When Voltaire wrote Candide, he intended to lampoon the idea that everything happens for the best. What he ended up with was a different mantra, one that, if not necessarily optimistic, at least gave human beings a mission: to cultivate their own gardens. Some have interpreted this to mean that one must leave the world behind.

Whether Rumaan Alam was thinking of Voltaire when he wrote his novel Leave the World Behind, I can’t say. But the Netflix film adaptation, released this month and produced by former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama, makes me think that to the filmmakers, Voltaire is as jolly as Santa Claus.

The film opens with an affluent New York City family preparing to spend a weekend away on Long Island. The mother, Amanda Sandford, complains that she hates people and needs to “leave the world behind” for a bit. (She has clearly never read Neil Gaiman, who wrote that “wherever you go, you take yourself with you.”)

So Amanda and her husband and two teenagers shlep to the beach for a change of scenery. They arrive at “Point Comfort,” where eerie music and sidelong camera angles alert us that something is about to go wrong.

First, it’s the oil tanker that inexplicably crashes onto the beach as onlookers run for their lives. Then, cell service and WiFi are down. Then, two strangers show up at the vacation home’s door. Amanda and her family, it’s important to note, are white. The two visitors at the door are black. The man identifies himself as G.H., or George, the owner of the home. With him is his daughter, Ruth.

They say that the city has been hit by a blackout, so they’d like to stay at the home for the night. Despite the previous eerie happenings, the lights are still on in Long Island, and Amanda is mistrustful of the two supplicants at the door.

This idea of trust, or preconceived beliefs vs. truth, as G.H. puts it later, is a major theme of the film, as the two families face ever-increasing disaster. While things devolve in various disturbing ways — planes are crashing on the shore, deer repeatedly show up in ominous hordes, and the son’s teeth are falling out — the protagonists find themselves as unlikely allies.

This, despite Ruth’s pronouncement to her father that white people aren’t to be trusted.

“I’m asking for you to remember that if the world falls apart, trust should not be doled out easily to anyone, especially white people,” she tells her father. “Even mom,” who is presumably white (and has presumably been killed in a plane crash), “would agree with me on that,” she adds.

This scene precedes Amanda risking her life to save Ruth from a herd of deer and G.H. staring down the barrel of a shotgun to get help for Amanda’s son. But that doesn’t mean the line suddenly means nothing.

At MSNBC, one writer complained that conservatives who fixated on the viral anti-white people line, which made an appearance on Fox News, were missing the point. In the same breath (or rather, the same paragraph), she claims both that “most Black viewers would recognize [the line] as sage advice” and also that “the film is about the possibility of overcoming mutual distrust and suspicion, however reasonable or however unfounded.”

That certainly is an intended theme of the film. When some writers are nodding their heads to characters’ obvious flaws, however, one wonders whether that theme truly manifests itself.

What is unambiguous about the movie is its pessimism. Amanda is painted as a racist, self-hating liberal. People screw each other over “all the time without even realizing it,” she says, assuaged by our paper straws and free-range chickens, which permit “an agreed-upon mass delusion” to keep people from realizing how awful we are.

Her husband, also a self-hating liberal, wears ’90s Riot grrrl T-shirts and listens to NPR but is crippled without technology: “I can barely do anything without my cellphone and my GPS,” he says. “I am a useless man.”

Their son, Archie, is lecherous and perpetually horny. Their daughter, Rose, is so addicted to Friends that her first thought upon finding an underground bunker is to turn on the TV.

When G.H. explains his theory on the catastrophe, he suggests it’s a three-pronged attack: The first stage is isolation, the second is synchronized chaos, and the third is civil war. “Whoever started this wants us to finish it,” he says.

Considering that he almost gets shot asking a neighbor for medicine, the future of the nation is not bright. The end of the film has frustrated viewers with its ambiguity, leaving the fallout for us to guess.

It may be a little concerning that a former president was heavily involved in a project about global warfare that ends so cheerlessly. Even director Sam Esmail said the fact that Obama told him he was off by just a few details “scared the f***” out of him.

If everything doesn’t work out for the best, at least the Enlightenment philosophers thought we could tend our gardens. In Leave the World Behind, there may be no garden left to tend.