Leave the World Behind Movie's Deer Meaning Explained

By Aeron Mer Eclarinal Posted:
Ethan Hawkeye and deer in Leave the World Behind

Netflix's Leave the World Behind has several subtle hints about what message the movie is trying to tell audiences, but a notable one centered around the deer seems to hold a far more important meaning.

The new Netflix movie starring Julia Roberts, Ethan Hawke, and Mahershala Ali explored how two families navigate a seemingly world-ending crisis amid mysterious appearances of deer throughout its two-hour runtime. 

Leave the World Behind's Deer Appearances & Symbolism Explained

Deer in Leave the World Behind

In Leave the World Behind, deer appear in several instances, leading to the characters noticing their mysterious arrival. 

When the Sandfords get home after a huge oil tanker suddenly crashes into the shore, Amanda (Julia Roberts) and Clay (Ethan Hawke) notice a doe and her fawn in the garden of their vacation home. Clay tells Amanda that seeing the pair is a "good omen" according to Mesoamerican mythology.

Leave the World Behind

In the morning after the Scotts go home, Rose Sanford (Farrah Mackenzie) later sees a much larger group of deer enter the house's vicinity. After they emerge from the bushes, Roses slowly approach them. 

In a later scene, Rose talks to her brother Archie (Charlie Evans) about her weird encounter with the deer. 

Rose admits that it's odd that the deer she saw are in big groups, but Archie dismisses her worries: 

Rose: “This morning I saw deer. Not a deer. A fuck lot of deer. A hundred, maybe more, right in the backyard. It was really weird, Archie. Do they go around in big groups like that?”

Archie: “Why the fuck would I know anything about deer? If you’re so worried about it, why don’t you just ask Mom and Dad?”

Rose: “Like they would even care. No one cares what I say.”

Archie: “That’s probably true.”

Leave the World Behind

In the latter part of the movie, Amanda and Ruth Schott (Myha'la Herrold) are investigating the cabin while trying to find Ruth, but they are shocked when hundreds of deer surround them. 

While deer are generally peaceful creatures, Leave the World Behind shows another side to them as they are impacted by the apocalyptic occurrences throughout the film. 

As pointed out in the radio broadcast in Clay's car, the meaning behind such mysterious behavior might be due to the environmental disaster that ultimately affected the deer's animal migration patterns, indicating why the deer have moved into human-populated areas: 

“We’re now getting reports that the fallout from the ongoing cyber attack has led to a catastrophic environmental disaster in the south, impacting animal migration patterns.”

Leave the World Behind is based on Rumaan Alam's novel of the same name from 2020. The book explains that the deer's weird behavior is due to "A mass migration. A disaster response. A disaster indicator. A disaster unfolding."

This aligns with Rose's comments about the deer warning her about something, which is later proven true. 

That said, the increase in the number of deer throughout the movie may symbolize a similar increase in disasters and bad luck as the events progress, ultimately culminating in New York City getting bombed at the tail-end of the movie. 

The deer could also symbolize the Sanfords and the Scotts' increasing panic and worries as they encounter several challenges that lead to their life falling apart amid the chaos.

Leave the World Behind

At the end of the film, the deer become more aggressive, indicating that this is a sign that the world is now on the verge of collapse. 

Given that the deer is generally seen as a calm and non-threatening animal, the fact that they are primed to attack both Amanda and Ruth may imply that they are pushed to their limit since they can't find a true home for themselves.

What Did the Cast & Director Say About the Deer?

Speaking with Netflix's TUDUM, Leave the World Behind director Sam Esmail explained why the deer acted so strangely in the movie, noting that it was a "really interesting" decision to show their other side: 

“Deer are peaceful creatures. To turn that sweet image into this sort of ominous, menacing, almost warning — I thought was really interesting. That’s the trick about this movie. We always tried to take the things that we never really considered a threat and then turn it around on them.” 

When asked about the meaning behind the deer's representation in the movie, Esmail told GQ that he "expanded" the deer's imagery from the books since it was "so striking:"

"I always say 'fuck [the] plot.' Logic is not something that people necessarily care about. It’s emotional truths, and it’s tone, and this film has a nightmarish quality to it. There was something really ominous about the deer — they’re in the book and I expanded on it because I thought the imagery was so striking."

The filmmaker ended by saying that the film points to the idea of "how nightmarish this [apocalyptic] scenario has become:"

"You know, I can sit here and talk metaphorically about how they represent this idea of nature, as a warning sign about what we’re going through, and how our tech is blinding us to it. But there’s also just a tonal quality about how nightmarish this scenario has become."

Leave the World Behind star Myha'la Herrold gave her thoughts to Today about the true meaning of the deer in the film, noting that it shows "what's going with the power and the lack of movement of people:"

“The deer are a very prominent figure in the film. It’s indicative of what’s going on with the power and the lack of movement of people.”

Charlie Evans, who plays Archie in the movie, said that the deer represents “the connection to the natural world, how we treat it, how it moves around us, and how we don’t really think about it as carefully as we should.”

Leave the World Behind is now streaming on Netflix.

- In This Article: Leave the World Behind
Release Date
December 08, 2023
Julia Roberts
- About The Author: Aeron Mer Eclarinal
Aeron is a news/features writer and Content Lead for The Direct who has been working for the site since March 2020. From writing about the inter-connectivity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to having an extended knowledge about DC TV's Arrowverse, Aeron's expertise has since expanded into the realm of reality TV, K-drama, animated, and live-action shows from Netflix,  Disney+, Prime Video, MGM+, Peacock, Paramount+, and Max. When he isn't writing and watching all things MCU, Aeron is heavily invested with the NBA (go Celtics!) and occasionally watches thrilling matches in the WWE.