the audience that if everything in this world would be done according to a cost-benefit analysis, then this is the reality that we are leading the world to. Maybe he wanted to say that greed has made us cross all boundaries and probably a forest could have been saved, an individual would have been still alive, a generation wouldn’t have to deal with trauma, and a nation wouldn’t have been destroyed if we wouldn’t have cared only about cost effectiveness of our actions and policies. 

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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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