Leave the World Behind Ending Explained & Plot Analysis

Apocalypse and Hope in Leave the World Behind (2023), ending explanation, plot summary, movie cast, similar movies, meaning.

Country: USA

Genre: sci-fi, drama, thriller

Year of production: 2023

Director: Sam Esmail

Actors: Julia Roberts, Mahershala Ali, Ethan Hawke, Kevin Bacon, Mayhala Herrold.

Tagline: “There’s No Going Back To Normal”.

In 2023, Sam Esmail, who directed the TV series Mr. Robot, released Leave the World Behind, based on the novel of the same name by writer Rumaan Alam. The picture, starring stars like Julia Roberts, Mahershala Ali and Ethan Hawke, received mixed reviews from audiences and movie critics. Below we will analyze the plot and meaning of the movie Leave the World Behind and try to understand what ideas the director wanted to reflect.

What the movie’s about

At the beginning of Leave the World Behind, the Sandford family leaves New York for a vacation in a rented house near the sea. They are parents Amanda and Clay and their children: son Archie and daughter Rose, who has a passion for the TV series Friends.

Julia Roberts and Ethan Hawke of the movie Leave the World Behind
Julia Roberts and Ethan Hawke as Amanda and Clay Sandford. A still from the movie Leave the World Behind.

After arriving, Amanda goes grocery shopping. In the store parking lot, she sees a man loading a large amount of groceries and necessities into his car.

In the afternoon, the Sandfords go to the beach. Their vacation is interrupted by a tanker crashing into the shore. The family goes home and finds that cell phone service, television, and internet are down. Amanda and Clay see deer grazing near the mansion.

In the evening, the parents hear a knock on the door. Upon opening it, they see George Scott, the owner of the house, with his daughter Ruth. The man explains that they were at the theater when the lights and cell phone service went out in town. The Scotts decide to return to the country house and ask the Sandfords to let them stay the night. Amanda and Clay object, but George gives them back part of the rent. Clay allows the Scotts to stay. A nationwide alert and state of emergency is announced on TV.

The families head out for the night. Ruth is not happy that they are sleeping in the basement in their house. Amanda doesn’t trust the Scotts and is angered by Clay’s decision. The TV reports on cyberattacks across the country, then the picture disappears.

In the morning, Amanda is awakened by Rose, who is unable to watch the final episode of Friends due to a lack of internet. The woman discovers alerts on her phone about blackouts in the US caused by hackers. She wants to show them to her husband, but the texts disappear. Clay decides to go to the city and find out what is going on.

Further along in the plot of Leave the World Behind, Amanda informs the Scotts about the messages in her phone. George goes to the neighbors to see what they know. Ruth worries about her mother who is due to arrive by plane, her father reassures her.

Mahershala Ali and Mayhala Gerrold of the movie Leave the World Behind
Mahershala Ali and Mayhala Gerrold starring GH Scott and Rutt Scott. A still from the movie Leave the World Behind.

On his way into town, Clay discovers that his GPS doesn’t work. He is stopped by a frightened Spanish woman who says something to him. Not knowing the language and unable to understand the content and meaning of her words, the man drives off. A drone flies over him, scattering flyers.

George doesn’t catch the neighbors, sneaks into the house and finds a satellite phone, but it doesn’t work. The man walks out onto the beach and sees the wreckage of an airplane. A couple minutes later, a second plane crashes into the shore. Meanwhile, Rose and Archie go into the woods to look for deer and find a strange cabin. A boy is bitten by an unknown insect.

George tells Amanda about the satellite phone not working. From his explanation, it appears that the satellites are out of order due to the actions of hackers. Amanda doesn’t believe it, but changes her mind after the man’s description of what happened to the airplanes on the beach.

A sudden piercing noise resembling a whistle forces people to cover their ears with their hands. After a while, it stops. Amanda goes to get the children, finds them, returns, and with the Scotts speculates about the nature of the noise. She is frightened and wishes to leave with the children to find her husband. George and Ruth suggest waiting for him to arrive. Amanda remembers the man in the parking lot and understands the hidden meaning behind his behavior: he knew what was going to happen and had stocked up on everything he needed to survive. George decides it’s Danny, his contractor. Clay returns and tells him that he hasn’t found the men, but he saw a drone and shows a flyer. It is written in an unknown language and one of the phrases reads, “Death to America.”

The Sandfords decide to go into town. George explains that there is no point and it is dangerous in the city, but he is not listened to. The family sets off, but the road is blocked by a traffic jam of unmanned Tesla electric cars crashing into each other due to autopilot malfunctions. The Sandfords return to the Smiths.

Farrah McKenzie of the movie Leave the World Behind.
Farrah McKenzie played the role of Rose. A still from the movie Leave the World Behind.

The two families decide to spend the night and in the morning decide what to do next. In the evening, flamingos are discovered in the backyard pool, and then the shrill noise comes again, shattering lamps and glass in the house and forcing people to cover their ears. It is clear from the conversations before bedtime that the families do not trust each other.

In the morning it is revealed that Rose has disappeared and Archie’s teeth are falling out. The boy reports that he was bitten by an insect in the woods. George decides he has Lyme disease and goes with him and Clay to Danny’s, hoping he has a cure.

Amanda and Ruth go in search of Rose. They find a cabin, explore it and fight, but then reconcile, realizing that they need to stick together. Outside, Ruth is surrounded by an aggressive herd of deer, but Amanda scares the animals away with shouts and arm swings.

George and Clay arrive at Danny’s house and ask him to help. The man behaves aggressively and, threatening with a gun, refuses to give the cure. He advises to go to the neighbors Thorns, who, according to rumors, made a bunker and says that what is happening is the work of America’s enemies, united to attack the United States. He is led to this idea by flyers found by Clay: Danny had heard of similar ones earlier, but in Korean or Chinese. Sandford ends up buying the medicine from him. On their way home, Clay and George decide to team up and go looking for the bunker.

Leave the World Behind Explanation of the ending

At the end of Leave the World Behind, George says that, in his opinion, the meaning of what is happening is the realization of a plan of some military company to overthrow the government. He was led to this interpretation of events by observations at work and communication with high-ranking acquaintances. From the content of his words it becomes known that the first stage of the plan is isolation of the population, which consists in disconnecting the Internet, mobile and satellite communications, means of transportation, so that people do not understand and do not know what is happening around them.

The second stage is the creation of controlled chaos, implying intimidation of the population (noise) and misinformation (drones with leaflets). People won’t have a specific enemy, so they will turn on each other. If successful, the third phase will begin on its own: it is the overthrow of the government and civil war.

At this time, Amanda and Ruth go to an open space from which New York City is visible and discover that there is shooting and explosions in the city.

At the end, the Thorne mansion appears, with Rose’s bicycle lying outside. The owners are not home. The girl is eating at the table, and in the background the voices of Amanda and Ruth can be heard calling for her. Rose looks around the building and discovers a bunker. It has sleeping quarters, exercise equipment, food, and more for long-term living. Of the means of communication, there is a radio and a series of monitors on which a ticker announces that the White House and major cities are being shelled by illegals, and radiation has been detected near many populated areas. A call is sounded to go to shelter.

Rose discovers a television and a collection of shows and movies. She takes a Friends disk from the shelf and turns on the final episode.

tanker coming ashore of the movie Leave the World Behind
A still from the movie Leave the World Behind.

The finale of the movie remains open. We will not know if the Sandfords and Smiths will find the bunker and Rose and how everything will end. The meaning of the ending of the movie Leave the World Behind – to show that the two families were able to begin to trust each other and are ready to go together to meet what is happening. The girl has found her personal source of happiness – the opportunity to watch the final episode of her favorite show. After it ends, the world of “Friends” – light, carefree, with jokes and humor – for her will no longer be. In the same way, the girl’s old world will no longer exist: it will be replaced by a new reality.


What was the noise that was tormenting the tenants?
In the movie, the Smiths and the Sandfords hear a strong noise affecting them several times. It is not known what is its source, but there is a version that it is the work of some kind of weapon that affects people with microwaves.
What happened to Archie's teeth?
There is no answer as to why Archie’s teeth fell out in the movie, but the characters come up with two theories. One says it’s because of an insect bite, and the other says it’s the result of exposure to noise.
What was the Spanish woman saying on the side of the road?
Who the Spanish woman Clay encountered was is unknown. There is also no information about what she was saying or where she came from: there are no houses nearby where she lived or worked as a servant.
What happened to George's wife?
The plot of the movie does not reveal what happened to George’s wife, however, given the plane crashes and the information that she was supposed to be on a flight back, it is likely that she died.
What happens to the animals?
The characters see many deer around the mansion, and one night there are pink flamingos in the pool, for which New York is not their usual habitat. This shows that the animals sense the changes in the world and are forced to migrate in search of safe places.

The meaning of the movie Leave the World Behind

Leave the World Behind gives viewers the opportunity to reflect on many of the questions raised in the movie and find answers for themselves. At first glance, this is a story about a catastrophe in the United States, which forced people to leave their old world and face a new harsh reality. The picture demonstrates that the end of peaceful, quiet life does not require invasions from outer space (aliens, comet, etc.), as it was shown earlier in the movies. The threat may come from other countries or from within the state itself: this view is now more relevant than ever.

According to the plot, George puts forward an assumption that explains what is happening, but the director does not confirm it and the viewer never learns what caused the events reflected in the picture. The clue is that it doesn’t matter: the essence of the movie is not in it at all. The catastrophe is secondary, it is in the background and allows us to raise other, more important questions.

The main idea of Leave the World Behind is to analyze the relationships between people, using two married couples as an example. The Sandford family encounters the Smith family, and at first there is distrust between them, caused by racial prejudice (Amanda is frightened by a couple of dark-skinned strangers, she does not trust them), money (the landlords are richer than their tenants), position in society (George is a financial advisor who communicates with the powerful). The Sandfords and Smiths are wary of each other, most strongly evident in the behavior of Amanda and Ruth.

After it becomes clear that something serious is going on in the world, the families have to first come together willy-nilly and then learn to trust each other and provide help and support. The men rescue a boy and then decide to search the bunker together to save themselves. Amanda and Ruth during the search for Rose at the end of the movie get a chance to talk and work out their relationship, after which they reconcile and then Amanda comes to Ruth’s aid and protects her.

Leave the World Behind shows that in the face of grave danger, people need to put aside their differences and come together to survive.

two girl of the movie Leave the World Behind
A still from the movie Leave the World Behind.

In addition to the relationships between the families, the director shows how people change their attitude towards what happened. At first, they calmly wait for everything to be resolved on their own. On the second day, having tried to do something but failed, in the evening they have fun as if nothing had happened, secretly hoping that the problems will solve themselves. And only on the third day, when they are convinced that there will be no help and they have to rely on themselves, the families accept that the world they are used to is destroyed and begin to realize that they need to unite if they want to survive.

Another theme the director touches on is man’s dependence on technology. He says that modern man, left without the Internet, television, Wi-FI, cell phones and GPS, is practically doomed.

This idea is confirmed by Clay: not only does he explicitly say that without phone and Internet he is useless, but without GPS he manages to get lost and not find his way to the city. His daughter, Rose, is also somewhat dependent on technology: she is a fan of the TV series “Friends” and the whole movie is concerned only with the fact that she can not watch the last episode, and therefore does not notice what is happening around her.

Rose’s line with her love for “Friends” is not accidental, it has a hidden meaning: just as the girl, having finished watching the last episode, says goodbye to the carefree world of her favorite characters, so both families, and together with them other people in the country, say goodbye to their former quiet life: now the world will be different, there is no going back. This is the explanation of the ending of Leave the World Behind, and the same idea is included in the slogan of the movie.

aggressive reindeer of the movie Leave the World Behind
A still from the movie Leave the World Behind.

Related movies

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  • Don’t Look Up (USA, 2021). Astronomers discover a comet threatening the Earth, but no one believes their warnings.
  • 10 Cloverfield Lane (USA, 2016). After an accident, a girl wakes up in the basement of a stranger who claims that the world outside has been destroyed.
  • Silent Night (UK, 2020). A group of friends celebrate the last Christmas before the apocalypse.
  • Last Journey of Paul W.R. (France, 2020). Earth is threatened from space, but the astronaut who can save the planet disappears.
  • Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (USA, 2011). After learning that the end of the world is approaching, an insurance agent in the company of her neighbor goes in search of her first love.
  • Greenland (USA, 2020). A civil engineer tries to save his family and his marriage after learning of the threat of a comet approaching Earth.
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