Based on the novel of the same name by author Tom Perrotta and developed for HBO by Perrotta, Damon Lindelof (Lost), and with substantial story input and direction from Mimi Leder (Deep Impact, On the Basis of Sex), The Leftovers, as a series (3 seasons for a total of 28 episodes), is part mystery, science-fiction/fantasy, black comedy, thriller, philosophical exploration, and love story. I would characterize its overall tone and treatment to be of a style that is overtly Lynch-ian at times but far more accessible than many of Lynch’s works.
The basic premise rests upon the conceit of the “Sudden Departure” on October 14, 2011, of nearly 2% of the world’s population (approximately 140 million people). At first, believed by many of Christian faith to be the arrival of the Biblical Rapture, the audience learns quickly that not every soul taken was in possession of a heart that was of equal or lesser weight than that of the proverbial feather on the scale. As a result, many cults begin to form following disparate beliefs and exerting various degrees of influence.
This is not an easy show to follow, but one that provokes much thought. Within the narrative are enough clues, details, and symbols to keep one thinking about the show’s deeper meanings long after one has finished watching it.
At its heart, The Leftovers is the tragic love story of Nora Durst (who lost her two children and husband to the Sudden Departure) and Kevin Garvey (chief of police of the small town of Mapleton, NY). Kevin and his wife, Laurie, are estranged. In the wake of the global calamity, Laurie has removed herself from the lives of her two children and husband to become part of the far-reaching Guilty Remnant. The GR believes that all life ended on the day of the Sudden Departure, family is meaningless, and existence following that day is futile and pointless. Members of the Remnant dress entirely in white, adopt chain smoking, and withhold their voices, taking to communicating through frantic scribbling on whatever writing surface they have available to them. They also target individuals for recruitment by following them and loitering outside wherever these targets happen to be at any given time.
This is a show meant for both enjoyment and for thoughtful contemplation. With so many diverse characters and rich story details, surely this show bears plenty of hidden fruit upon subsequent viewings. For this viewer, a single line of dialogue from the last episode of the series brought the entirety of the show into sharp focus. It voiced an idea that is sure to resonate with many who reflect on the nature and meaning of existence.
Again, this is not a series really meant for light viewing, despite its many light moments. It is a very good show, with some wonderful acting and cinematography that evokes styles as sundry as those one might consider Kubrick-ian or Escheresque. However, if you decide to tackle this show, approach it with an open mind topped with your best thinking cap. For me, this is a 4-star series—one that is in all ways sad, funny, uplifting, and intriguing.