Damon Lindelof is no stranger to answers.
The writer parsed them out on Lost and when fandom didn’t like the light and smoke that they got they crucified him for it.
Then Lindelof spackled in some backstory to the Alien mythos in the 2012 film Prometheus and once again, deeming the answers inadequate, genre fans everywhere took out their Mjölnir replicas and went to work.
Lindelof is no stranger to answers, but they certainly aren’t his friend. And quite frankly they aren’t really our friends either. Who doesn’t want to know how the hell a polar bear got on a tropical island, or who the the others are or what that god awful racket in the forest is? They’re mysteries. Of course we want them solved.
But, much like The Prestige, you don’t really want to know.
Do you really care why there are zombies in The Walking Dead? Is the cause the most important thing in the show, or is it the effect? The fact that because there are zombies, Rick gets to carry around a revolver and steadily cultivate survivalist facial hair.
Answers are a myth. How often in life is the whole truth laid bare before us? Exposition dumps don’t happen in real life and so when they happen in literature they feel cumbersome and unnatural, like a chemical taste in your mouth. Sure, answers are nice enough, but the precise machinations of fictional events are never as interesting as the reactions said events allow characters and fictional worlds to have.
I’m cautiously optimistic that Damon Lindelof is of the same mindset in his latest project, HBOs The Leftovers, an adaptation of the novel by Tom Perrotta.
The backbone of The Leftovers is the instantaneous disappearance of 2% of the world population. They didn’t run away or spontaneously combust. They just straight up disappeared.
It is such a bummer.
Where did they go? Why did they go? Are they alive?
Don’t tell me.
I don’t want to know.
There’s a hole in the heart of every instant of The Leftovers’ series premiere, as if every word spoken and action taken by every character is secondary to a dreadful, ceaseless wonder.
What the hell happened?
Do we get exposition regarding this sudden rapture? Sure. There are facts and figures regarding who was taken and from where, but by and large the background information coughed up in The Leftovers serves to further the understanding that there is absolutely no understanding of what happened. Which is all the better, because just like the characters within The Leftovers, there is no answer to the rapture that will make us happy. The characters desperately want answers and exposition, and who could blame them? But at the end of the day whether they know why a staggering 1 out of every 50 human beings on the face of the planet disappeared or not, it doesn’t make the event any less shocking, nor their losses any less lost.
The fallacy held by these characters and we viewers alike is that knowing will make it better. That exposition will not only fill in cracks that are nowhere near threatening The Leftovers’ narrative integrity, but will also reverse the rapid deterioration of the world of the show itself.
We don’t need to know why or how. All the exposition we need is written across Justin Theroux’s face.
Damon Lindelof has spent much of his career being alternatively badgered for answers or punished for them. It’s hard not to look at The Leftovers as a response to that.
It’s my sincere hope that Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta don’t keep their cards close to their chests. I want them to burn the entire deck and forget it ever existed.