What does Deer Symbolize in ‘Leave the World Behind’?

*Spoilers Ahead*

In the Netflix adaptation of Rumaan Alam’s novel Leave the World Behind, a peculiar element that has caught the attention of viewers is the recurring presence of deer. These animals, typically seen as peaceful creatures, are portrayed in a more ominous light in the film, leading to various interpretations of their symbolic significance.

The film introduces the deer through the character played by Farrah Mackenzie, who first notices an unusually large number of them in the backyard. This sighting is dismissed by her brother, but the deer soon becomes a more prominent and menacing presence. A pivotal scene involves a massive herd surrounding Julia Roberts and Myha’la Herrold’s characters, creating a sense of impending danger.

Why do the deer act strange in Leave the World Behind?

The strange behavior of the deer and other animals in the film is linked to a cyberattack on the United States, resulting in a catastrophic environmental disaster in the south. This event disrupts animal migration patterns, leading to unusual animal behavior. In the source novel, the character Danny, portrayed by Kevin Bacon, theorizes that the deer are responding to a disaster, indicating a mass migration as a survival instinct.

What do the deer symbolize in Leave the World Behind?

The deer in Leave the World Behind is interpreted as a metaphor for the human population, stripped down to their basic survival instincts in the face of disaster. This is exemplified in the scene where Roberts and Herrold’s characters confront the deer, mirroring a similar scene between Kevin Bacon and Mahershala Ali. Both scenarios depict a fight-or-flight response, highlighting the primal instincts shared by humans and animals.

Director Sam Esmail commented on this symbolism, noting the transformation of the deer’s image from peaceful to threatening. He aimed to subvert the typical perception of deer and use them as a symbol of warning and fear.

A passage from Alam’s book further elucidates the symbolism of the deer. It suggests that the disaster has such a traumatic impact on the deer that it alters their physical form, a metaphor for the intergenerational trauma faced by groups who have endured atrocities. This theme takes on additional meaning in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, reflecting the collective trauma experienced globally.

Behind-the-Scenes Insights

Myha’la Herrold shared insights into the filming of the final deer scene, revealing the use of CGI props and crew members in place of the actual deer. This anecdote sheds light on the filmmaking process and the challenges of portraying such a significant symbolic element.

The deer in Leave the World Behind serves as a multifaceted symbol. They represent the primal instincts of survival, the impact of environmental disasters, and the broader theme of intergenerational trauma. Their portrayal challenges viewers to reconsider their perceptions of these animals and contemplate the deeper meanings embedded within the film’s narrative.

ALSO READ: What Did the Spanish Lady Say in ‘Leave the World Behind’?

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