TV Show ‘The Leftovers’ Investigates What Happens After This Ancient Bible Concept Comes to Life [Video]
The Leftovers is HBO’s new show that asks, “How might humanity react to a global rapture? And could it lead to religion being taken more seriously?”
The series explores the Apocalypse in a world where nobody has an understanding of what happened.
In the pilot episode of the show crafted by author Tom Perrotta and produced by Lost’s Damon Lindeloff, 2% of the world’s population has inexplicably vanished. The apparently arbitrary nature of who disappeared and who was left behind after the Departure throws the remaining population into despair as any meaning they may have found in life was turned upside down and debunked.
Religion and Science find Commonality in The Leftovers
The Leftovers‘ Departure is the Rapture, except that nobody is able to explain what happened: not religious leaders, not scientists. Suddenly everyone is on the same side. The central character, a minister, spends his days protesting that it couldn’t be the Rapture because the people who are gone aren’t the ones anyone would have expected to be part of that group.
It turns out that when religion and science team up in their lack of understanding something, it casts the world into a nihilistic state. Everyone believes in something, whether religion or science; and when neither can offer an answer. It puts everyone on an equal footing of total confusion.
Is there any absolute truth?
Characters in the show point to Ecclesiastes as proof that life isn’t meant to have meaning. This piece of biblical literature indeed spends much time elaborating on the meaninglessness of life. Running after money or fame or love doesn’t bring happiness because they all evaporate eventually.
The Leftovers camps on this bleak idea, presenting characters with stories that demonstrate futility. The Teacher referenced in Ecclesiastes might feel the show does an adequate job of conveying his own point. Yet there is more, which provides the lens through which meaning is found by those who are religious. Ecclesiastes actually concludes on a note full of meaning.
12:13 Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.
A Scandalous New Religion
From the confusion, a new religious group arises. Dressed in white, chain smoking, and sworn to silence, they call themselves the Guilty Remnant. This Remnant concludes their own way of finding meaning, which involves some stern expressions of religion meant to shock viewers. One recent episode included the ritual stoning of a transgressing member.
The group’s actions definitely unsettle the viewer; yet the show attempts to give serious attention to their motivations, and help us imagine the beginning of a major religious movement. What did all of today’s religions look like in the beginning? Jesus came back from the dead. Mohammad read words from a fiery scroll. Joseph Smith dug up golden plates with God’s word on them. These were all absurd or scandalous stories when they were new.
Many post-religious viewers resonate and identify with the nihilistic themes of the show. Yet the bleakness of the storyline does not have to offend religious viewers. It does represent a world that has lost its way without God. And the closing words of Ecclesiastes offer hope for how a seeker of truth might find one’s balance in such an apparently hopeless scenario. Perhaps, in the course of the series, the writers might show the character development of at least one who finds this path in a way that brings hope to the viewer.
The Leftovers stars Justin Theroux, Amy Brenneman, Christopher Eccleston, and Liv Tyler, among others.