Sam Esmail’s Leave the World Behind has created quite a sensation among Netflix viewers with its fresh take on impending doomsdays and Gen Alpha’s love for 90s TV.
The film, starring Julia Roberts, Mahershala Ali, Ethan Hawke, Myha’la, and Kevin Bacon, is full of visual symbolism and Easter eggs. There is enough foreshadowing to give a clear idea of what is to come. The ending may have left some confused, but the film itself does a phenomenal job of building suspense, which will keep you hooked.
The story of Leave the World Behind, based on a novel by Rumaan Alam, follows the Sanford family—Amanda, Clay, Rose, and Archie—as they plan a family vacation in Long Island. Things start going awry as soon as they hit the beach. With a communication blackout and unexplained ordeals, the Sanfords are further spooked when the owners of their vacation rental, the Scotts—George and his daughter Ruth, come knocking in the middle of the night.
One of the scenes that has viewers frantically searching for answers is when Clay goes to find a newspaper and encounters a harried woman stranded in the middle of nowhere. The woman blasts off in Spanish, a language Clay does not understand.
Even though we can see the woman is clearly relieved to see Clay, this encounter leaves Clay confused and stressed, and he takes the cowardly route and leaves her behind instead of helping her.
What did the woman tell Clay in Spanish in Leave the World Behind?
The encounter between Ethan Hawke’s Clay and Vanessa Aspillaga’s Salvadora (yes, she has a name and is not credited as just ‘Spanish lady’) becomes a microcosm of the broader themes explored in Leave the World Behind, unravelling layers of fear of the unknown, our tendency to other people who don’t look or speak like us amid a total breakdown of communication.
The translated dialogue reveals Salvadora’s desperate plea for help and relief at meeting Clay. Salvadora, in essence, tells Clay everything he needs to know at this point in the story, but of course, he doesn’t understand one word.
This is the rough translation of what Salvadora tells Clay in Leave the World Behind, “Thank God I found someone! I’m trying to get back to my home! I’m lost! I’ve been walking for a while! I need to use your phone! You’re the first person I’ve seen all day! We have to get out of here!”
“I just saw a plane that was spraying red gas in the vicinity. I saw some deer, more than 50. They were coming out of the woods. Please! I need to go home, sir. A military plane appeared and fled. There’s no one around! Is it a chemical attack?” Salvadora provides Clay—and us—with all the information he needs.
One prominent theme in Leave the World Behind is the pervasive racism depicted through micro and macro-aggressions. While Amanda’s initial mistrust of George and Ruth is more overt, Clay’s reaction is more deeply embedded. Clay’s inability to understand Salvadora due to the lack of translation tools also represents the larger issue of society’s reliance on digital means for connection.
Clay doesn’t understand Salvadora, nor do we because we were relying on subtitles.