“We’re All Gone”: A Postsecular Account of The Leftovers’ Traumatic Existentialism as ‘Religious Ground Zero’



Postsecularism, Postsecular Narratives, Structural Trauma, Existentialism, Memory


With his adaptation of Tom Perrotta’s novel, Lindelof made another step in a journey in which philosophical and specifically existentialist interrogations play a crucial role: questions about life, human existence, meaning and purpose, the role of the human being in the society, and at a cosmic, universal level. This article considers and explores The Leftovers’ widely recognized existentialist dimension by, on the one hand, framing it within the overall postsecular narrative of the show and, on the other, suggesting both a literal and metaphorical reading of the Departure through the categories of structural and historical trauma.

The Leftovers manages to pose profound and far-reaching questions to its audience, about the meaning of human life in the universal scheme but also in other people’s everyday lives, while at the same time using the Departure as a metaphor for the human condition in the contemporary traumatic age. In the words of Perrotta and Lindelof, the Departure is “a foundational event,” in consequence of which characters live “in a religious ground zero.” Different kinds of attitude, explanation, interpretation—ranging from the scientific to the religious, spiritual, and nihilistic—all cohabit and complement each other within the narrative, embodying both a general demand for spirituality, various nonreligious choices, and different paths toward meaning. In this sense, it is possible to read the Departure, following Charles Taylor, as having a sort of Nova Effect that explodes and rearranges all previous beliefs. But the Departure also contains in itself different kinds of trauma: individual, historical, and also structural. It is thus possible to define The Leftovers as an expression of traumatic existentialism. All the different characters or groups of them represent different ways of coping with trauma and with different kinds of trauma; at the same time, different forms and different roles of memory are also embodied by different characters.

The aim of the present study is thus to show how, by bringing together reflections on the individual and cultural consequences of a collective trauma and existentialist meditations, the series realizes a journey from an aesthetic of disorientation to an affirmative ethic of relativity.




How to Cite

Biano, I. (2021). “We’re All Gone”: A Postsecular Account of The Leftovers’ Traumatic Existentialism as ‘Religious Ground Zero’. Cinema: Journal of Philosophy and the Moving Image, (13), 72–81. Retrieved from https://cinema.fcsh.unl.pt/index.php/revista/article/view/4