We will not recover from Scepticism unless we aim to the Existential: Emotional Engagement and Popular Music in The Leftovers



The Leftovers, Stanley Cavell, Popular Music, Scepticism, New Television


Our article is aimed at achieving two primary goals: on the one hand, detailing the main links that can be found between The Leftovers and Cavell’s insights into scepticism and the moving image and, on the other, explaining different ways in which the use of pop songs in the show contributes to that reading in Cavellian fashion. We start by offering a general overview of Cavell’s considerations on scepticism, including some remarks on the ontology of the moving image and the two movie genres—the remarriage comedies and the melodramas of the unknown woman—the philosopher focused his readings on. From that starting point, we go on to analyse the show’s passages that are most relevant for our purposes, paying special attention to those in which popular songs best show their expressive potential in relation to the images they accompany. By following the evolution of the main character and focusing mostly on Season Two, the first part of the analysis highlights how the inclusion of popular music helps to outline crucial aspects that are related to the task of self-knowledge and self-transformation such as the fact of taking oneself as other, the conception of scepticism both as a threat and as an impulse to recovery and the cyclic condition of the sceptical menace. The second section deals with the notions of avoidance and acknowledgement through the examination of Nora and Kevin’s relationship. We comment then as to the extent to which a song and its variations play a part in associating their attitude of remaining unknown to the other with their separation. Besides, we explain how the music outlines the couple’s longing for re-establishing the relationship in the series finale. The last section of the analysis reveals that the possibilities of recovery The Leftovers offers to its spectator transcend the mere passive tracking of the main characters’ path. Due to the attention paid to questions as identification, the intertwining of diegetic and non-diegetic songs and the use of anempathetic music or intertextual games we show the way the series displays a tense estrangement/closeness dynamics to the viewer, who is then forced into a hermeneutic exercise that cannot be reduced to logical operations.




How to Cite

Burgos, E. (2021). We will not recover from Scepticism unless we aim to the Existential: Emotional Engagement and Popular Music in The Leftovers. Cinema: Journal of Philosophy and the Moving Image, (13), 41–60. Retrieved from https://cinema.fcsh.unl.pt/index.php/revista/article/view/2