As is usually the case when a book is adapted, a few of us wondered, in the 4th Estate office, how true to the book The Leftovers HBO adaptation would be. The first question was, ‘who will be cast?’ An all-star cast was delivered to us. Second question: ‘do you think the disappearances will be limited to Mapleton, like in Tom Perrotta’s novel, or would the rapture be worldwide?’ The latter is true, and, to our delight, this aspect of the novel, like many others, is done so well that there were no grumbles the following day that ‘the book is so much better, they shouldn’t have bloody touched it’.
The first scene of episode one introduces us to life in Mapleton for the mother of a relentlessly screaming baby; frantic, tiresome, confusing. She goes to the car, straps the baby in, and the crying stops. The baby has gone. Across the road, cars, unmanned, crash into buildings. Screams fill the streets as the sudden absences of friends and loved ones is discovered.
Three years later; we see the leftovers. The ‘living remainders’ of the rapture. Some are trying their best, and failing, to continue living their lives the best they can. For others it’s visibly harder. A sect of white-clad, chain-smoking mutes, have accepted their fate, or rather, their and everyone else’s sins, and are silently antagonising Mapleton’s citizens; stalking, watching, judging.
The episode’s central focus is Kevin Garvey, Jr., Mapleton’s chief of police (played by Justin Theroux) who, in the novel, is the Mayor of the town. He’s the man trying to keep it all together; not just for himself, but for the town, whose mayor is a woman who, in her own way, is trying to keep things together too. Kevin is the father of Tom (a devotee of the Holy Wayne) and Jill (really trying her best to get through high school with a father trying to solve everybody’s problems, a mother who is technically absent, and a brother who upped and left, preferring not to stay and watch his family fragment). Kevin is the husband to Laurie, member of the Guilty Remnant, those previously white clad chain-smokers whose main objective is to make everybody feel generally uncomfortable and guilty about something they actually didn’t do. From the off, and forevermore, they will annoy you.
Although there are stark differences between the novel and adaptation, these changes are just right; they don’t feel forced, or shoehorned in to make the plot work for TV. These changes are carefully considered, well executed, and are, for the most part, unnoticeable. What the makers of the show have managed to do so well is, encapsulate the tone of complete loss that Perrotta wrote so well. We feel the pain of the characters, the despair, the loneliness, the longing for normality, the crushing acceptance that this is life now. We can’t help but empathise with Jill who, in a game of extreme spin the bottle, has to watch her best friend go upstairs to have sex with the boy of Jill’s dreams, while Jill herself is stuck choking (by request) the class clown while he ‘jerks off’ next to her. When you’re young, the pain of that is all-consuming. Imagine that, when the world as you knew it had dropped out from under your feet.
Although I’ve read the book, I’m looking forward to seeing where the TV show goes, because it’s got the advantage that the adaptation can move with our times. The show is current, often topical and it’s funny, which is pretty hard when you take the subject matter into consideration. It takes the pain, the disappointment, the upheavals and the conflicts that life throws at us, and presents a world where, when you’ve got nothing to lose, those living in it try to adapt and survive as best they can. If the book is anything to go by, we’re in for one hell of an emotional ride.
Words by Candice Carty-Williams
The Leftovers is shown on Sky Atlantic and Sky Atlantic HD on Tuesdays at 9pm
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