The World to Come
THE WORLD TO COME | Official Trailer | Bleecker Street
For me, The World To Come is inarguably the BEST LGBTQ film of 2021. Directed by Mona Fastvold, The Queer Lion-winning film: The World to Come, adapted from a short story by Jim Shepard, immerses the viewer in the bleak daily life of a contemplative mid-nineteenth century woman, Abigail (Katherine Waterston), living on the stark, unforgiving Northeastern frontier with her husband Dyer (Casey Affleck).
Maybe I would have been swayed into feigning dislike for this movie had I been apprised of the heinous and sexist behavior of Casey Affleck.
However, when the incident first occurred, I was unaware, to the point of not understanding what all the protest was about during the Academy Awards. Shame on Me for that. But, this was a great film that was Masterfully Directed and acted by the female leads.
Yet, it seems like I am the ONLY lesbian who actually will publicly admit that I enjoyed the movie.
I enjoyed it because it was true to the time it was set, a time when the secondary status of women left them vulnerable to the “Rule of Thumb,” a time when medicine was still in its infancy and disease held free rein over settlers.
I didn’t view this as a ‘bury your gays’ movie, because from the outset it was revealed that Tallie was sick.
Such a reveal made it safe to interpret it as a foreshadowing and harbinger of a death to come.
In fact, on more than one occasion, Tallie either mentioned having a cold or asked Abigail if she “was sick also?” (A question that Abigail always answered in the negative), starting early in the movie.
The World to Come wasn’t advertised as a fantasy movie, which is what it would have to had been in order to overcome the harsh realities of the time that it was set in.
Strange, but on YouTube, a negative, and envy-filled review by LadyParts resulted in a robust defense of a well-acted and beautifully directed film, but publicly it seems to be the thing to bash the movie because it was executive produced by Casey Affleck. Not condoning Affleck’s alleged sexist behavior doesn’t mean that I must punish Mona Fastvold because she directed this movie.
If the movie hadn’t been executive produced by Casey Affleck, then the director probably would not have gotten the budget she did, nor the actors. If this movie had been crowd-funded…Well..I’ve seen what we lesbians fund, and unfortunately most of those movies lack a certain level of emotional depth…I mean seriously, do we really need another D.E.B.S, or But I’m A Cheerleader?
The film opens “With little pride and less hope” on New Year’s Day in 1856, around three months after the couple have lost their only child to the illness Diphtheria.
Abigail’s grief is easily matched by the harsh winter and by moody, almost monochromatic cinematography.
in the opening section of the film. Their somber, monotonous lives are interrupted by the arrival of a couple renting a nearby property to use as a pig farm, the austere Finney (Christopher Abbott) and his cordial wife Tallie (Vanessa Kirby), whom Abigail is immediately intrigued by, and although it’s not a word she would use, quickly ‘smitten’ with.
As the two women spend increasingly more time with one another the frost thaws and the film’s color palette warms with spring’s arrival.
Following the death of their young daughter, Abigail has been turning down Dyer’s advances (there is literally ice in their bedroom), while the bitter, sometimes outright spiteful Finney complains that Tallie is not fulfilling her ‘wifely duties’ and resents that she has not yet borne him a child.
As Abigail struggles to articulate what her new female companion means to her, their mutual attraction to one another becomes increasingly palpable, and by the time summer arrives the two women begin to express their devotion to each other physically (although we only see the sex scenes in a all too mshort montage/flashback later on in the film), nonetheless, Fastvold has created an atmosphere of such tension and anticipation, that the chemistry between the actors so visceral, that even the women’s fingers touching merits an unspoken promise.
Yes, this is a story of doomed love that blossoms in an intolerant and patriarchal era. But Fastvold’s feature, unfolding across four seasons, hits the viewer so relentlessly, that one craves the jolt of energy that an unrealistic story of love flourishing despite and against-the-odds romance should exude between Abigail and Tallie the flame-haired new neighbor unbeknownst to Tallie’s emotionally abusive husband Finney, or Abigail’s sensitive husband Dyer.
I wanted their soulful affair to succeed. Male directors have made films of frontier women like the movie Cold Mountain (my Nicole Kidman phase,) and I wondered if the lead characters would give a hint of breaking free of the societal narrative of the era. Sadly, they didn’t even tease me with the possibility, like when Abigail questions Tallie after being reunited during dinner after a long separation.
Abigail asks Tallie if she’s in danger, her emotion is sincere, her plea genuine, to which Tallie’s rebuff is cold, distant, and maybe even a little mean.
Dyer uses his ledger to keep the accounts on their farm, Abigail uses hers as a personal journal to express her feelings, the contents of which are relayed to us by voice over throughout. Waterston’s voice is beautifully expressive and Abigail’s writing, particularly given the period styling, has a lyrical, almost melodic quality.
And it was exactly that, the sound of Katherine Waterston, speaking as Abigail, that kept me watching the movie. I had been oddly positioned in a chair, sitting sideways (much as one often does prior to getting up and starting some long-awaited project). As the narration ended and the action began, I would endeavor to rise and begin working on whatever I was doing, when before I knew it, Abigail’s narration resumed, once again locking my attention to the screen
And the narration never felt in danger of being overused, and the nuanced lead performances, combined with the voice over kept the narrative’s perspective focused, bringing intimacy and heightening the sense of Abigail’s isolation.
There are also moments of effective contrast where we learn what Abigail is thinking, the questions that deeply trouble her when Tallie is caught in a snowstorm, and what she actually says out loud to Dyer about animal feed supplies.
The voice-over also deepens the film’s poignant themes of unfulfilled hopes and expectations, being at the mercy of nature, and a woman’s place in the world, filled with duties, chores and its lack of progression since the arrival of Abigail’s ancestors on the frontier.
Fastvold uses composer Daniel Blumberg’s unsettling, score sparingly and there’s a gorgeous, ethereal and heartbreaking and mournful song on the end credits performed by Josephine Foster that’s likely to have you weep as you take in what’s happened over the the last 140 minutes. The power of The World to Come creeps up on you doesn’t let go once it takes hold, and cuts deep.