What the Art in "Leave the World Behind" Reveals About the Characters - And You

What the Art in "Leave the World Behind" Reveals About the Characters - And You

From the very first scene, the Netflix movie "Leave the World Behind" startles with its use of color and art. But there's so much more behind it all than just a nice royal blue.

You can quit reading now and just look at the pretty artwork, or come dig deeper with me. I'll show you what I see behind the curtain, like why the changing paintings matter, what the movie's theme colors red, white, blue & black reveal about the characters - and you and me, to even how the home decor and clothing colors reveal broken and changing relationships. Don't say I didn't warn you.

[watch the movie first, or this won't make sense, and there are spoilers!]

Chapters ::
Paintings That Change
Other Paintings 
Additional Art & Textiles
Black & White Theme
Movies, TV, & The Ending

Paintings That Change

Let's get the most obvious thing out of the way first. Yes, the paintings change during the movie, in two places - the living room and the master bedroom.

This is brilliant, and on my first watching, I didn't know this is a thing Director Sam Esmail does, so I thought I was dreaming things up. 

The Ocean in the Bedroom

Early on, the bedroom mural is of a strong, deep ocean - definitely not a pretty little beach - but the placement of the waves is low, making you feel as if you are on a sturdy boat on that ocean. Nothing to worry about here, it tells you.

Leave the World Behind Amanda flopped on bed

Then, the next morning, as the family's world is starting to unravel, the waves look the same, but the water is higher up on the wall - the water is getting deeper. Different camera angles made me think I imagined this, but no, the murals are actually different. See the water levels compared to the bed headboard?

Leave the World Behind ocean image getting higher

And by the third day, when Archie (Charlie Evans) is pulling out his teeth to his mother's horror, that water is all you see on the wall, with no sky. They're now in over their heads. 

Leave the World Behind Archie's teeth against ocean painting

They are drowning in confusion as panic sets in, because no boat would be any match for these seas. They're just being swallowed up, in brilliant support of the storytelling.

Leave the World Behind changing ocean painting is now over their heads

The Painting in the Living Room

Maybe this is the more obvious one, but I didn't notice right away that the massive black and white painting in the center of the living room also changes. There's also a lot more meaning connected to this one.

Huge and calm, the first image is one large swath of black, with four white patterns bumping into it. 

Leave the World Behind living room painting first one

Reflecting that design, although it's unknown to Amanda (played by Julia Roberts) at this moment, this is a home owned by a Black family, and the Sandfords, this white family of four, are entering their space. (If offered this painting as a Rorschach test, Amanda would probably see it in reverse, saying the Scotts are invading their space.)

The next morning, after the hacker notifications, the painting is still black and white and the same size, but now the design has changed entirely.

Leave the World Behind living room painting 2nd version black and white 

The pattern has a staccato feel - irritated, jumpy. It reminds me of the way paint will washboard onto a canvas, if there isn't enough fluid on the brush to act as a lubricant. 

Changes in the image definitely reflect the jagged fear creeping into the story line. But I also see integration, as these two families awkwardly become intertwined. Unfamiliar, yet maybe some good will come of it, too. Everything is mixing up, and the situation is confusing.

 Leave the World Behind living room painting version 2 black and white

By the time the real panic sets in, when Archie's vomiting, Rose (played by gripping Farrah Mackenzie) is missing, the noise is screeching again, the planes have crashed, the satellite phone doesn't work, the glass has cracked, flamingoes and deer are startling everyone, that painting looks like... the matrix? animal hide?

Leave the World Behind living room painting 3rd version black and white

Are things integrating into a new arrangement? Splintering? Or reverting to nature? Either way, there is a scene where George (the powerful Mahershala Ali) and Amanda are standing in front of it, strategizing together to find a way to get help for Archie. The facts seem terrifying, but for humanity? People helping each other has gotta be a good sign amidst the chaos. 

The Freedom of Changing Paintings

What really excites me about these changing paintings is the simple fact that he did it. 

I have never seen a movie before when they changed the paintings that are in the background, during the course of the movie, and I am in love with the idea.

(You know what it reminds me of? Flashback scenes in the movie U-Turn with Sean Penn and Jennifer Lopez shake things up in a similar kind of way, in that each memory is filmed as a different take, so when Penn's character has multiple flashbacks, each one plays back slightly differently - just like in real life. I've never seen anyone else do that either.)

The utter freedom of this kind of thinking!

My understanding of what creativity is, has been cracked open by this rule-breaking move, and I'm thrilled by it. I don't know how it's going to affect what I do going forward, but it has changed me. Does it affect you?


The Other Paintings

Upstairs in Black & Gold

The first paintings I noticed were in the house, after she has gone up the stairs. I immediately recognized the work of Lisa Hunt, someone I've followed on Instagram for years, because I'm in awe of her world-class work in gold. 

Leave the World Behind Lisa Hunt painting in black and gold

Her large-scale pieces made me think right away, this home is owned by a wealthy person with great taste.

As Amanda enters the master bedroom for the first time, notice the pair of paintings on the wall behind her, plus the mirror across from the bed, and the bench at the foot of the bed. All of them continue that gorgeous black and gold patterning.

Leave the World Behind master bedroom decor

There's a lot of black and gold in this house and throughout the movie. It speaks of a classic aesthetic, wealth, and attention to detail, as this house has been so thoroughly curated by someone who really cares about art.

It's also very much a Black aesthetic, but there's a lot going on in the lives of the white renters, so that's ignored as the focus stays on them.

The Eyes

That evening, when the four adults first stand together inside the house, the foyer features a striking painting of repetitive blue eyes, perfect for this situation where each person is mistrustful of the others, and each is holding secrets.

Leave the World Behind Amanda Clay G.H. George Ruth first talking with eye painting

Clay and Amanda aren't saying anything about the oil tanker from that day, Ruth (Myha'la Herrold) knows George's client has given him at least some kind of warning, and George is keeping his bigger premonitions to himself - and not telling his daughter that her Mom hasn't responded to texts all evening.

Each person is scoping out the others for safety and signs of untrustworthy behavior, for clues to know what to do in this unprecedented situation, without divulging the secrets they themselves keep. And of course, the renters don't know if these strangers are really the owners or not, showing up suddenly like that, in the middle of the night.

And George and Ruth, despite being in formal attire, know that the white renters are very likely to doubt that they own the house, and aren't sure what kind of reception they're going to receive, even as legal owners. The painting with the eyes is perfect for this moment as everyone is on high alert.

United States of Attica

When G.H. and Ruth go downstairs, there's a striking image of the United States above the bed. It's quartered and colored in stark red and green, which are complementary, or opposite, colors on the color wheel. 

Leave the World Behind G.H. George and Ruth go downstairs first time green red poster Faith Ringgold

I hadn't seen it before but learned that it's the most widely distributed poster from artist and activist Faith Ringgold in the 1970's, The United States of Attica, telling parts of our nation's history of violence, oppression, and imperialism.

Even before being familiar with the poster's message, I instantly felt from it a sense of a nation at war with itself ~ the very backdrop necessary for the Three Step Plan G.H. later outlines.

Family Faces

Family artifacts and photos are finally revealed in a real treasure trove behind the locked door to G.H.'s study when Ruth goes to vape. Ornate frames packed with historical photos of Black Americans, obviously going back many decades, they remain a mystery to us, as the family needs to protect those parts of themselves from careless weekly renters.

Leave the World Behind G.H. George study family heirlooms historical photos

It's the only art with a face in the whole house. Personal art hits differently to us than art we've curated for public viewing. After waking up from a nightmare to realize her father was safe in the running shower, Ruth needs this room, where she can be surrounded by the faces of her ancestors, plus her loving father's personal things. 

While these are not paintings, these portraits and memorabilia are framed and clearly very valuable to the family. They are the only art protected behind locked doors. What does that say about relative value? This is the only art in the home that can't be bought and sold for any price ~ it has zero value on the market yet I'd guess the highest value to the owners.


Oh, and the next morning, what a subtle placement!  Did you notice how right when the Sandfords are freaking out about Archie's teeth, right behind Clay (Ethan Hawke) is one of those earlier gold and black paintings.  

Leave the World Behind upstairs bedroom painting black and gold

And now that we're close up, we see that the marks are in shapes that you *could* say look almost like teeth. And the subtle shadows behind them now make them look like they're moving up and down. Whoa.


More rustically, behind Amanda's seat in the shed, there's a large hand-painted - sunflower? - partially filled in. Could it have been painted by Ruth's Mom?  Maybe she tried her own hand at art away from the high standards of her curated home.

Leave the World Behind shed Amanda Julia Roberts flower painting

Whoever's handiwork it is, this unfinished painting reflects the wistfulness of sunflowers and their seeds. As Amanda is now fearing for her children, and Ruth is grieving for her mom, this painting is especially poignant since both characters are in pain over the mother-child bond, the human equivalent of nature's seeds.

Art at the Huxley House, Thorne House & Bunker

Contrast all this with the art at the nearby Huxley home, which looks like some cheap photo frames clumped thoughtlessly together. Even allowing for the damage done by at least two big waves, this was clearly not an artistic family.

Similarly, nearing the end, as we peek into the Thorne family home and see Rose munching away, above her is the classic, pedestrian Norman Rockwell print of grandma laying a fat turkey on a holiday table. It fits right in with the plain predictable Long Island dining room chairs, brass lamps, white curtains. Plain, safe, moneyed artless living.

Leave the World Behind Rose at Thorne house munching food dining room

However, in that otherwise boring house, as Rose walks through the glowing red (rose-colored) arches and starts down the staircase, she passes the most touching piece of art in the entire movie :: Hope Begins in the Dark.

Leave the World Behind Hope Begins in the Dark poster Rosie walking to bunker

Looking to be a simple poster of a chair, candle, and a book, if this framed piece were hung there by the Thorne family to be the last thing they would see before racing for the bunker in an emergency, it makes me think differently of them. My only argument would be, why not hang it inside the bunker instead, where it would be most needed?

The movie's last piece of wall artwork is the brown and white one hanging inside the bunker over the table. The colors are almost like a mudcloth of western Africa. I tried to find information about it, but haven't yet.

Leave the World Behind Aboriginal painting in bunker

It looks inspired by Aboriginal or Native American work, reminiscent of what our ancestors may have painted on cave walls. How on earth would this Americana-loving family get the idea to put that painting, connecting to the earliest roots of humans, in their bunker? Gun-toting Danny (played by Kevin Bacon) said his buddy built this bunker, so maybe it was his taste. We'll never know.

While I love the painting, it started me wondering :: how could a person choose one painting for a bunker wall, to live with underground for years or maybe even decades? There had better be reams of paper and cases of paints down there, if you ask me! 


Additional Art & Textiles

Home decor tells us as much about the people in it as paintings do, and there is plenty to tell.

The NYC Apartment

Amanda and Clay haven't given a lot of thought to the decor in their NYC apartment, with the whole room painted the same monotone blue, and even though it's a vibrant color, it's oppressive because it's boring, suggesting they don't give any more thought than that to their relationship, either.

 Leave the World Behind Amanda and Clay's blue apartment

It's also very striking that their books are the most colorful things in the room, and their walls have no artwork at all, except one painting on paper with no frame, across the room behind Amanda. What's that about? Is it by one of the kids? 

But what concerns me is the huge crack on the wall, just above their bed, and they've painted it over without fixing it first. It suggests a foundational problem in their marriage, as it splits right down between them. More clues to that show up later. (Bonus points if you can name at least 5 blatant ones. I've counted at least ten.)

Leave the World Behind Clay with big crack in the blue wall by his head in their apartment

One could also take it as a foreshadowing of cracks in the foundation of life in America in general.

Living Room Rug

Near the end, note the living room rug, shot at a jangly angle and from above, when Archie vomits up blood. Leaving a random black mess on the natural order of the carpet, again as with the paintings, a steady pattern devolves into chaos.

Leave the World Behind living room rug after Archie vomits blood up on it


Meanwhile, Clay is certainly doing some reflection in that gorgeous bathroom as the tub fills with soothing water sounds. The wall sconces give a soft light, against the dark gray wall treatment of alternating organic lines. And that asymmetrical bathtub in white, with the patterned gray/white rugs we see from above. That bathroom is designed to be a meditative spa.

Leave the World Behind Clay in the bathroom spa with white tub filling with water

Archie's Room

Fittingly, Archie's bedroom is too darkened to see any art, except that he has two mismatched lamps, and one is a woman's body facing him straight on. Sounds about right for the teenaged boy and big-brother-slash-bully who seems to altogether lack imagination. 

The Music Room

The music room is a world unto itself. Rich flocking in the draperies, where G.H. and Amanda are dancing, has almost exactly the same geometric patterns as Lisa Hunt's paintings (above) in the early scenes. 

Leave the World Behind draperies drapes in music room

I'm guessing their added depth and dimension helps to contain the sound and improve the acoustics. G.H. would know about that as a music lover, and his wife would have found them, determined to elevate the space above simple acoustical tiles.

And as G.H. admits that he believes his wife to be dead, there are two more gorgeous black and white paintings or prints behind him, and he's in a black and white armchair with an organic textured weave.

How often has he sat in this chair, soaking up the artful music collection? Maybe alongside his loving wife. And now he's accepting the hardest news of his life there.

Leave the World Behind G.H. George's music room two prints and chair

This is a warm and appealing room, harmonious, soft, and fluid, all appearing at a time in the plot where Amanda and George have softened to one another, and Amanda is now promising to George that "nothing is going to happen to Ruth" and that they are "in it together". 



Amanda's vs Clay's

It's a small point, but I can't help but see another split between our main couple in that their first-day clothing has a very similar vibe - that fake Indonesian batik style. But hers is a lined pattern and his is boxy at 90-degree angles.

Leave the World Behind Clay's shirt

Of course they're not the same person, and they don't need to dress alike. But they're just on different rhythms, these two, and 90 degrees is a telling angle. Direct opposition.

Amanda's vs Bedroom Decor

By chance, Amanda's dress pattern is similar to those master bedroom decor pieces mentioned above, but her colors are brown and white, a cheaper version of the elegant black and gold of the room. There's potential crossover here for the characters, because she's clearly attracted to what she sees. 

Leave the World Behind Amanda's dress and bedroom decor patterns

But her cotton/rayon dress (which looks really ugly on her when we see the whole thing in the first scene) is no real match for the class and substance of the art and decor in this carefully curated home.

Which is fine when you're just going to rent a home for the weekend. And of course clothing is just a superficial thing, and we don't want to judge the book by its cover - however, it's also true that how we do anything is how we do everything.

Amanda's whole life is going to change. Her clothing in this scene shouts out the question to me, Will Amanda rise to the occasion?

Red, White, Blue (& Black)

In terms of overall color, a lot of reviews of this movie focus on how much blue shows up. And there is a lot of blue.

But what I saw was red, white, blue, and black.

In clothing, specifically, there's a lot of red, white, and blue. Again, the message is :: primary, American, patriotic colors, nothing quirky, everything's trustworthy and solid here.

Like, Archie's blue and red t-shirt, then red and white Obey shirt, Rose's red, white & blue NASA shirt, George's tux then blue suit, and at the entrance to the beach it's a festival of red, white, and blue outfits, plus the two girls in bright red swimsuits Archie stares at in a minute.

Leave the World Behind going to the beach red white and blue outfits clothing

Especially in the beginning, the ever-present colors from the US flag suggests a strong national identity. Then we start seeing a lot less red, white, and blue, right as the plot twists and things (that turn out to be national and governmental) are falling apart.

The last bit of red, white, and blue clothing we see is right after the noise, when Amanda looks up to see her kids. "Obey NASA" haha - someone's probably making up a crazy conspiracy theory somewhere over that - I just think it's funny.

Leave the World Behind Archie and Rosie outside in the woods after the sound wearing tshirts Obey and NASA


Rose, the most observant one in the family, is the only person in the movie wearing orange, in the first and last scene she's in. She quietly sees everything :: oil tanker, the deer, that George is wet, the huge safe house that happens to have a bunker. 

Leave the World Behind Rosie at beginning in orange floral shirt in car watching Friends

And as she matter-of-factly points out, no one listens to her.

Or sees her at all, apparently. Her mother suggests to Ruth that "She's still kind of a baby at heart," having no idea that Rosie not only watched and can quote West Wing, but casually differentiates the seasons written by Aaron Sorkin. She's no baby.

It's as if her family is color blind to her portion of the color spectrum.

Leave the World Behind Rosie at end in Bunker in orange shirt


Similarly, Ruth is the only one to wear lavender, in her shirt and swim suit.

Both orange and purple are secondary colors, and they are the two young ones who think for themselves, both a step out of the norm.

Leave the World Behind Ruth in lavender purple shirt in kitchen talking with Amanda

Earth Tones

Over the course of the movie, all the adult characters leave behind their red, white, blue, and black clothes, and move toward earth tones. 

Leave the World Behind George G.H. and Clay talking with Danny

The earth tones show up as gold (Ruth), brown (George), gray (Archie), cream (Amanda), and green (Clay).

Leave the World Behind Amanda and Ruth hugging after chasing away deer at the shed

Ironically, those clothes are becoming earthy as the people wearing them are soon to leave behind life on the surface of earth and head toward the bunker. 

That life seems destined to become profoundly more primitive even while inside a hugely expensive man-made canister designed to artificially prolong human life, while separating them from fresh air, soil, and water, and other humans.


Black & White Theme

The black/white conversation has to go deeper, because within that overall movie color theme of red, white, blue, and black, there's a dominant black and white current underlaying everything in this movie. 

I see three aspects to the black/white symbolism.

It highlights a range of oppositional themes in the film, the large painting changing reflects the metamorphosis within our main characters as they face vicious battles within themselves, and there's no escaping the racial divide gaping at us from the moment the families meet.


Everyone is leaving behind their comfortable known world and facing a new terrifying reality, so there's past vs. future.

We also see constant trust / distrust, technology vs. nature, hamlet vs city, English and Spanish, wealthy and not, safety and danger, animal vs human, prepared and unprepared.

Leave the World Behind Danny Survivalist explaining flyer

The local survivalist kook is suddenly the only one who knows how to read the signs, and the source of life-saving medicine. There has been a stark overnight change of what a valuable skill is, highlighted by Clay's "I'm a useless man" speech. (Remember, the professor actually suggested rabbit ears as a solution after hackers brought down satellites). 

Black and white has always been a useful medium for portraying these kinds of opposites.

Personal Battles

When it's all going to hell, you really find out who you are. And it's usually not pretty.

Clay grows disgusted at himself for speeding away from the woman on the road, just because he couldn't tolerate her desperation, and his own inability - even as a New York professor - to communicate in even one language other than his own.

Leave the World Behind Spanish speaking woman by Clay's car side of road

And who knows? Maybe one of the other people knew Spanish, and if he had brought her back, maybe they could have learned something from her about what was going on - but instead he has to live forever knowing he left her behind - maybe to die - for no good reason except his own pitiful cowardice.

Leave the World Behind Clay in kitchen after leaving Spanish speaking woman behind on road

And then he lies about it. And when he 'fesses up to someone, it isn't even his wife, but his benefactor's young daughter he's out flirting with.

It may be some pretty stark black and white thinking about this weakness of character that humbles him enough to later straight-out beg Danny for medicine to help his son. True humility is powerful, and may be amends for his abysmal behavior.

We don't know if he will continue his personal metamorphosis or stay the deeply flawed husband and person he has been.

Amanda hates the horrible facade she has clung to for protection, saying she f*cking hates people when of course she hates herself.

Her racist behavior is sickening to watch, and her general self-centeredness is gross. She smiles only when she enters the fancy house, gets the beach to themselves, and sees a Starbucks.

Of course, she's a dedicated mother and always looking out for her children's welfare.

But she is really unlikeable. Dare I say it? She is us.

Or at least, us when we're scared, hungry, or not getting our way, weak in self-knowledge, weak in capacity to handle difficulty. An adult who's scared, taking her anger out on a handy innocent teenager.

Leave the World Behind Amanda yelling at Ruth in shed

Of everyone, Amanda shows the most pivotal personal growth. Here, at this turning point, on the verge of losing everything, faced with a child's simple question, she finally reveals the charade she reluctantly lives, paper straws to make up for a lifetime of lying.

Leave the World Behind Amanda Julia Roberts in shed speaking to Ruth

She lays down her separations, anger, and finger-pointing and starts being the Mom she needs to be, to Ruth as well as her own kids, protecting her from the deer and reaching for her hand in their shared moment of disbelief. Her transformation is distinct.

Leave the World Behind Amanda and Ruth scaring away deer

G.H., the third character undergoing massive internal change, is the obvious leader in the group. He's the most knowledgeable and worldly, with local connections. 

He has to accept the apparent loss of his wife, become the sole parent to Ruth, the point person for this newly forming extended household, and the knight negotiating medicine for Archie.

Reluctantly, he's the translator at every turn for What This Means For Us Now.

Though he had all the individual facts long before, he finally fully sees what's coming, and he knows what they have to do. 

Leave the World Behind George G.H. against black and white living room painting

He integrates all this gruesome reality while keeping a cool head, something he has trained for all his life as a Black man in America. From planning his first approach at the doorbell, to explaining why he doesn't have his ID, to detailing the 3-point plan, he remains calm and centered, while internally his world keeps exploding.

He has handled impossible situations with outward grace all his life, and right now it's the reason this band may survive.

Yes, the world is collapsing, and the deeper grasp of the black and white choreography of chaos in the living room paintings is the vital disintegration and rearrangement of the inner life of our new friends.

As fellow humans, we aren't watching just to check off plot points - we want to see how what they're going through is going to change them.

Racial Biases

I wish I could write or think about this movie and not bring this up, but that would be ludicrous, as it's right in our faces the whole time.

And yes, this too is connected to the art - the black and white theme, obviously, but also all the art, all over the house.

The woman behind the art in this home, Maya Scott, Ruth's Mom, G.H.'s wife, whom we never meet, is (or, sadly, was) clearly the amazing art dealer he described, with a highly trained eye.

Amanda, having no idea she is surrounded by world-class art created by and curated by people of color, now walks right in, happily admires the beauty of the home, then refuses to believe that a Black family ever could live there.

The art tells the whole story, but like most white Americans, she isn't trained or aware enough to know what she's seeing.

We can't be surprised by this. G.H. is on the Board of the Philharmonic Orchestra, for heaven's sake, and when he asks Clay and Amanda if they've seen the Symphony in the Bronx, Clay clearly doesn't even know it exists.

When Ruth says she's "one lucky daughter" for being encouraged by her father to appreciate classical music, Clay practically snorts, thinking that's hilarious.

Leave the World Behind G.H. George and Ruth first night classical music

(Because Clay hates classical music? And assumes she does too because she's Black? Nervous laughter because she's young and pretty? It doesn't matter, really, but probably all those reasons combined.)

Amanda is hunting the whole performance skeptically for the lie, because [even though you and I can see that Mahershala Ali wears that tailored tux like he was born to it] she just doesn't believe it's possible that this Black man belongs in that tuxedo, on that Board, here, in "her" space. "This really doesn't seem like their house."

Leave the World Behind Amanda doesn't trust G.H. George

Side by side, the level of artistry that has been attained in the Scott family is so far beyond what the Sandford family even imagines :: in music, in fine art, in clothing, in home decor, in their curated life overall. 

Yet as the Sandfords walk into this home, they do the same thing that most white Americans would, and never even wonder about the race or ethnicity of the home owner. Without thinking, without even being aware themselves that they have done it, they assume the owners of this elegant home are white, like them. 

Amanda's sneer when she says, "This is your house?" exposes that entire backstory to us and the Scotts in a heartbeat. She hadn't even considered the possibility, and when presented with it, it seems absurd to her.

Regardless of the story being told by the art she is surrounded by, which match the words coming out of his mouth, she holds that he is the handyman and broke into the cabinet to get the $1000. "The housekeeper always knows where the stash of money is." Ugh. 

Leave the World Behind Amanda sneers at door This is your house?

And we're not letting Clay off the hook here. He's just not as outspoken with his biases, but we know he has them, because he abandons that woman, screaming for help, on the side of the road, and it's not because she's crying.

It's a common thing for a white person to be scared by a person of color, even when the white person is the only one with any power in the situation. 

Leave the World Behind Clay scared of Spanish speaking woman on side of road

Clay has the car and all the control. He could so easily have said, "Look, I don't understand, but jump in - let's get you some help."

But no, he rolls up the window and abandons her because he is scared of her, a woman alone who desperately needs people.

Tonight, though, Clay is fine with these strangers' story because a cute young woman has just shown up. Plus, G.H. has broken out the "top-shelf booze", so it all looks good to him.

To be fair, I can't imagine what I would do if two strangers showed up at my rental door in the middle of the night with my children sleeping upstairs. And the phones are all out. In an unfamiliar place. Nope. Nope. Nope. 

But the thing is, the art in this home held all the clues to the puzzle. If only Amanda or Clay saw it.

What would I give right now to be able to say, "I saw that art and I immediately knew this house was owned by a wealthy Black woman, so G.H. in his tux made perfect sense as the homeowner." 

Leave the World Behind G.H. George Ruth at door with Amanda and Clay

Sigh. No.

I saw the art.

Right away I loved the art.

I have even followed one of the artists, for years, someone whom I know to be a talented, strong Black woman. But she is the only artist represented in that house that I knew. And I should have known more of them.

I'm guessing now that all the art is from Black artists.

And if I had known that, it would have been 100% a sufficient clincher that George and Ruth were telling the truth.

But I didn't know that - so I wasn't convinced immediately, either.

Like Amanda, I was looking for clues as the story unfolded, to be sure it was their house.

But there were 100 clues! A hundred art clues, on every wall and in every corner - and they escaped me, just like they escaped her. 

Leave the World Behind Amanda Clay in kitchen not trusting Ruth G.H. George

We as white America have been much better trained to mistrust Black America, than we have been trained to recognize extraordinary Black American art. Our training started early and came at us often, and we have to work hard to beat those biases into the ground and replace them with appreciation for the massive creative contributions made by everyone.

Amanda cooperated eagerly and rabidly with that training of mistrust. She teetered on that kind of hysterical edge you see in "Karens in the wild" videos that end in trauma at best, but too often handcuffs or death.

She was completely ready to call the rental company on him, and once alone with Clay, her first thought was, what if he sexually abuses our daughter? So quick to accuse, what else might she have done if the phones were working?

Leave the World Behind Amanda scared mistrustful of G.H. George and Ruth

But wait, some of you are saying. The only person who even mentioned color was Ruth, right? "I'm asking you to remember that if the world falls apart, trust should  not be doled out easily to anyone, especially white people." So, some say in Reddit comments, that makes her the only biased one. 

But do you really think Amanda wouldn't say it directly if she could? She knows she can't, because she wants to think of herself as a good person, and a good person doesn't finish the sentence she started, "I don't feel comfortable staying in a house with..." and she has to look up to the ceiling to come up with something quickly, "people I don't know." 

So yes, Ruth has a bias too. And she's the only one to name it directly, for three seconds, privately in safety to just her father. Amanda wears it on her face, her tone of voice, her eyebrows, her impatience, her anger, in every interaction with them, for days. 

Even if I believe "I would never" behave the way Amanda does, I certainly have more work to do, starting with learning about the artists featured in this film. I want to give credit to them all here through edits and give myself the gift of more depth of knowledge of their beautiful work. (I'm not researching them before publishing - except Faith Ringgold - because I don't want to give myself an excuse to change my story and be less transparent here.)

Amanda comes to trust George and look out for Ruth, but none of us will be free of these deep rooted beliefs without a fight.

So, this black and white theme runs deep in this movie. If you want, you can just think it's cool that the paintings change. Or that the characters change. Or, if you're willing to face it, take it further. 


Movies, TV, & The Ending

I can't end this without mentioning one last art form - TV shows and movies.


One of the biggest complaints about this movie from people who hate it is, the ending. 

Ironically, people wanted an ending to this movie that told them more about what happened to the characters, instead of seeing Rosie start the last episode of Friends. But she does that because she wants what you want - to know what happens to those characters!

This movie we're watching, affects us just like Friends affects Rose (and tens of millions of other people who've watched Friends since 1994). We have gotten attached to G.H., Ruth, Amanda, Clay, Archie, and Rose, and we want to know if they make it to the bunker with her or not. We want to see that ending, just like Rose wants to know how things turn out for Ross and Rachel. 

Leave the World Behind Rosie in doorway

"They make me happy. And I really need that right now, don't you?" she asks Archie. "I wanna at least find out how things turn out for them. I care about them."

It's amazing how people can think she's shallow and a thoughtless, screen-addicted kid for this, when tens of millions of us stopped everything to watch that very Friends episode live. And millions more of us are asking that exact question about Clay and Amanda, George and Ruth.

So face it. You are Rosie. We are all her right now, at the end of this movie, dying to know how it turns out for our friends.

Leave the World Behind all the movies and tv shows dvd collection at the end bunker

Also, remember, there is no end. You want to know if they make it to the bunker. Okay, let's say they do. Then, don't you want to know what that's like for them down there, how long they stay, how they handle it? Then, how will they know if they can come back up? And what do they come up to? When is it ever the end? 


When a past US President that I couldn't stand was in office, I watched West Wing over and over, just trying to get through those years until a time I thought sanity might return. It didn't change the facts, but that good TV show was very comforting.

Clay and Ruth took comfort in weed, G.H. and Amanda found solace in dance music, Archie turned to his late-night photos, and Rose wants to see decent people have a happy ending in a story. 

Only a hypocrite would say that if you had to go into a bunker for years, you wouldn't be immensely grateful that there's a bunch of movies and TV shows to watch.

Maybe we are all shallow for loving these little visits into other people's lives, but stories are fun and comforting, and give us courage and guidance.

Leave the World Behind Rosie watching Friends at the end

Friends Can Be Easier Than Friendship

Rosie's also like us because she's finding it much easier to care about characters on a screen sometimes than the real people we know.

Because Monica and Chandler don't listen to us, either, but only because they physically can't - we think they would if they could. And at least Phoebe makes us laugh, and Joey lets us in to his vulnerable moments, and we get to watch them all grow. None of them insult us or belittle us or bully us or bomb us. They're good at heart and can leave us with hope.

Movies and TV are an art form that are with us for the long haul, I think. Caring about West Wing and Friends hasn't hurt you so far, Rosie. I say, go get 'em. I can't wait to review the movies you'll be making when you get out.

-Lisa Johnson, artist, Live Yummy

"Leave the World Behind" is directed by Sam Esmail and available on Netflix

Lisa Johnson is an artist, writer, and mom who lives in Vermont
©2024 Live Yummy LLC

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.