‘The Leftovers’ Bosses Talk Existential Questions, Religion and The Rapture

The Leftovers is a new HBO series that premieres this Sunday, June 29th. Its plot revolves around a mysterious Rapture-like event that caused 2% of the world’s population to disappear, and follows the lives of those left behind to pick up the pieces.

Executive Producer Damon Lindelof (Emmy® winner for Lost) and acclaimed novelist and author of The Leftovers Tom Perrotta (Academy Award® nominee for Little Children; Election) collaborate on the series, and were generous enough to share some thoughts on their new drama:

Q: What makes “The Leftovers” different than other stories of a similar vein?
Damon Lindelof: I think what distinguishes The Leftovers the most is the idea that if you look outside your window, you can’t really tell that the end of the world has happened, unless you look very closely. There are no zombies out there that are trying to eat your brains, no mushroom cloud in the distance. So all the things that visually establish a universe as being at the end don’t exist here. It’s more of a look and a feel and the way that people behave that conveys it.

Q: What originally inspired you to write the book that became “The Leftovers”?
Tom Perrotta: Over the last ten years my work has been circling around a few big themes. One is parents and children, another is sex, and another is religion. I spent a lot of time reading and thinking about contemporary evangelical culture, and kept running into the fact that The Rapture isn’t a metaphor for some people. It’s something they believe in deeply and expect to happen. I tried to take the idea of The Rapture seriously, and imagine what the world might feel like in the wake of a mass disappearance.

In evangelical theology, The Rapture is a reward for the people who are taken away from this world, and a rebuke to those left behind. It leaves out the grief and confusion of the people left behind. In a way I didn’t fully understand at first, “The Leftovers” became an examination of collective grief, and I realized I was writing about a search for meaning in the wake of a terrible mystery. What would an authentic contemporary American religious upheaval look like?

I think one of the reasons the Western world is so secular right now is that we have a certain amount of control over our lives. We expect that we will live a long time and that things will make sense. The moment we lose control is when we start grasping for explanations. The book is really about the birth of religion as a response to trauma.

Q: What do you hope viewers will take away from the series?
DL: My hope is that the show taps into something emotional and personal for them. I think all of us have had some kind of experience with loss, or the fear of loss. We’ve all had some experience with the search for meaning and trying to understand why things happen. I think this world forces the characters, and therefore us, in a way, to think about the meaning of life and the existence of God. There’s certain existential questions that we can believe we know the answers to, but there’s no defined proof.

There are certainly characters in this show who are very interested in discovering the answers to the mystery of what “The Sudden Departure” meant and where they went, but I had to take this job knowing that there was a possibility that this show might never want to answer those questions, much in the same way that the mystery of life is that we don’t know what happens when we die.

Q: Is there something about the book “The Leftovers” that makes it especially suitable for a TV series?
TP: I think some readers who like their loose ends to be tied up might be a little frustrated with a book like this. There’s an open-ended quality to the story that TV viewers might be more patient with, because a series will keep going, while a novel will close down. I thought TV might be the way to go because I felt I wasn’t really done with that world when I finished the novel.

The Leftovers premieres Sunday June 29th on HBO at 10pm ET, right after an all-new True Blood.

We’ll definitely be tuning in to the premiere of The Leftovers this Sunday at 10pm ET on HBO, and we hope you will too. After the episode, be sure to come back and tell us what you thought!

Photo Credit: HBO


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