The World To Come

Drama, 1hr 38min

Log line: Somewhere along the mid-19th century American East Coast frontier, two neighbouring couples battle hardship and isolation, witnessed by a splendid yet testing landscape, challenging them both physically and psychologically.

 

It presents a slow-build romance between two unsuspecting women and then delivers a demolishing twist by the end…

Set in 1856 in the landscape of rural American farmland, The World to Come tells the tale of two neighbouring married couples as they tackle life’s struggles of tending to their farms and keeping each other’s expectations in check. It presents a slow-build romance between two unsuspecting women and then delivers a demolishing twist by the end.

The World to Come was originally a story written by Jim Shepard that was then adapted into a screenplay by Jim Shepard and Ron Hansen. It is a period drama giving the audience a glimpse of the harsh and emotionally void existence our characters find themselves in during farm life along the American East Coast frontier. Abigail (played by Katherine Waterston), who is wed to Dyer (Casey Affleck), gives an understated performance and excellent narration throughout. Her subtle gay-panic and inner grief are well contrasted with the outwardly confident and curious Tallie (Vanessa Kirby), who is the wife of Finney (Christopher Abbott). The two female protagonists have a clear affinity from the outset and form a bond that would give love, reprieve, and meaning to their otherwise mundane days and suffocating marriages.

In an interview with Indiewire, Mona Fastvold, the director of The World to Come said “These two women are normal women, there’s nothing special to look at in their story: they meet, have a connection, fall in love.” Yet she went on to add that there’s “Something about the sheer beauty in their interaction and how they communicate to one another: I haven’t really seen this before; I can take this classic love story, I can break open part of it, and do something with it.”

Well if there’s one area that The World to Come surely succeeds in is that it paints a pretty picture with its well put together words; effective in drawing the audience in. Then just as you become emotionally entangled with the characters, it’s as if you too are thrown out into a snowstorm with no hope of return or resolution. Fastvold definitely let the romance develop gradually and delicately but then blew it wide open with very high stakes for all the characters by the end.

Hereafter I will delve into more detail about the content of the World to Come and this will include *spoilers* so please avert your eyes should you not want to know more of what happens in the storyline. Ultimately The World to Come is a tragic story touching upon some very serious subject matter from social isolation, domestic abuse, loss of a child, to a woman’s “inferiority” and expectations as a wife in mid-19th century America. I found it almost uncomfortable to watch by the end and perhaps that was the intention of the film as it reveals an impossible scenario in which two women trapped in their marriages might find themselves in. Having found love, passion and freedom within each other’s company and embrace, it felt horrifically cruel to then suddenly rip them apart, implicate that one had been murdered, only to show that she had in fact not been killed, but then to seal her fate just so at a later date.

The death to one of the queer characters unfortunately buys into the much dreaded “bury your gays” trope and this could be triggering for viewers. However, in the context of the mid-19th century, patriarchal setting, in which news of husbands “killing their wives” is not uncommon, this outcome may not be out-of-character after all. Whilst I wish this ending could have been different I do see value in the brutal truth of this story being given its weight onscreen. I also wish that the precious intimate moments that an LBTQ audience might be looking forward to would not be revealed just as Abigail is mourning over Tallie’s lifeless body. Nevertheless, I can see how this stark contrast between love and loss could add to dramatic effect as if the fleeting moments of their relationship flashed before Abigail’s eyes as she witnessed the death of her loved one.

I felt the film’s trailer, which combined a marvellous collection of clips, lines, and musical score, misled my expectations for The World to Come. The film ended up being more of a poignant reminder of the harsh lives led by women and couples of that period in time rather than a dramatic romance. The first kiss between the women does not occur until halfway through the film, and no sooner had they cemented their connection did they then meet a perilous end, and flashbacks of their intimate moments are stained by the realisation that one of them has died, presumably murdered. From the beginning and to the very end, Abigail is left as a slave to hardship, solitude, grief, and a prisoner of her own feelings. So was she better off having met Tallie or not? A film that can pose questions such as this one can be contentious and upsetting. It is commendable that the film manages to grip the audience in feeling every emotion under the sun, from excitement and adoration, to fear, outrage, and sorrow, but is this entertainment or torture? You can watch it and decide for yourself.

Hereby quoting some of the poetic words from the film itself, The World to Come was ‘fair and very cold’, the story is one where the characters’ ‘contentment is like a friend they never get to see’, and after everything that is said and done, all of them have ‘become their grief’. As a result, as with many beautifully tragic stories, a viewer may be left rather emotionally drained, robbed, bereft, and needing to use their own imagination, as Abigail herself does, to envision revenge and better circumstances. As if fully-aware of its unforgiving ending, the film itself dared to declare that “it’s a good thing that we remember that our imaginations can always be cultivated”. So be warned, the premise of the story may seem simple but the consequences most certainly are not.

This article was written by:

Ping

Ping

Reviewer & Writer

She/Her

Ping believes in the power of love and kindness, and that "love is love" no matter what shape or form it comes in. She would like to see positive representation for all walks of life in film and media.