Leave the World Behind (2023) (Review)

I don’t often pay much attention to the Top 10 Films on Netflix on any given day. Most of the time, they are far from being my cup of tea – either superhero flicks, comedies I find unfunny or cheesy romantic flicks that I don’t want to invest any time in. But, one snowy December Saturday morning, I took a look at the top film, ‘Leave the World Behind‘, and the cast immediately appealed to me: Julia Roberts, Ethan Hawke and Mahershala Ali. Centred around a family taking a few days off to relax at a luxurious home, and immediately faced with a wide cyberattack wiping out all forms of network communications, and two strangers showing up at their doorstep, the premise sounded really interesting. So, I gave it a go, and despite the slow pace, it had me absolutely hooked until the very end. But more than just sheer entertainment, it served a healthy dose of social commentary, and delivered a nuanced message about the world we live in. In my honest opinion, it’s one of the best films of 2023!

The premise itself, and much of the way in which the narrative evolves is reminiscent of a few films and filmmakers. It’s some of the social tension that Michael Haneke usually constructs, all woven in a bit of a crazy set of situations that M Night Shyamalan is rather famous for. And, in a variety of ways, it also reminded me of both Don’t Look Up and the excellend and very underrated White Noise. And the film itself is directed by Sam Esmail, one of the main figures behind Mr Robot, so the sci fi angle is assured to work a treat.

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❝Uncertainty becomes a character in itself.

Now, it’s quite difficult to describe what the film is about in a few paragraphs. It’s about the end of the world, but less about how it happens and more about how people cope with it, and how human relations evolve under such a context. A triumph of this film is taking objects we would completely ignore in any given normal day, such as a boat, or a small plane, or a deer, or a self-driving electric vehicle, and constructs a case of almost existential dread by using them in contexts that feel very otherworldy. The holiday home is quite isolated, and no significant changes occur within its vicinity – rather, it’s about how ideas, suppositions and pieces of incomplete news are interpreted by the main characters, to the point where the uncertainty becomes a character in itself.

The characters’ interactions are also a treat, specifically because we don’t know them well from the get-go, and we’re never quite sure of their respective motivations. With a few red herrings here and there, the film pretty much leaves all potential narratives threads on the table. For instance, we have Ethan Hawke’s character, a genuinely nice guys who welcomes the strangers, and sees no potential for ill intention, in an antithesis with his wife, played by Julia Roberts, who is inherently suspicious of anyone or anything she doesn’t know or understand.

❝The ending perfectly encapsulates the essence of the film, as well as the human obsession with linear storytelling and clear-cut endings.

And it’s great to witness how these dynamics evolve, and how the characters change, while in varying amounts still adhering to their moral principles of society, that have been deeply embedded within them. Less prone to these coping mechanisms are the children, a teenage boy and a pre-teenage girl whose only goal seems to be watching the final episode of Friends. Yes, it’s as humane as this – not saving the world, not escapism, but sheer hedonism. And it’s quite ironic that a lot of people didn’t enjoy the ending, because I think the ending perfectly encapsulates the essence of the film, as well as the human obsession with linear storytelling and clear-cut endings.

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‘Leave the World Behind’ is an excellent film that checks all the boxes one would hope for – it delivers top-notch acting (everyone was great, but a special nod has to go to Mahershala Ali for his absolutely brilliant performance), a well structured plot that never loses entertainment value, and a host of meanings that leave audiences thinking about our world for hours on end. I’m quite sad that it never really got the praise it deserves (because recognition, it definitely got) and that so few people really understood it. But, I said it before and will say it again: it’s definitely one of 2023’s best films!

TMFF RATING:

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3.1.2024
 

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