The latest psychological thriller that hit Netflix this weekend, Leave the World Behind, builds suspense like few apocalypse films do.
Directed and written by Sam Esmail, renowned for his Easter Egg-laden series Mr. Robot, this movie may have left viewers confused with an underexplained ending, but it is laden with subtle hints and foreshadowing.
Adapted from Rumaan Alam’s 2020 novel, the film follows a white family, the Sanfords, played by Julia Roberts, Ethan Hawke, Charlie Evans, and Farrah Mackenzie, on vacation in a Long Island rental. Their tranquil retreat takes an unexpected turn when the house’s Black owner, portrayed by Mahershala Ali, and his daughter, played by Myha’la, make a surprise visit in the middle of the night amid unexplained blackouts. As the apocalyptic events unfold, the families grapple with racial tension and mutual distrust.
Esmail crafts an ominous tone throughout, employing dizzying Dutch angles, top shots, and plenty of Easter Eggs. One such Easter Egg is spotted in the living room paintings in the rental house.
The paintings within the rental house change throughout the film, reflecting the escalating chaos in the storyline. Glenn Ligon’s artwork, featured in the living room, serves as a visual anchor at the movie’s outset. Ligon is a black conceptual artist known for exploring race and identity through his works. Ligon’s work, as well as the other artwork present all over the Scotts’ Long Island property, should have clued in the Sanfords that the owners of the home are possibly people of colour. It should have also affirmed George’s (Ali) story that his wife is indeed an art dealer. But that is just another indication that the Sanfords are neither as affluent nor culturally aware as the Scotts.
As the characters discover they are targets of a cyber attack, the once serene painting in the living room morphs into a more discordant and glitchy one. By the film’s conclusion, marked by Archie’s teeth falling out, a different painting altogether underscores the crescendo of chaos.
Racquel Chevremont, an art curator on the film, shed light on this deliberate choice, as per Netflix’s press note, “We didn’t want something that was going to be obvious. We needed something that could evoke an emotional response without people really understanding why the scene seems a little different.”
Not confined to the living room, the ocean mural in the bedroom housing Julia Roberts and Ethan Hawke undergoes a parallel metamorphosis. At the movie’s outset, the waves on the mural behind their bed appear relatively calm, and the sky dominates the scene. Gradually, the waves grow taller, ominously towering over the bed, mirroring the impending sense of doom and the feeling of being stranded and isolated.
Were you able to spot these Easter Eggs on your first watch of Leave the World Behind?