Stay Broken: Nietzsche, Badiou, and The Leftovers’ Nihilism


  • Patrick O’Connor Staffordshire University


The Leftovers, Nihilism, Badiou, Nietzsche, Ethics


This article examines The Leftovers as a response to variations of nihilism: theological, existential and scientific. Situating The Leftovers within existential responses to nihilism—particularly Friedrich Nietzsche—will be addressed. However, to fully come to terms with The Leftovers’ contribution to philosophy and popular culture it will be essential to examine the extent the series offers alternatives to nihilism. My argument will be that The Leftovers, as a form of film-philosophy offers a unique metaphysical art. The Leftovers, I argue, provides a type of “spiritual realism,” blending both materialist and metaphysical themes charting a ‘middle way’ between materialism and supernaturalism. Firstly, I aim to examine how far The Leftovers can be classified as a form of film-philosophy. I argue that The Leftovers can be considered a form of ethical film-philosophy, one which thinks a specific confrontation with nihilism. Secondly, I will assess how The Leftovers’ confrontation with nihilism specifically responds to affective disorders, or what Nietzsche called in The Will to Power the ways of ‘self-narcotization.’ The Leftovers, I argue, diagnoses the effects of nihilistic ‘deadening,’ most concretely through its illumination of affective disorder in the forms of anxiety, self-harm, violence, simmering aggression, social and political helplessness and fear for future generations. The Leftovers’ aesthetic and atmospheric force stages humanity’s vital response to a mélange of ongoing, looming and unfixed catastrophes, as posited in the series via psychological fragmentation, social collapse, familial breakdown, the apocalypticism of the Guilty Remnant. Finally, I will turn to Alain Badiou’s philosophy of cinema to assess the extent The Leftovers offers a cogent response to political questions. The Leftovers does, I argue, offer a form of temporal response to the perplexities of absurdity and mortality. We see alternative values emerge in form of tenacious survival, human resilience, and the indefatigable desire to transmit the conditions of existence towards a future despite the apocalyptic challenges faced. In the last analysis, I will assess whether to ‘let the mystery be’ is a sufficient response to nihilistic collapse.




How to Cite

O’Connor , P. (2021). Stay Broken: Nietzsche, Badiou, and The Leftovers’ Nihilism. Cinema: Journal of Philosophy and the Moving Image, (13), 22–40. Retrieved from