This post is my attempt to thank Mr. Lindelof, Mr. Perrotta, Ms. Leder, and the rest of their team for creating The Leftovers and to explain why their story has become the truest reflection of my own story.
This post also contains spoilers concerning both The Leftovers and my life not necessarily in that order.
Good luck and here we go:
I was seventeen when two intruders broke into my house, killed my father, beat my mother and twin brother into comas, and left my little sister and I unharmed but forced to move in with my aunt and uncle. My older brother and his friend were the intruders.
For five years, my family has been overcoming this tragedy.
For three seasons, however, I have found catharsis in watching another family overcoming their own tragedy.
While I have found other films and series that have helped depict my grief such as In the Bedroom, Dear Zachary, Manchester by the Sea, and even last year’s underappreciated The Invitation, none of these have captured my trauma entirely as I experienced it. In fact, what all of these are either missing or simply not emphasizing is the absurdity of my situation.
Enter a giant inflatable Gary Busey.
But first, let me back up and say that after several years of reflection and plenty of uncertified self-diagnosis, I have found that my strongest coping mechanism is my sense of humor. Thanks to a dad with a dry wit and a mom with an infectious laugh, I inherited their ability to take a hit and brush it off with a joke. Therefore, when tragedy struck, I grasped on to this sense of humor more than ever before and I now believe that it is what has helped me most in finding the inner strength to keep moving forward.
Now I’d like to take a moment and point out that this doesn’t mean I’ve survived all on my own because through it all I’ve had an incredible community of family and friends who have supported me as well as a little sister who has inspired me. Even better though, I still have my mom and twin brother who have both made miraculous recoveries and who continue to improve every day.
As for my older brother and his friend, to avoid a life filled with anger and resentment, I chose to follow my mom’s example and forgive them.
That being said, I still have days on which I fall back. Oftentimes, these are the days on which I miss my dad the most and wish that he was still around for me to be with, to seek advice from, or even just to talk about the stuff that we used to bond over:
A Cat Stevens song that I heard. An indie film that I watched. But more than anything right now, a powerful TV show that I just finished.
To be more concise, these are the days on which I can’t help but hope to find some reason for my father’s death, but more broadly put, these are the days on which I wish I could find some sense of meaning hidden within life’s random meaninglessness.
As those of you who have seen it can imagine, it is on these days that I feel most connected with The Leftovers’s understandably melancholy first season:
I feel like Kevin trying to ask Laurie why she left him for the Guilty Remnant only to receive silence.
I feel like Nora trying to bring back her family by buying the same groceries every day only to wake up and find a lonely house.
And I even feel like Tommy struggling to understand why his biological father abandoned him even when the father who raised him and still cares for him is sitting beside him.
Fortunately for me, there are many more days on which I can find the comedy in my own tragedy, and embrace it. In fact, one of these days occurred just last week when my mom, sister, twin brother, and I were out to eat together.
As were talking about a time my sister fell off her bike and ended up with a scar on her knee, my brother decided it was a good time to challenge her to a scar-off, which meant taking his shirt off in the middle of the restaurant so that he could show off a larger scar across his stomach from when he was still in his coma and needed to be hooked up to a feeding tube.
Fortunately for the other diners, my mom stopped him before he got it all the way off. Fortunately for us, a couple of comas haven’t stopped us from having fun.
Or getting naked in public. Well, trying to at least.
But again, as those of you who have seen the show can also imagine, it is on days like this that I am most thankful for the humor of its third season:
I feel like Erika in her new home who is okay with the death of her daughter because she has a trampoline to jump on.
I feel like the man on the pillar who is alright with standing alone because he has a photo of himself with an orca to keep him company.
And I feel like a “terminally-ill gecko” who is fine with writing a “Matt-libbed” obituary for and with his sister because he’s chosen to embrace their last moments together rather than to ignore them.
This is as good a time as ever to confess that it was this latter character with whom I have associated most throughout the show. As I watched Matt grapple with the guilt of God leaving him behind after a potential Rapture, struggle to care for his comatose wife every day rain or shine (sadly, the former is more common), and finally realize that his own cancer was random and that the Departure was arbitrary, I found him and his experiences to be the best representation of myself and my own experiences time and time again.
Thus, while I’ll admit that these parallels were a little frightening at times—such as when he potentially killed a man who stole from him, or when he calculatingly told his grieving sister the truth about her cheating husband, but most disturbingly, when he yelled at and grabbed his paralyzed wife in desperate frustration—they also provided me with some of the show’s most cathartic moments.
One of these moments was when he stopped to check on a pair of Guilty Remnants who had just been stoned, not knowing that their attackers would soon stone him as well (which would then put him into a three-day coma during which time the Guilty Remnant would take his church from him (but that’s beside the point)).
One of these moments was also when he went through all of the trouble of pushing his wife in her wheelchair back into the holy city limits of Jarden, only to turn back alone and return to Outer Jarden where he then climbed onto a truck and into wooden stocks so as to relieve the previous naked and repenting sinner and become the next naked and repenting sinner.
One of the greatest of these moments however was when Matt stood on top of a ferry transporting a lion-themed orgy and recognized, accepted, and embraced the absurdity of both his situation and his beliefs.
So thank you to the show for giving me these moments, and thank you to Christopher Eccleston for portraying one of fiction’s greatest and most complex holy men and for making him so goddamned (pun intended) relatable.
To be honest, the complicated nature of my family’s situation has made speaking openly about it difficult. If someone doesn’t already know, it can be impossible to bring up, but even if they do know, it can still be uncomfortable to bring up.
As such, one of the best outcomes of this show has been the opportunity that it’s given me to have complex conversations about its themes of life, death, loss, and tragedy, because of the chance that these discussions have offered me to deal indirectly with my own feelings of life, death, loss, and of course tragedy.
Consequently, throughout the show, but even more so since the finale—which could fill its own entire post thanks in no small part to Ms. Leder’s masterfully understated direction, Ms. Coon and Mr. Theroux’s heartbreakingly beautiful acting, and the show’s brilliant use of the brilliant Otis Redding—I have been recommending it to everyone who will listen to me and even those who won’t. As a result, I’m excited to report that the show has already sparked a great deal of the rewarding conversations described above.
In other words, it’s given me the chance to talk honestly about matters that have otherwise been challenging to discuss.
Just as a momentary aside: I’m not normally one to cry during movies and TV, but I may or may not have cried during half or more of this finale, and after finishing it in my bed at about 2 in the morning, I lay awake long enough to watch the sun come up through my window. And over the course of those hours, I was in a constant state of emotional flux somewhere between wanting to curl up in a dark corner alone and wishing I could run outside to hug everyone and everything I see.
The finale was good.
But because one aside is not enough: as I was writing this post, a friend of mine texted me as she is currently catching up on the series and has just finished “Certified.” Considering this may be a sign from above, I’d like to take a moment here and congratulate the show (but especially especially especially Amy Brenneman) for taking one of its saddest and most broken characters and making her practically its hero or at least its sanity barometer for a few episodes.
Also, as much as I loved that hauntingly ambiguous ending, I’ll admit that I was very thankful for Laurie’s curtain call in the finale.
Okay, all asides to the side.
Returning to the absurd though, I’ll admit that it’s only been a couple of years since I first discovered that this philosophy I’ve somewhat stumbled into is actually called absurdism. In fact, I just graduated as a film and TV major from the University of Notre Dame where I spent a large part of my senior year working on an undergrad thesis centered around absurdism as a storytelling technique. And while a lot of it was focused on the usual absurdist filmmakers, I can only wish that I had had the chance to include the third season of The Leftovers in my research.
Because if truth be told, now that I’m a well-studied, extremely qualified, and proudly pretentious absurdist scholar, I consider this final season (even more so than the two before it) to be the dark horse nomination for the 21st century’s most essential absurdist text.
Because for real: What does an usher do when she realizes there’s no way to stop people’s endless supply of beach balls? She stops trying to pop them and chooses to play with them instead.
Or in Nora’s case, she climbs into a Brundlefly Vaporizer.
And so, as I get ready to enter into the television industry with the hopes of one day being a writer myself (although I’m ready for the requisite years of coffee-getting, phone-answering, and general-bitch-work-doing), it’s safe to say that from here on out The Leftovers will be the defining benchmark beside which I will measure every project that I’m lucky enough to work on and contribute to.
So thanks to Mr. Lindelof, Mr. Perotta, Ms. Leder, and the rest of their team for creating this story and for setting the bar so goddamn (no pun intended) high for my own stories.
CliffNotes: I have found comedy in tragedy, so thank you to The Leftovers for finding it too.