What happened at the end of Netflix’s Leave the World Behind?

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Netflix’s newest apocalyptic thriller, Leave the World Behind, has people talking.

Directed by Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail, the film stars Julia Roberts, Mahershala Ali, Ethan Hawke and Kevin Bacon. It’s adapted from the 2020 novel of the same name by Rumaan Alam, and produced by Higher Ground Productions, the company founded by Barack and Michelle Obama. 

Despite shooting to No. 1 on Netflix, reviews are mixed. On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 75 per cent Fresh critic score, while the audience score is at 40 per cent. The film is tense, and between a descent into paranoia, the use of symmetry and tracking shots, Esmail’s influence behind the camera is evident. 

But it’s the ending that people are taking notice of. 

Mahershala Ali as G.H., Myha’la Herrold as Ruth, Julia Roberts as Amanda and Ethan Hawke as Clay in Leave the World Behind. (Netflix)

What’s it about? 

Leave the World Behind is set mainly in a large house in Long Island, where an anti-social Amanda, played by Roberts, and media-obsessed Clay, played by Hawke, travel with their children, Archie (Charlie Evans) and Rose (Farrah Mackenzie). On the drive there, Rose is watching Friends — fans of the show may recall that Roberts actually had a small role as Susie Moss, a love interest of Chandler’s — to pass the time. 

During the family’s first night there, two strangers arrive at the door: G.H. (Ali) and his daughter, Ruth (Myha’la Herrold). They say they’re owners of the house and ask to be let in, citing a blackout. Paranoia grows as the characters begin to encounter strange events like a massive oil tanker crashing into a public beach and an odd showdown with a herd of deer.

WARNING: Spoilers below

Things continue to get worse and, in a rather disturbing scene, Archie’s teeth start to fall out. 

G.H. takes Clay and Archie to Danny, a neighbour and survivalist played by Kevin Bacon, for medication. Danny suggests that Archie’s teeth falling out may be the result of a microwave weapon. After lecturing G.H. and Clay about needing to read beyond the headlines, Danny suggests Russia could be behind, or at least aware of the ongoing incidents, due to their sudden recalling of diplomats. 

Danny finally decides to help Archie in exchange for money, because nothing is free during what is looking more and more like an apocalypse situation. After providing medication, Danny mentions his neighbour’s underground doomsday bunker. As they leave, G.H. suggests to Clay that all of the strange events may be part of a coup d’état and that powerful people are staging a civil war by disrupting technology and creating misinformation. 

Amid all this, Rose goes missing and we don’t see her for a large portion of the film, until the end.

WATCH | The official trailer: 

How about that ending?

Rose appears to discover the bunker Danny mentioned on her own. It’s equipped with food, a television, computers and a whole wall of DVDs — chief among them, Friends. Excited, Rose grabs the DVD and proceeds to watch the show’s final episode as its theme song takes us to the credits. 

The ending is ambiguous, polarizing and due to Matthew Perry’s recent death, extremely culturally relevant.

Some have speculated it’s a commentary on today’s society and that Rose’s obsession with Friends to the point where she, ahem, leaves the world behind, represents our turn to escapism through TikTok, or television, amid ongoing devastating world events. 

In an interview with Variety, author Rumaan Alam praised the film’s ending, despite it being different from the source material. 

“Nobody really knows what to make of it. They’re like, ‘is this funny? Is this scary? Is it really over?’ And I love that so much,” said Alam. 

Esmail also discussed the ending in an interview with Vulture. 

“It is meant to provoke conversation; it is not meant to tie everything up. I don’t think the film does that. But I wanted to give a little more, because I do think in the cinematic medium, you can go too far with abstraction.”

Whatever the ending does, or doesn’t mean, it’s got people talking. 

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