The Sanford family running from a boat in Leave the World Behind

The White Lion Ship in ‘Leave the World Behind’ Carries a Dark Historical Reference

Leave the World Behind is filled with symbolism and subtle references to real-life disasters. However, viewers may not have caught the significance of the oil tanker, which was named White Lion.

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Leave the World Behind has been dominating Netflix’s top movies chart since arriving on streaming on December 8. The film follows the Sanford family, whose vacation to Long Beach becomes a nightmare when the United States begins hurtling into chaos. With their technology malfunctioning and their rental Airbnb owners, G. H. (Mahershala Ali) and Ruth Scott (Myha’la), arriving on their doorstep, they struggle to understand what’s happening and who they can trust.

From the movie’s onset, viewers have a sinking feeling that something isn’t quite right. The camera angles and score help create an ominous tone. However, the White Lion is the first undeniable indication that something is very, very wrong.

What happens in the White Lion scene, and what does it mean?

The White Lion oil tanker in Leave the World Behind

Shortly after arriving at their vacation rental, the Sanfords decide to head to the beach and enjoy a day in the sun. While walking along the shore, the daughter, Rose (Farrah Mackenzie), notices a large oil tanker on the horizon. Of course, it’s not uncommon to see big boats in the distance, so the rest of the family isn’t too interested in it. However, Rose develops a sort of preoccupation with the ship, insisting that it’s getting closer. She continues watching the boat while the rest of the family lounges in the sun. After some time, she again warns her mother, Amanda (Julia Roberts), about the boat. When Amanda looks up, she’s shocked to see the enormous boat just feet from the shore.

Realizing that the boat isn’t stopping, the family quickly grabs their belongings and runs. They just narrowly move out of the oil tanker’s path as it crashes onto the beachfront amid a crowd of horrified tourists. It’s a very important moment in the film that foreshadows the unimaginable disasters to come. Additionally, it’s an event the characters are almost afraid to admit happened, highlighting their denial of the oncoming crisis.

The historical significance of the White Lion

Viewers might wonder if the boat in Leave the World Behind has a deeper meaning. Screen Rant suggests it might be based on the story of an oil tanker crashing into a residence near Istanbul in 2018. Like many of the disasters in the film, it could happen in real life. One other thing viewers might notice is the name. There was a ship in real life that was called The White Lion. The White Lion was the name of the English ship that brought the first enslaved Africans to the colony of Virginia in 1619, marking the beginning of slavery in the United States.

Given that Leave the World Behind is filled with symbolism, it doesn’t seem likely that the White Lion name was a coincidence. Especially since the radio station in the family’s car was set to 1619 at one point. However, none of the cast or crew have addressed what the White Lion reference means, leaving it to the viewer’s interpretation. It is most likely meant to reinforce the underlying commentary on race relations in America. Leave the World Behind boldly tackles racism with Amanda’s mistrust of G. H., the family’s reluctance to let the Scotts into their own home, and how, even after their behavior, they still seek and expect help from the Scotts. America’s history of slavery is one component that can’t be ignored in current conversations about race, making the White Lion reference a strong reinforcement of the film’s themes.

There’s also quite a bit of irony in how the White Lion kickstarted America’s darkest legacy, and then in Leave the World Behind, it also marks the beginning of the country’s end.

(featured image: Netflix)

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Rachel Ulatowski
Rachel Ulatowski is a Staff Writer for The Mary Sue, who frequently covers DC, Marvel, Star Wars, literature, and celebrity news. She has over three years of experience in the digital media and entertainment industry, and her works can also be found on Screen Rant, JustWatch, and Tell-Tale TV. She enjoys running, reading, snarking on YouTube personalities, and working on her future novel when she's not writing professionally. You can find more of her writing on Twitter at @RachelUlatowski.