The Leftovers (HBO) Amidst a Global Pandemic
Updated: Feb 15
From the creators of shows like Lost and the Watchmen, HBO's The Leftovers is perhaps one of the most prophetic series our time. The show offers an uncomfortable approach to our reality, asking viewers: what would the world look like after the sudden disappearance of 2 percent of the world's population.
A short synopsis for the show reads:
The series begins three years after the "Sudden Departure", a global event that resulted in 2% of the world's population disappearing. The lives of police chief Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux), his family, along with grieving widow Nora Durst (Carrie Coon) and her brother, reverend Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston), are the focal points of the series, as they struggle to adjust to life after the Departure.
The Leftovers starts three years after a global event called the "Sudden Departure", the inexplicable, simultaneous disappearance of 140 million people, 2% of the world's population, on October 14, 2011. Following that event, mainstream religions declined, and a number of cults emerged, most notably the Guilty Remnant, a group of white-clothed, chain-smoking nihilists, and a cult led by Holy Wayne, a man who views himself as the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
Two percent is not a significant number; not enough to recognize if one's own family or life is not directly effected. But the world within The Leftovers seems quieter, tenser. There is an air of questioning and existentialism that comes from not knowing what might happen next, nor a clear explanation for what might have occurred in the recent past. Characters remain stuck in the past, of what could be rather than what might become. Society as a whole is stripped of its ambitions and innocence, instead moving towards a people of morally ambiguous righteousness and solitude of passions.
These concepts are frightening not only for the characters within the show, but for viewers who, like me, might associate circumstances within the plot to that of my own life. As I watched the show with an analytical view of the world, a few things resonated with me that I can apply to my circumstances, the state of the world, and the state of humanity as it stands currently.
Mental Health and a Struggling Mind
Season 1, Episode 9 (The Leftovers, HBO)
In this instance, we see four characters experience the moment of the sudden departure simultaneously. Jill and Tom Garvey literally experience the light leave their lives as a human chain is disrupted by external circumstance, thus sending the two searching for that joy and connection to return. Nora, though in the moment was angered and tired from caring for her husband and children with little regard to her needs, dismisses these sentiments as soon as she cannot physically see them with her any more. Laurie Garvey watches through an ultrasound as her unborn baby vanishes, ultimately sending her into a state of existential disbelief for the meaningless of a life unloved.
A moment of debilitating circumstance may effect a population as a whole, but the resulting affects will be felt differently by each individual. There is psychological strength within this concept, as one's own circumstance may seem world-ending to one person, can be belittled by another's struggle. Yet the mind manifests itself not in the present, but in our past regrets and trauma, and future worries of being.
This scene in particular had me thinking about which events and circumstances within my own life lead me to the life I currently live; was it the death of my grandfather; the feeling of death as my pane bounces through the sky from one pocket of turbulence to the next; those obscure and insignificant moments of joy when I feel loved and surrounded in a group of friends? Who am I with in this instances? What am I feeling? How do these moments change my thoughts, my perception of my past and my future? How do these moments affect those around me and their perceptions of the world?
Music as a Mechanism of Circumstance
Season 1, Episode 1 (The Leftovers, HBO) ; Song: Dona Nobis Pacem 1 (Max Richter)
A series as strong as The Leftovers can only be strengthened by an outstanding soundtrack. Composer Max Richter provides the tracks to the entire first season, and the haunting instrumentals along with dark and inquisitive chords provide the show with an additional depth that cannot be achieved through plot lines or acting.
This final scene of the show's pilot episode is powerful in itself; the characters shown are reflecting on their pasts before the 'Final Departure' or embarking on a new future, whatever that may mean. The scene is linear and seems to show three unconnected characters in differing circumstances. With the music weaving through the scene, however, there seems to be a cohesive theme of lost hope within the three situations, and the cohesiveness of the plot becomes more clear. Richter's music in its entirety is tragic; it causes the heart to ache and the mind to reminisce. But this music is meant to; it is not merely a song picked to accompany any given scene, it becomes a character and a plot device within the scene itself.
The power that music plays within this series is cognizant of how I view my own relationship with music. During times of worry or panic or in states of depression and struggle, music becomes a lifeline to a world without words and meaning. It serves as a tether to a alternate mode of living, in which the chords of songs and pitches of lyrics transcend plot lines and dialogue and bring new meaning to the work.
Religious Questioning / Existentialism
With the Departure and the seemingly random disappearance of two percent of the world's population, questions are bound to be raised. Is this an act of god? If I am still here, does that make me a bad person? Where did my loved ones go? Are they still with me? Have I been forgotten? Is the pain I am enduring for a purpose? This sense of existentialism explored within the series lends itself to false prophets like Holy Wayne (pictured above) and Cults like the Guilty Remnant to arise.
Nora Durst (Seen in the video above) lost her husband and two kids to The Departure, and three years later finds it difficult to cope with this truth. She is living in a world without hope, of a past filled with regret and a future lost of all opportunity. Holy Wayne tells Nora, 'Hope is your weakness.' In this sense, hope and faith can be used interchangeably; as faith is taking from the present and making sense of the past and future. These existential concepts run rampant through the show, as the characters of The Leftovers are surrounded by tales of death and loss with little answers to cure their wandering minds. The series attempts towards answering such questions and easing the minds of both characters and audience alike are done scarcely and cleverly, never revealing too much and always leaving room for more questions to be asked.