Damon Lindelof on the “mythology” of The Leftovers

The New York Times has a new profile of Damon Lindelof, the former Lost producer who has since worked on the Star Trek franchise and done rewrites for Ridley Scott’s Prometheus and Marc Forster’s World War Z, etc.

Most of the article looks at Lindelof’s background, how he dealt with the negative fallout from the final episode of Lost, and how he hopes to avoid that sort of thing with his new show, The Leftovers — but along the way there are some interesting tidbits about the new show itself.

First, there’s the premise:

The conceit of “The Leftovers” is also a kind of trick: 2 percent of the earth’s population disappears one day with no explanation. There appears to be no common denominator to the people who go missing. Condoleezza Rice is gone. The pope is gone. So is Gary Busey. It may be the Christian Rapture — when believers ascend to heaven — or it may not. The story begins on the third anniversary of what has become known as the Sudden Departure, and focuses on characters living in a world that is trying to figure out how to move on.

The reporter says there is “no common denominator” to the people who have gone missing, but all three of the individuals mentioned here have publicly self-identified as Christian (and one of them has acted in a Rapture movie of his own). So, hmmm.

Note also that this series begins three years after the “Sudden Departure”. If this show was following the dispensationalist timetable a la Left Behind, this would be almost half-way through the Tribulation, and just six months before things get really bad. But as far as I can tell, there is no Antichrist in this series, so, again, hmmm.

Then there’s this bit about the research the TV show’s writers did, and how they have changed the premise of the show from that of the book:

The first thing Lindelof did when he assembled the writers’ room for “The Leftovers” was to set his eight writers on the task of trying to understand the world that would come to exist in the years following an event as huge as the Sudden Departure. Two percent of the population isn’t a lot of people, he explained, but it’s enough to have affected many families, as well as rocked people’s notions of faith. In the wake of this, he asked his writers, how would the world react? Some people would find religion; others would leave it. . . .

He also wanted a different perspective on the Departure than the book provided. The book’s protagonist, Kevin, was the mayor of a town, but for the pilot Lindelof recast him as the police chief. “I just wanted him to be on the front lines of stress and aggravation,” Lindelof says. “If the world is on the precipice of tipping toward the brink, if people are losing their minds, if people are destabilized, if people are acting violently or they’re depressed, the cops are constantly going to be dealing with those issues. And I want him to be on the inside of that as opposed to the outside of that.”

The writers eventually spent a full month just discussing these issues, both specifically and generally — studying the Old Testament, debating personal philosophies, and then working to create a sustainable mythology for the show before they started scripting episodes.

I’m intrigued by the reporter’s claim that the writers studied the Old Testament. Did they study the New Testament at all? The article doesn’t say.

Dispensationalists rely on both testaments, of course, citing not only the various bits about the second coming of Christ but also the prophecies of Daniel and others. But still: given that the Rapture was originally a Christian idea, you can’t really make much sense of it without at least some knowledge of the New Testament.

Then again, it seems Lindelof and his team may have taken the Rapture out of its original theological context and developed a “sustainable mythology” of their own. It will be interesting to see what resemblance this new mythology bears, if any, to the mythology that started it all. One thing’s for sure: it will be less predictable.

The Leftovers premieres June 29 on HBO.

About Peter T. Chattaway

Peter T. Chattaway was the regular film critic for BC Christian News from 1992 to 2011. In addition to his film column, which won multiple awards from the Evangelical Press Association, the Canadian Church Press and the Fellowship of Christian Newspapers, his news and opinion pieces have appeared in such publications as Books & Culture, Christianity Today, Bible Review and the Vancouver Sun. He also contributed essays to the books Re-Viewing The Passion: Mel Gibson’s Film and Its Critics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) and Scandalizing Jesus?: Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ Fifty Years on (Continuum, 2005).


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