What if your life was upended in an instant? What if your spouse or your child disappeared right in front of your eyes? Was it the Rapture or something even more difficult to explain? How would you rebuild your life in the wake of such a devastating event? These are the questions confronting the bewildered citizens of Mapleton, a formerly comfortable suburban community that lost over a hundred people in the Sudden Departure. Kevin Garvey, the new mayor, wants to move forward, to bring a sense of renewed hope and purpose to his traumatized neighbors, even as his own family d isintegrates. His wife, Laurie, has left him to enlist in the Guilty Remnant, a homegrown cult whose members take a vow of silence but haunt the town’s streets as “living reminders” of God’s judgment. His son, Tom, is gone, too, dropping out of college to follow a crooked “prophet” who calls himself Holy Wayne. Only his teenaged daughter, Jill, remains, and she’s definitely not the sweet “A” student she used to be. (series synopsis via BTV Guide)
When I was growing up as the son of a Baptist pastor, the Rapture was one of those things that loomed over my consciousness in an almost ever present way.
No matter where you turned, someone somewhere would be invoking it as one of those magnificently impressive things God would do when the Second Coming of Jesus was in the offing.
It was generally acclaimed as a good and holy thing, of course, a just reward for the faithful and pious who had held on to their devotion to God in a corrupt and wicked world, a Get Out of Jail Free ticket so you didn’t have to deal with the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, the judging of the living and the dead, war, disease, and Satan’s minions masquerading as angels of light.
In other words, all the crappy end of the world stuff so beloved of directors like Roland Emmerich (and clearly God), that no one in their right mind would want to go through if they could avoid it.
Unfortunately humanity isn’t able to dodge the terrifying disappearance of 2% of the earth’s population who up and disappear to parts unknown in The Leftovers, an upcoming HBO series based on the book of the same name by Tom Perrotta, and it is every bit as terrifying and cataclysmically disruptive as you’d expect it to be.
And keeping to the spirit of Perrotta’s often confronting and disturbing book – he accurately depicts a community in free-fall turmoil – the series doesn’t appear to shy away from portraying the deleterious effects of a whole lot of people suddenly being ripped out from family and friends and society at large with no warning.
And to quote a review of Perotta’s book by Stephen King in The New York Times, society does not handle this inexplicable event at all well:
“Perrotta has delivered a troubling disquisition on how ordinary people react to extraordinary and inexplicable events, the power of family to hurt and to heal, and the unobtrusive ease with which faith can slide into fanaticism. The Leftovers is, simply put, the best Twilight Zone episode you never saw — not “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” but “The Monsters Are Us in Mapleton.” That they are quiet monsters only makes them more eerie.”
Admittedly a lot of the Christian Second Coming movies I saw as a child – yes this was actually a genre and a quite virulent one at that – didn’t gild the apocalyptic lily since it was in their interests to make things look as bad for non-believers as possible, but there is something pleasingly dark about The Leftovers that transcends even the shock horror tactics of God’s own film makers.
Like The Walking Dead, Falling Skies and countless other shows have shown, civilisation is only skin deep, and when it crumbles catastrophically and suddenly, humanity doesn’t always end up sitting with the better angels of its nature (however much we’d like to think we would).
Which is just as well really for those of us who appreciate unflinching, brutally honest drama.
The hard, cold reality of a society falling to very ugly pieces will be shown in all its engrossing tarnished glory when The Leftovers premieres on 29 June on HBO.