An opinion piece that you describe, praises or criticizes, on the whole or partly, to cultural or entertainment work. It must be written by an expert on the matter

‘Leave the world behind’: The apocalypse according to the Obamas

The former presidential couple’s production company debuts in fiction with a political dystopia set in a United States on the brink of collapse after a cyber-attack

Mahershala Ali, Myha'la, Julia Roberts and Ethan Hawke
Mahershala Ali, Myha'la, Julia Roberts and Ethan Hawke in 'Leave the World Behind.'
Elsa Fernández-Santos

Leave the World Behind has been sold as the apocalyptic movie of the year. But not so many months ago, the less showy and much better narrated — though politically more ambiguous — Knock at the Cabin was already heralding the end, as envisaged by M. Night Shyamalan. The issue is clearly of concern to a country, the United States, which has a penchant for paranoia, every generation its own. Although now, with such a fractured nation, the threat comes from next door. Just this week, A24 announced Alex Garland’s upcoming spring release. The title sums up the state of affairs: Civil War.

If Shyamalan’s film adapted the 2018 novel The Cabin at the End of the World by horror author Paul G. Tremblay, Leave the World Behind does the same with Rumaan Alam’s novel. The adaptation inaugurates the fiction branch of Barack and Michelle Obama’s Netflix production company, with a novel that the former president included on his list of favorite books for the summer of 2021. Adding to that cover letter is a stellar cast led by Julia Roberts, Mahershala Ali, Ethan Hawke, and Kevin Bacon.

Roberts plays a woman who lives with her family in a gorgeous house in Brooklyn, who one morning decides to rent an equally gorgeous house in Long Island for the weekend. She is a disdainful executive with an unsympathetic rictus, married to a college professor (Hawke), and who introduces herself to the viewer by uttering the uncomfortable phrase: “I hate people.”

Julia Roberts and Ethan Hawke in 'Leave the World Behind.'
Julia Roberts and Ethan Hawke in 'Leave the World Behind.'

Directed by Sam Esmail, known for creating the series Mr. Robot, Leave the World Behind takes place in the rural house to which the family escapes to disconnect. There, the owners of the place, an African-American lawyer and his daughter, turn up by surprise and recount a series of unlikely events that have forced them to seek refuge there. Shot with a catalog of trite or banal framing, the film sprawls between pirouettes without fully capturing the tension until the final stretch. Until then, Leave the World Behind works on effects: whether it’s the sequence of a giant oil tanker running aground on a beach, a caravan of autonomous Tesla cars crashing into each other, or the disturbing behavior of a herd of deer. All three make up the best sequences of a film that boasts of having passed through the “realistic” filter of the former White House occupant.

Undoubtedly, the most disturbing aspect of this dystopia is contained in its message, including a nod to the series Friends. In a disconnected and cyber-assisted world, social prejudices and the latent malaise of a polarized and sick country come to the surface. The technological threat leaves the characters naked and brings race and class tensions to the table. The hatred toward humanity of the mother played by Roberts is no longer an option: accepting the other is a matter of pure survival.

'Leave the World Behind'

Director: Sam Esmail.

Cast: Julia Roberts, Mahershala Ali, Ethan Hawke, Myha'la Herrold, Kevin Bacon.

Genre: Thriller. United States, 2023.

Runtime: 138 minutes.

Platform: Netflix.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition

Tu suscripción se está usando en otro dispositivo

¿Quieres añadir otro usuario a tu suscripción?

Si continúas leyendo en este dispositivo, no se podrá leer en el otro.

¿Por qué estás viendo esto?


Tu suscripción se está usando en otro dispositivo y solo puedes acceder a EL PAÍS desde un dispositivo a la vez.

Si quieres compartir tu cuenta, cambia tu suscripción a la modalidad Premium, así podrás añadir otro usuario. Cada uno accederá con su propia cuenta de email, lo que os permitirá personalizar vuestra experiencia en EL PAÍS.

En el caso de no saber quién está usando tu cuenta, te recomendamos cambiar tu contraseña aquí.

Si decides continuar compartiendo tu cuenta, este mensaje se mostrará en tu dispositivo y en el de la otra persona que está usando tu cuenta de forma indefinida, afectando a tu experiencia de lectura. Puedes consultar aquí los términos y condiciones de la suscripción digital.

More information

Archived In

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS