The Palace of Wonder in the Culture of Answers
In the series premiere of The Leftovers, the opening teaser plays like a masterful sleight of hand. Something that was right before us disappears. It’s gone. We are quickly introduced to all the key characters that will offer up their lives for our entertainment in the coming weeks. But something more significant floats in the tone of the show from the opening moments through the end credits. I am guessing the creators of The Leftovers know that we will relate to and perhaps grow to love Kevin Garvey and his family. What will keep us coming back is something completely different, however. With little more than an hour of airtime, The Leftovers created a sense of wonder that invited us into mystery. The central question in the show – what caused 2% of the world’s population to suddenly disappear – may not ever be answered. And I’m actually okay with that. It causes me the think about the nature of faith and the necessity of mystery.
Can we live in mystery and wonder without needing answers to everything? By answering I DON’T KNOW to certain questions of faith, do we somehow fear we have weakened our beliefs? Must we know everything in order to suggest we know anything?
Three years after the most mysterious event in human history, we see the fictionalized town of Mapleton, New York, wrestling with these questions. We see some, like Garvey, coping by reaching more passionately for their families. We see a Guilty Remnant, who seems to have found a mission in giving up. We see Matt Jamison, who once stood in his beliefs, now struggling to reconcile them. And in all of these people, I see myself. But then wonder re-enters the picture. Perhaps there is something more than what we can see. Holy Wayne doesn’t promise answers but appears to have the ability to help people find things within themselves. Somehow hope rises, even among those who have little reason for it.
While watching this world form on Sunday night, I was reminded of an experience I had at the East Texas Fair. Late one Friday afternoon, I spent my last three carnival tickets to walk through The Palace of Wonder. I saw pictures of human deformities, people with the ability to swallow swords and a woman with a full beard. Truth be told, it was frightening. Wonder often is. I later came to realize that what I saw was actually spectacle. The wonder is what was created inside of me. It caused me to consider a world outside my small town. My wife commented, while we watched The Leftovers, that some moments were creepy. I just sat staring at the screen – FULL of wonder.