Leave the World Behind: What do the deer mean?

Jasmine Valentine
The deer in Leave the World Behind

Leave the World Behind led to plenty of questions after arriving on Netflix last year – not least thanks to its perplexing ending. But another query you may have relates to the mysterious herds of deer that show up in the movie, so what exactly do they mean? Here’s what we know.

Netflix’s apocalyptic drama, starring Julia Roberts, Mahershala Ali, and Ethan Hawke, is full of more questions than it is answers.

The film’s synopsis reads: “A family vacation on Long Island is interrupted by two strangers bearing news of a blackout. As the threat grows, both families must decide how best to survive the potential crisis, all while grappling with their own place in this collapsing world.”

While the star-studded cast set to find out what’s going on, one question remains unanswered – what do the deer in Leave the World Behind mean? Here’s what we know. Warning: Spoilers ahead!

What do the deer mean in Leave the World Behind?

In the Netflix movie Leave the World Behind, the inclusion of the deer is ultimately left unexplained – but there are theories.

Throughout Leave the World Behind – both the Netflix movie and the original novel – Rose (Farrah Mackenzie) notices an increasing amount of deer surrounding the house.

In the movie, viewers are told that this has to do with an environmental disaster following the loss of signal across the country. A radio report in Clay’s (Ethan Hawke) car states that the disaster, mostly happening in the south, is affecting animal migration patterns. This also extends to birds – including flamingos – but is primarily seen through the motif of deer during Leave the World Behind.

When the Sandford family arrives at their holiday house, Amanda (Julia Roberts) notes how amazing it is to see a mother deer with her baby in the garden. Rose then later notices a flock of them after the power gives out, suggesting to her brother Archie (Charlie Evans) that they are trying to tell the family something. The number of deer only increases as the movie goes on, eventually surrounding Amanda and Ruth Scott (Myha’la) in the woods behind the house.

According to one interpretation of the original novel that Leave the World Behind is based on, written by Rumaan Alam back in 2020, the deer are a symbol of a rapidly changing world. They are perhaps intended to represent that humans can’t exert their control over everything that happens to them, with the arrival of the flamingos in the family pool signifying the end of the rational world itself.

One Reddit user adds: “The deer was explained – they were migrating, due to the impending disaster. They sensed it – whatever ‘it’ was – as animals frequently do before an earthquake, etc.”

While the novel carries a bigger amount of emphasis on the deer than the movie version of Leave the World Behind seems to, some X/Twitter users agree that the deer seem “somehow foreboding.”

Leave the World Behind is streaming on Netflix now, and you can read our full Netflix coverage here.

About The Author

Jasmine Valentine is a TV and Movies Writer at Dexerto. She's the go-to source for all things Young Sheldon, as well as many Netflix originals. Jasmine has also written for the likes of Total Film, The Daily Beast, and Radio Times. You can email her here: jasmine.waters@dexerto.com.