Cinema Coma

‘The Leftovers’: Why Do you Persist?

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Nora: What do you believe in, Matt? Do you know where my family went? Do you know what it was?

Matt: It was a test. Not for what came before, but what came after. It was a test for what comes now.

Nora: Well, if it was a test, I think you may be failing it.

The Leftovers continues to upend our expectations and only three episodes into its premiere season; viewers get an episode entirely dedicated to one character, Pastor Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston). We find out that he is more than a October 14th truther (exposing the misdeeds of the departed to prove that the rapture of the bible did not occur) but a man who has endeared a great amount of suffering and loss. His parents died in a fire when he was a child, his wife suffered massive brain injuries on the day of the Sudden Departure and he is losing his church.

And this is what the episode fixates on, Matt trying to save his church from the bank foreclosing on the property. So that there remains a place for the handful of faithful Maplton residents to worship their God on Sunday mornings. A god that Matt still believes in a post-October 14th world. One who Matt believes, despite the suffering around him, continues to work in the world, in his life and the lives of others.

After a long and frustrating couple of days, including being physically beaten mid-sermon, he lays on the ground next to his invalid wife staring at Albrecht Durer’s “Job and His Wife“on the wall, begins to weep over his long-suffering life and prays to his God, “Help me”. Then an idea flashes in his mind (presumably, from God) on how he can pull himself out of the dire situation of losing the thing he holds most precious, the Episcopal church that he leads.

 

Job is a fitting character to associate with the pastor, since in the biblical narrative Job loses everything, from his family to his possessions and even his own health. A comparison that the writers of the show are intentionally drawing with that poignant moment of realization Matt has staring at Durer’s painting. In addition, the official blog for the show details all the ways Reverend Jamison resembles Job, drawing closer the parallels between the two. In essence the episode is a re-telling of that narrative contained in the Book of Job but in a more familiar post-modern context.

In the Book of Job after everything is taken from Job, his wife sets up the question the rest of the book tries to answer, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” The same thing is asked of Jamison in a dream sequence while making love to his wife, “Why do you persist?” That is the question everyone in Mapleton is trying to answer but Matt finds those answers through his Christian faith. His response to those mocking his faith in a God that no longer seems present would be like Job’s, “You speak as one of the foolish… would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”

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Evil has come his way, yet he still believes in an age of disbelief. He continues his crusade to separate the good from the wicked among the departed. He steals, gambles and commits an act of violence in order to save his church from being take. He lovingly cares for his wife. But most importantly, he believes that God still matters in a world of leftovers.

His journey is messy, full of contradictions and people who are opposed to Matt’s calling (as Matt’s sister yells about his flyers on the departed, “People need to punch you in the face”). At one moment he is bludgeoning to death someone who tried to rob him and then a few hours later coming to the aid of two Guilty Remnant who were attacked in a drive-by stoning. Then ends up being stoned like them.

In the end, Reverend Jamison’s suffering becomes greater as his church is taken from him and he discovers that the LLC who purchased the property are the Guilty Remnant. The foil to the faith of Jamison, since they saw the futility of their lives, accepted their fate and reached a place of contended acceptance without needing God. They have become the absurd men and women of Albert Camus’ book “The Stranger” (briefly shown in the first episode) and their philosophical outlook is ruling the day while the pastor, church and God are vestiges of a pre-Sudden Departure culture.

Now that all is gone for Matt Jamison, will he like Job pass the test, continue to persist and remain faithful to God or will the Guilty Remnant convince even a man of the cloth to embrace the absurdity of life?

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