Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam (2020)
Leave the World Behind directed by Sam Esmail (2023)
Both book and movie are very similar. Both follow husband and wife Clay and Amanda, and their two kids who have rented a home outside of New York City. Their second night there, there is a knock at the door and the owner of the home has shown up and says there is a blackout and they need to stay here. From here, we see these different families interact as the world collapses around them.
This book was definitely giving my Cabin at the End of the World vibes, which was released in 2018. A premise so similar, it seems suspicious… I mean, there are of course some big changes from the two, but still there are a lot of similarities.
I was not a fan of this book though. I thought it was poorly written, too wordy, and just boring. I saw a goodreads user gie it one star and in the review he wrote, “Leave this book behind” lol. Admittedly, I didn’t love Cabin at the End of the Wolrd either. However, even if I didn’t love that one, I can objectively say it was well written. But with Leave the World Behind I think it is bad both objectively and subjectively.
He has so many similes and metaphors to the point it was distracting. I am just going to read a few of them so you can see what I mean:
“They were four adults standing about awkwardly as in those last anticipatory moments at an orgy.”
“The mangroves could outsmart it, pull up their roots like a Victorian lady’s skirts,”
“…his fear had doubled like resting dough.”
“The two of them crept, naked as Neanderthals”
“hard to hold on to as spider’s silk”
“Rose turned the secret of the deer over and over, as you would a hard candy on your tongue”
“Amanda wrapped her hair into a white towel like a woman in a certain kind of film.”
“There was a sharp taste, like she had a Kennedy half dollar sitting on top of her tongue.”
There were so many more too! And like, the orgy one? What?? And the “like in a certain kind of film”, what does that even mean?? And pull up their roots like a Victorian lady’s skirt?? And when I think of Neanderthals I think of them being hairy, not naked. So now I am just imagining Clay and Amanda being hairy rather than naked. Ugh, they were just so bad.
But also, he just overexplains so much. He will show, but also tell in case the reader doesn’t get what he is trying to say. There is a part when Clay is thinking about something, then later Amanda is thinking the same thing. Like I get what you’re doing, you are showing how in sync they are and they don’t even know it. Which is a nice way to show us that! But Alam doesn’t trust the reader to understand what he is doing so he tells us, “She didn’t know, of course, that Clay had the same thought. She didn’t know this bespoke how well suited to each other they were.”
Scenes also just go on and on and on, with details being way too over described. For example, in both book and movie there is a noise that happens, and “noise” is the word used, but doesn’t fairly describe how traumatic it was. I get Alam wants us to understand this, but he goes on forever about it! I am going to read part of it, but even what I read isn’t the whole thing because it goes on for so long,
“Of course they’d never heard a noise like that before. You didn’t hear such a noise; you experienced it, endured it, survived it, witnessed it. You could fairly say that their lives could be divided into two: the period before they’d heard that noise and the period after. It was a noise, but it was a transformation. It was a noise, but it was a confirmation. Something had happened, something was happening, it was ongoing, the noise was confirmation even as the noise was mystery.
The thing was a noise. Not a bang, not a clap. More than thunder, more than an explosion; none of them had ever heard an explosion. Explosions seemed common because films so often depicted them, but explosions were rare, or they’d all been lucky to be spared proximity to explosions. All that could be said, in the moment, was that it was noise, big enough to alter forever their working definitions of noise. You’d cry if you weren’t so scared, surprised, or affected in some way impossible to understand. You might cry even so. The noise was quick, maybe, but the air buzzed with it for what seemed like a long time. What was the noise, and what was the noise’s aftereffect? One of those unanswerable questions.
The noise was loud enough to make a man fall to his knees. That’s what Archie did, distant, in the woods: fell to his bare knees. A noise that could make a person fall to their knees was only nominally a noise. It was something else for which there was no noun necessary, because how often would one use such a word?
If the noise returned, say tonight, once the sun had set—once the profound dark of the farmland all around them asserted itself—he wouldn’t survive it. You couldn’t. That was the nature of the noise; it was horror, in some distilled way, in a single, very brief moment.”
Talking about how it made Archie fall to his knees is good, and when Clay thinks how he doesn’t think he could survive it if it happened again also tells you how bad it was. We didn’t need everything else. By the way, the noise does happen like three more times in the book but just happens once in the movie.
This was also just a hard book to get through. I just did not care! I didn’t find the characters interesting, and was not at all curious or invested in the events. There should have been so much tension with a story like this and so much dread, but even when Archies’s teeth are coming out I was just like, whatever.
I also thought the ending was stupid.
I will say the movie had more suspense than the book did, and I also thought there were some cool camera angles and the music added to the tension. I was a bit more interested in the characters as well.
Even so, this movie could have been 40 minutes shorter. It absolutely did not need to be 2h22m, like come on! Like the book, it was pretty bloated. The movie was also very heavy handed with its message which is also similar to the book-not trusting the audience to understand nuance or subtleties. There is a line when Clay, who teaches media studies, say how media is a form of escape for us, and yet media is also a reflection of who we are. And I get it, this movie is going to show us how screwed up America is and yet we are watching it as a form of escape. It isn’t the worst way to tell the audience a movie’s intent, but it seems like the book and movie think their audience is dumb and needs to be spoon fed.
It is a pretty faithful adaptation though as far as the plot goes. There are some changes though I will touch on and I did want to share my thoughts on the ending.
From here on out there will be spoilers!
For starters, in the book Ruth is G.H.’s wife, whereas in the movie it is his daughter. In the book they are also in their 60’s. In the movie, the wife/mom is on a flight home and once things get bad, it is safe to say she is dead.
In the movie, Ruth the daughter was so rude when they show up, whereas in the book she tried to be polite. You can’t blame Amanda for being put off. They rented this place (I’m sure they paid a pretty penny) so when the owner randomly shows up and says they need to stay there I would be pretty bothered and annoyed. But in the movie Ruth keeps commenting about it being their house and in general just has so much attitude. Granted, so does Amanda.
Speaking of Amanda, her thing in this movie is how much she hates people which got old real quick. She may hate people, but she loved talking about how she hates people.
G.H. in the book worked in finance and this is the same in the movie but in the movie, he says how he works with some well-known guy, kept saying Amanda would know him if he told her his name, but like, it’s the end of the world man just tell her the freakin name who cares. Anyway, this guy is in the inner circle of world leaders and had a heads up that something bad was going to happen. In the book G.H. says how he had a dream that something would happen, but he didn’t have a connection that told him.
Clay in the book is pretty much the same in both.
The explanation behind it all
In the movie there are a lot more things that happen. A tanker comes onto the beach (in the book they leave the beach because it is too windy). They see self-driving cars that are going to the same place and crashing. A helicopter is dropping papers written in foreign languages that say death to America. G.H. goes to a neighbor’s house and it is a mess and he sees all of these dead bodies and then a plane crashes on the property. None of this is in the book. Throughout the book we do hear of different things that are happening in other parts of the country, but none of the main characters are witnessing it.
In the book we do get the hundreds of deer and flamingo’s that are seen migrating. We also have the huge noise in both, and in both Archie gets sick. Clay also gets lost when he is out driving and he sees a woman who needs help but leaves her. In the movie he confessed this to Ruth, but in the book he confesses it to G.H. when they are in the car with Archie.
In the book there is not explanation for any of this. But in the movie, they say that other world powers are banding together to ruin the US. But he says how their plan can only work if the country is already precarious, which it is, so their plan to get the US into a civil war seems to be working.
Speaking of people turning against each other. In book and movie G.H. knows a contractor named Danny and he is certain Danny will know what to do. In both, they see Danny and he is super closed off and doesn’t offer any help. In the movie, he does sell them pills to give to Archie but not til after they have all pulled guns on each other, this and the pills weren’t in the book.
If I had been liking the book more, I would have liked the way this scene subverts expectations. We think Danny will have answers, but instead he is super closed off. But at this point I just wanted it to be over. I can appreciate a depressing story about human nature, but this one just tackled the subject poorly.
Book and movie message
The scene with Danny brings us back to the message of how people suck and you can’t rely on anybody. To be fair, in the movie he does help them kind of because he has the pills (which he sells for a few hundred) but he also tells them to go to this other persons house who has a bunker.
Alam tries to tackle a number of topics such as our base, animal instincts, racism, and religion. But he does so in such cliche ways that aren’t thought provoking at all. The thoughts Clay and Amanda have in regards to G.H. and Ruth (in the book their last name is Washington by the way, but in the movie is it Scott) their thoughts in the book were so cliche but also didn’t feel like it fit with who these people are. They are acting like they have never been around black people, but they are from New York City, which is such a diverse place. There has to be black people in their circle of friends or co-workers. So why are they acting so weird in regard to their race? He should have had them be from some city that is known for being very white.
Religion is brought up often too because all of the characters have no belief in any higher power. Seems like he is making a point that if they were religious, that would have brought them comfort, and would have been away to explain things-the power/wrath of God. Whether he thinks religion is a strength or a crutch I am not quite sure though.
The book does have the message of how you can’t rely on the help of strangers, which again comes back to Amanda’s hate for people. I assumed this was setting her up to have a change of heart, and by the end I guess she realizes G.H. and Ruth are the only people that have. She also “bonds” with Ruth when they have to scare off a bunch of deer. But I wouldn’t really say she changes her attitude in general. Having said that, if they did have this cheesy arc of her realizing she is wrong about human nature, I would have rolled my eyes. I guess I wouldn’t have been happy either way because this movie, like the book, was too meandering and heavy handed.
The book and movie end with Rose, the 13-year-old daughter of Amanda and Clay, going missing. In the book her being missing was a bigger deal than the movie, Archie being sick was also more dire in the book as well. The scene with his teeth coming out was much more effective in the movie though then it had been in the book.
But in the end, we see Rose went to a nearby house to see what she could find. In the movie she had been wanting to watch the finale of Friends, and she ends up in the house with the bunker that Danny mentioned, and they have a ton of DVD’s, including the Friends box set and she can finally watch the show.
In the book, she finds the Friends box set, but that was the first time in the book the show was even mentioned. But she stocks up on things, then is heading back to her family and we read, “If they didn’t know how it would end—with night, with more terrible noise from the top of Olympus, with bombs, with disease, with blood, with happiness, with deer or something else watching them from the darkened woods—well, wasn’t that true of every day?”
Which I thought was a dumb ending. Like I get it’s saying that we don’t know what the future holds so we need to embrace the unknown and make the most with what we have, I guess. But it is just so trite.
(I wasn’t even a huge fan of Cabin at the End of the World, but that book handles these topics better than this one does.)
Book vs movie
I didn’t really like either of these, but I really disliked the book so when it comes to book vs movie, I will say the movie wins. I wouldn’t recommend the movie though. It has a lot of high reviews on letterboxd which I was kind of confused by. Like it is fine, but I don’t think it deserves anything above maybe a 2.5. (I gave it 2/5). But to each their own! This is on Netflix, so since it’s free if you have an account, give it a shot and maybe you will like it.
By the way, the movie is on Netflix and is promoting owning physical media and the show Friends (which Netflix doesn’t carry), pretty ironic.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments. If you are a fan of either of these and watched this video all the way through, I am sorry to have just talked crap about them. Share in the comments why you do like either book or movie! And for those who agree with me, comment down below and we can commiserate.
If you want another end of the world kind of book that takes place in a vacation/summer town, check out my video for The Mist Stephen King movie! This story is different but has some similarities and I liked this one much much more.