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'The Leftovers'Image: HBO

'The Leftovers'

The thing is this: some things just don't make sense. Senseless tragedy is just that: it doesn't make sense. Language can't explain all of reality. Our poorly-timed attempts to make it do so, to fill the silent void, can cause us more grief.

The show makes much of this, contrasting the disembodied chatter of the TV and radio with the fully-embodied silence and writing of the GR smokers. Everyone else is almost literally rendered dumb throughout the show. There's very little talking going on, and what speech is delivered is pointed, weighty, often angry. Or it's a silent, tortured underwater scream.

In the face of unconscionable, inexplicable loss, we cannot speak, because we don't understand. To try to talk about it is to reduce its tragedy to a puzzle or, worse, to minimize it.

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

A few side notes:

  • As I was writing this, my husband called me out to the living room, where he was watching, of all things,Prometheus—on which Lindelof was a co-writer. There's an early scene in which little Elizabeth Shaw asks her father where dead people go. To heaven, he tells her, and it's beautiful there. "How do you know that it's beautiful?" she asks him. "Because that's what I choose to believe," he says.
  • There are different ways to frame apocalypses: some are man-made, and some are acts of God. Today, our apocalypses are more frequently made by us. The fascinating thing about The Leftovers' apocalypse is that it's twofold: started by what can only be described as an "act of God," but we have the creepy sense that when the show starts, the real apocalypse—one we'll bring on ourselves—is yet to come. As one character says, and as is seen throughout the episode (with, particularly, the dogs and the teenagers), humanity is also devolving into chaos—"it's just taking longer."
  • Keep an eye on the parallels going on here between the two kinds of unexplained disappearances (the Rapture and the GR).
  • Finally, it's worth noting that this writing is altogether stronger (at least in this critic's opinion) than Perrotta's original novel. Whereas the source material lacks emotional resonance, the show has it, in spades. Given the possibilities in television for character development, I expect this will only grow stronger as the show goes on.

Caveat Spectator

This is an HBO show—not on the level of Game of Thrones (at least not yet), but with the requisites. Male nudity, and very brief female nudity. Teenagers take drugs and, presumably, have sex. They also play a sort of spin-the-bottle game for the new millennium that's much more raunchy and disturbing than it used to be. Animals are killed violently by both humans and other animals, mostly off-camera but not entirely. Teenagers and adults also hit each other rather violently. One person burns his arm on purpose. In a flashback, characters jump off a building and crash, hard. Lots of cussing, including f-bombs and a few uses of a crude euphemism for female genitalia to refer to a woman. And the GRs are always smoking cigarettes.

Alissa Wilkinson is Christianity Today's chief film critic and assistant professor of English and humanities at The King's College in New York City. She tweets @alissamarie.

Watch This Way
How we watch matters at least as much as what we watch. TV and movies are more than entertainment: they teach us how to live and how to love one another, for better or worse. And they both mirror and shape our culture.
Alissa Wilkinson
Alissa Wilkinson is Christianity Today's chief film critic and assistant professor of English and humanities at The King's College in New York City. She lives in Brooklyn.
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