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Is The Leftovers' Kevin Garvey a Shaman Ushering People Into the Next World?

By Cindy Davis | The Leftovers | October 14, 2015 |

By Cindy Davis | The Leftovers | October 14, 2015 |

I’ve been thinking a lot about The Leftovers, and what might actually be happening on the series. Because Damon Lindelof is involved, it’s nearly impossible to not make comparisons to Lost; by his own admission, the showrunner is fascinated by mysticism and supernaturalism. Unlike Dustin, I have never entertained the thought that Kevin Garvey is experiencing a Fight Club-ish mental break; I think Kevin just hasn’t figured out what his role in the post-Departure world is. And, because I believe Lindelof consistently enjoys exploring spiritual beliefs (see also, Prometheus), I think the series will eventually reveal itself to be exactly that, an examination — or observation — of how people settle into their own vision of spirituality (or lack thereof). It’s not the Departure that matters, or what happened to the Departed people; it’s what happened faith-wise to those left behind. Whether or not Kevin believes in anything otherworldly, something is happening within him, something he clearly doesn’t understand. He’s landed in a town called “Miracle,” which appears to be an axis mundi; it’s not coincidence the new Garvey family ended up there. Is Kevin fighting not to acknowledge his own burgeoning spirituality, and is that denial what’s causing him the visions, the sleepwalking, to question whether he’s going crazy? After reading a couple of interviews with religious scholar and writer Reza Aslan, who’s been brought in on The Leftovers as story consultant/advisor, it’s difficult to believe Kevin’s role isn’t spiritually related, but of course that’s Aslan’s particular slant. In fact, Aslan openly refers to Garvey as a reluctant shaman. ***Spoilers through “A Matter of Geography” ahead.***

What Aslan thinks is happening to Kevin:

“Obviously, something strange and perhaps otherworldly is happening to Kevin … [And] whatever is going on with him has happened to his father, Kevin Sr., who was also seeing and regularly spoke with people who weren’t there. Many think Kevin’s losing his mind; some think he’s having some kind of spiritual experience. I like to think of him in the second way, that [he’s] either a prophet or a shaman. If I were to pick, I’d say he’s a shamanistic character. Prophets usually get messages from the beyond: They hear a voice telling them something, and then repeat that message to the masses. Shamans don’t really have a message…They have this ability to go to sleep and either physically or mentally travel great distances to other planes of existence, and then return. This is a very common trope in ancient religious traditions going back tens of thousands of years. Often they have an animal guide. In fact, for many shamans, the first part of the initiation is to find a spirit guide, an animal to communicate with and help them see the other world.

Throughout the first season, Kevin had the sleep experiences. He would wake up and not remember all the things he [had done]. He was actually a different person when he was asleep — a common occurrence. We don’t know what the difference between a psychotic break and a spiritual experience is. Brain scans of people who see themselves as shamans have similar patterns to those who are schizophrenic. If you’re a rationalist, you think there’s no such thing as a shaman; they’re just crazy. If you’re a spiritualist, you would say there’s a very fine line between crazy and shaman. It’s all about interpretation and context.”

What’s the significance of Kevin Sr. going to Australia?

“Australia is almost universally understood as the seat of ancient spiritual power, particularly the sort of inland parts, because it’s such a unique landmass with a unique ecosystem. Some of the oldest tribal shamanistic traditions in the world still exist there in vibrant form among indigenous peoples. You see in pop culture and in books the concept of the walkabout, which has this mystic sense to it. People who don’t even know what a walkabout represents use the term when they’re talking about a spiritual journey. In fact, now that I think about it, John Locke of Lost was in Australia on a walkabout before the plane crash!”

Is Kevin’s father really mentally ill, or could he also be a prophet/shaman, and how might that be passed on to Kevin?

“Most primitive tribes believe shamanism, and even prophecy, is a hereditary condition. Moses wasn’t just a prophet, so was his brother Aaron. Jesus has this prophetic nature, but according to his followers, so did his brother James. Mohammad was a prophetic figure, but the first Muslims truly believed that that prophecy existed in his family line. So his nephew Ali, and his grandsons Hasan and Husayn, also carried this prophetic ability. Shamanism is passed from father to son in almost every religious tradition. The fascinating thing about mental illness is that it’s also hereditary.”

How can Patty — who is dead — be affecting Kevin in the real world?

“It’s clear Patti is trying to communicate something. But what that is, and whether she’s on his side or not, is impossible to tell. She seems to feel like she is. Of course, Kevin does not feel that way. People who believe this is all in his head would say Patti [couldn’t] strike him like that. But that’s not true. People who have psychotic breaks not only have real interactions with their imaginary friends, those imaginary friends regularly attack and beat them, and enter into their space just the way a real person would.”

What really happened to Kevin in that final “Matter of Geography” scene; is he awake or asleep?

“Clearly, whatever is happening to him is happening in his dream state. I guess maybe there was this hope that it wouldn’t happen in Miracle. It’s not unusual for people who have prophetic or shamanistic experiences to run away from [them]. When the prophet Mohammed suddenly started hearing voices from God telling him to recite the Koran, he went to the edge of the cliff and tried to kill himself because he thought he was going crazy. Of course, what’s great about stories about great prophets, shamans, and heroes is that there is no escaping. Once you’re called, that’s it, man. You can run and hide, but in the end Mohammed still has to recite the Koran; Jesus still has to be the savior of humanity. There’s no avoiding it.”

Clearly Aslan views everything through his particular lens, but being a show consultant doesn’t necessarily mean his assumptions are correct. That said, I’m leaning much more toward this series coming from — and ending up in — a spiritual place than a psychiatric hospital. I don’t believe Kevin is having a mental breakdown, and the shaman slant makes a lot of sense to me. I also think that despite the Lost backlash, The Leftovers could end similarly to that series in that the people purportedly left behind are lost souls, who haven’t yet figured out they’re dead. To me, it just feels like classic Lindelof exploration, as well as a more interesting road for us all to wander.

(Via/read more of Reza Aslan’s Leftovers thoughts at Vulture and here.)

Cindy Davis, (Twitter)

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