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Written By:

Rich Cross
Leave the World Behind - Netflix - 2023

Adapted from Rumaan Alam’s cerebral dystopian novel, writer-director Sam Esmail’s screen version of Leave the World Behind downplays Alam’s magical realism to deliver a more grounded account of the unravelling of present-day America. As in the book, the consequences of the unseen collapse of civilisation are dramatised through the experience of two very different families whose lives intersect at the moment that the world slides into chaos.

Leaving Brooklyn for a much-needed family break, husband and wife Clay (Ethan Hawke) and Amanda (Julia Roberts) and their two adolescent kids arrive at an impressive, upmarket Airbnb rental on Long Island. The Sandfords’ relaxation is interrupted when homeowner George ‘G.H.’ Scott (Mahershala Ali) and his daughter Ruth (Myha’la Herrold) arrive with disquieting news of a citywide blackout. Overruling Amanda’s reluctance, Clay agrees that the Scotts can stay overnight. But when the following morning reveals more alarming news about what has befallen the country, the Sandfords and the Scotts are confronted by the starkest of choices if they are to survive the bewildering calamity.

Esmail’s adaptation perfectly captures the sense of mounting unease and disbelief running through Alam’s novel, blending it with the book’s acutely observed social tensions that complicate the two families’ dynamic. In place of the novel’s narrator, who provides the reader with glimpses of the global apocalypse, Esmail introduces some arresting visuals (the Tesla pile-up is a highlight) to add a sense of scale to the families’ plight. Much of the novel is ‘reimagined’ on screen, with the book’s many ambiguities replaced by more definitive explanations. But with a uniformly strong cast, this still makes for intelligent, thoughtful, and unusual end-of-the-world storytelling.


LEAVE THE WORLD BEHIND is available now on Netflix

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