Mahershala Ali, My'hala, Julia Roberts, and Ethan Hawke in Leave the World Behind

Let’s Break Down All the ‘Leave the World Behind’ Easter Eggs We Can Find

Throughout the entirety of Leave the World Behind, viewers get the feeling that there’s some kind of ungraspable hidden meaning just below the surface. The nailbiting journey to crack this mystery, to understand what terrible catastrophe is impacting these characters’ world, is heightened by writer/director Sam Esmail’s liberal use of smaller mysteries throughout.

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Leave the World Behind is full of easter eggs and sly references that reinforce the film’s messages and overall tone of mystery and disaster.

***Spoilers for Leave the World Behind ahead***

General symbolism

The term “easter egg” refers to a hidden or otherwise obscure message in media, dropped as a little gift to those with a deeper knowledge of the content or genre. The phrase has become pretty inflated over the years, and lots of people use it to refer to, say, general symbolism, of which this movie has a ton. Personally, I wouldn’t consider something like the mystery of the deer to be an easter egg, but I know some feel different.

I also wouldn’t consider this a true easter egg, but there’s some cool stuff being done with visual symbolism in the movie that viewers might easily miss. (There are also numerous direct references and broader homages to iconic cinematic masters of suspense throughout.)

In Leave the World Behind, the Sandford family takes a last-minute vacation to a rental house on Long Island. The upscale house is filled with large art pieces—which actually change throughout the film to reflect what’s happening. The large wall art in the house’s living room becomes more chaotic as time goes on. Similarly, there’s a mural in the bedroom depicting a seascape, with the waves growing larger and choppier as the action of the movie gets more frenzied.

Scroll through the photos below to see for yourself:

In Leave The World Behind (2023), the large wall painting changes over the course of the movie to symbolise the increasing chaos and disorder, while the bedroom mural changing represents the impending peril the characters are experiencing and how overwhelmed they’re becoming.
byu/Sad_Bat_9059 inMovieDetails

A piece of symbolism and a direct reference I would definitely consider an easter egg is the name of the ship that runs aground when the Sandfords are at the beach. The ship’s name is prominently displayed without comment. But those in the know would have remembered the White Lion was also the name of the ship that brought the first African slaves to the United States. America’s (and humanity’s) penchant for racist ugliness is a core theme in the film.

Beachgoers run as a large ship comes dangerously close to shore.

Pop culture references

There are a ton of pop culture references in Leave the World Behind, most notably Rose Sandford’s (Farrah Mackenzie) obsession with Friends. The West Wing and Donnie Darko also get shoutouts. I wouldn’t consider any of these actual easter eggs, but they do offer commentary on how we use pop culture to cope during a disaster, as we have all experienced firsthand during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Edging closer to real easter egg territory, some of the clothing worn by characters offers an unspoken look at their personalities. Ethan Hawke’s character Clay is an aging professor who clearly sees his own identity as a guy who “gets it.” He’s a “good guy,” a feminist, a cool, hip Gen X-er, as perfectly summed up by his Bikini Kill t-shirt, referencing the legendary riot grrrl pioneers.

Clay’s need to put that identity on display belies its fragility, though, as we see with his refusal to think beyond a language barrier to help a woman in need, and Ruth’s insistence that he can’t have a conversation with her without mentally sexualizing her.

Clay’s children also wear their personalities on their clothing. Rose’s NASA shirt reflects her desire for escapism and Archie (Charlie Evans) wears a t-shirt by Obey Clothing, which takes themes and images from John Carpenter’s film They Live—a movie that’s all about secret messages in media used to subdue the general population and the extremely shady behaviors of the social elite.

While not a pop culture reference—just culture culture, or political/historical culture—one of my favorite little not-so-subtle easter eggs was when the Sandfords’ car radio is briefly set to 1619, an undoubtable reference to Nikole Hannah-Jones’ 1619 Project, which reframes the concept of American history around its inextricable relationship with slavery.

There are also some literary easter eggs in the movie. At the very start of the movie, as Clay wakes up to find his wife packing for their inexplicably sudden vacation, eagle-eyed viewers might note that the book on Amanda’s nightstand is Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink, which is all about “thinking without thinking”—the snap judgments and split-second decisions we make without realizing all the information we’ve processed to make those choices.

A shared universe

Speaking of books, Amanda’s vacation read, as seen on her nightstand later in the film, is a book titled “Beach Towel” by Otto Irving, a character from Mr. Robot, which was created by Leave the World Behind’s writer and director Sam Esmail.

For those wondering: Beach Towel – A Novel
by inMrRobot

That’s just one hint that these two pieces of media exist in a shared universe. When we meet Kevin Bacon’s prepper character, he’s loading up his pickup truck, which contains a number of large yellow “E Corp” containers, referencing the giant evil corporation at the center of Mr. Robot. An E Corp laptop can also be seen in the house’s kitchen at one point. And a discussion of hackers nearly causing a meltdown at a power plant is a direct reference to the show.

What easter eggs did you find in Leave the World Behind that weren’t mentioned here? Let us know in the comments!

(featured image: Netflix)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.