Television series created by Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta
The apocalypse has always been ripe for artistic interpretation ever since the Book of Revelation (or even the Epic of Gilgamesh). (Doubtless before that- predictions of the end of the world are good copy since they are inspirational and ignore-able.) With the advent of mass media and its demand for fodder, end-of-the-world tales threaten to inundate us. The end of the cold war moved us past envisioning nuclear Armageddon. Now we expand our horrific horizons to ideas stolen from books of faith and fantasy. This makes it difficult to find anything worthwhile among the regular flinging’s upon the shoals of popular culture. Movies have run the gamut from Fail Safe to Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome, so The Leftovers really could go in any direction. In the end, they chose outright mystical and a look at its impact on truly flawed individuals.
Ultimately from a storytelling perspective, the method for bringing about the end times proves fairly unimportant. The necessities of daily life will interest survivors far more. The obliterating event always takes a backseat to the stories of the characters. Sure, we might go for the special effects, but we stay for the human interest. The Leftovers goes with a reaping type of event in which people randomly disappear (i.e., the Rapture), which reads like so much Christian wish fulfillment (see Left Behind), but Lindelof and Perrotta depart from any expected doctrine almost immediately. Nothing is revealed to those remaining except what they tell themselves. Then, things get weird and we are dealing with spiritual or mystical truths and… ehh, give the show a try.
Now, you may have noticed
by the above paragraphs that I am skeptical of any movie or television series which uses any apocalypse as a jumping off point. Moreover, once you bring in any reference to religious texts related to said story, then I expect over-seriousness and boredom. Past experience indicates and all that. As far as I am concerned, the art is finding something new to say and communicating it in a way that entertains and informs.
The Leftovers is a textbook in re-inventing old tropes in a new and fascinating way. More than that, it earns multiple seasons by building on its characters’ experiences each step of the way. This brings me to one of my favorite episodes of any television show: episode eight of the second season- International Assassin. Nowhere on paper does it work, so I won’t try to explain it. Leave it as a fantasy sequence that succeeds where angels fear to tread. Having survived innumerable bad dream stories from Dallas to The Matrix, such a tale worth the time and attention is unexpected.
As an artist, how do you recognize when you are calling on one too many tropes and subverting your own ability to communicate? When have you included one too many zombies? The Leftovers, if nothing else, teaches us restraint in the face of the apocalypse.
What’s it all about?
You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 231 more to go.
New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out release regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry post irregularly. Receive notifications on Facebook by friending or following Craig.
Images may be subject to copyright.