Light Wave


Obama-produced apocalyptic thriller generates buzz among Netflix viewers

By Jake Beardslee · December 11, 2023

In brief…

  • Obamas produce first fictional film "Leave the World Behind"
  • Apocalyptic thriller directed by Sam Esmail
  • Concludes with confusing "Friends" twist ending author calls "satisfying"
The author of the apocalyptic thriller "Leave the World Behind" approves of the Netflix film's twist ending involving "Friends," feeling the confusion it creates for audiences captures the spirit of his ambiguous story.  The White House from Washington, DC/Wikimedia

The shocking conclusion of the Netflix adaptation of Rumaan Alam’s apocalyptic thriller “Leave the World Behind” has the novel’s author applauding, according to Variety.

The film marks Barack and Michelle Obama’s first foray into fictional filmmaking through their Higher Ground Productions company’s deal with Netflix.

Director Sam Esmail chose to end the Obama-produced film version with the runaway daughter Rosie, played by Farrah Mackenzie, finally viewing the “Friends” finale on DVD after finding a generator, a creative liberty not present in Alam’s book. While some elements are left open to interpretation, Alam told Variety that the ending “so satisfying and so rewarding.” He said, “To end with the particular jolt of humor that [Sam] does is so satisfying.”

The Obamas provided notes for Esmail on the film, which stars Julia Roberts, Mahershala Ali, Kevin Bacon and Ethan Hawke. It centers on a family’s vacation being upended when a cyberattack knocks out power and two strangers, played by Ali and Myha’la Herrold, show up claiming to own the rental home.

Rather than tidy resolution, Alam feels it would “be so dissatisfying” to reveal the fates of all characters. He stated, “It’s a film that respects you as a viewer enough to not provide that.” A key moment comes when Amanda, played by Julia Roberts, and Myha’la Herrold’s Ruth come to an understanding but don’t embrace. As Alam said, “It’s not that kind of story.”

Alam trusts Esmail’s translation of the story’s ambiguity from page to screen. At the premiere, he told People, “I feel personally that the film elicits a response in its audience that I hope my book did too.”