THE WORLD TO COME ½
2021, R, 98 mins.
Vanessa Kirby as Tallie / Katherine Waterston as Abigail / Casey Affleck as Dyer / Christopher Abbott as Finney / Andreea Vasile as MotherDirected by Mona Fastvold / Written by Ron Hansen and Jim Shepard, based on Shephard's short story
Romance tales of two lost souls being trapped by circumstance and time embracing forbidden love are as old as time, making the core premise of the period drama THE WORLD TO COME seem like it's made up from highly familiar genre ingredients...but it's what the film does with those ingredients that makes it special.
Fastvold directed and Ron Hansen and Jim Shepard scripted affair
chronicles two neighboring frontier households in mid-19th Century
America. The two respective wives in particular spark a lesbian
affair as a form of both sexual release and as manner of dealing with
oppressive feelings of isolation and hardship of being in the middle of
nowhere and apart from civilization.
What really separates THE WORLD TO COME from other western dramas
is that it's a tale told directly via a female voice, which is not a dime
a dozen for the genre. That,
and as a historical LGBT romance film it's told with graceful dramatic
touches and is richly atmospheric. You
really feel the weight of the world of the era bearing down hard on these
characters, which helps cement the central and inherent tragedy of
unfulfilled women that are lost souls finding one another, but cannot
publicly act on or display their desires.
adapts his own short story here, which opens in 19th Century New York and
takes place over multiple seasons. It's
1856 and a well meaning and hard working farmer, Dyer (Casey Affleck), is
trying to make a go of it as a farmer with his wife Abigail (Katherine
Waterston), but any attempts at financial stability and happiness is
overcome by the daily rigors of each new day, not to mention the untimely
death of their young daughter, which hits both of them extremely hard.
Not assisting matters is how arduous hard labor, treacherous
elements, and being secluded from everyone and everything is starting to
have a negative effect on Dyer and Abigail's marriage, with the loss of
their child being a punishing blow that both find impossible to overcome.
Both seem committed to working hard to secure their future, but
love is all but eroded in their relationship now.
They seem hopelessly distant as husband and wife, which Abigail
feels more potently. She's an
eloquently intelligent and independent minded women that doesn't seem
content with being a loyal housewife catering to her husband's needs.
A new couple
enters into their lives, Finney (Christopher Abbott) and Tallie (Vanessa
Kirby), who introduce themselves to Dyer and Abigail and are renting out
nearby farmland. Right from the get-go an ethereal spark seems to be ignited
between Tallie and Abigail, which begins with platonic companionship that
helps both of them find an outlet away from the pain and misery of
homesteading in wildly untamed lands and weather.
Abigail grows to respect Tallie's frank gumption, and as the days
progress she seems elated that she now has another woman to confide in and
emotionally relate to, even though both husbands begin to resent the
amount of time their wives are spending apart from them while being
together. Predictably, the
bond between the two women becomes inseparable and segues into a sexual
relationship, which they obviously have to keep a secret from their
husbands and just about anyone else from society.
All they yearn for is a manner to break free of their marriages and
live freely as same sex lovers, but the painful repercussions of such
actions - and the rigid patriarchal and gender defining norms of the day -
forces them to live out their intimate union in secret.
They're hopelessly in love, but hopelessly exist within a time that
doesn't allow for such unions, making them both feeling more broken and
adrift in the process.
I admired the
patience and restraint that is used in THE WORLD TO COME in the early
stages, especially when it comes to introducing us to the fractured
marriage between Abigail and Dyer while later showing the former being
pulled slowly, but deeply into the vortex of another woman, who clearly
represents a form of initial and immediate escape.
We learn little details here and there about both women, like the
aforementioned loss Abigail's daughter and Tallie's inability to have
children; both experience loss in different ways, which only further
nurtures their growing attraction to one another.
THE WORLD TO COME is largely told through the eyes and voice of
Abigail, who attempts to process her deepest, guarded feelings in her
diary, which also serves as a voiceover track for the film as it unfolds.
Abigail is established as having the true heart and talent of
a poet, and her self-expression through her writing serves as a
melancholic narrator of what transpires throughout the course of the story. We've all seen countless tales of frontier adversity in many
a western drama before, but rarely do they ever get to the true core of
how such struggles hit women the way this film does.
this creative choice is just how sumptuously shot this film is by
cinematographer Andre Chemetoff, who makes an atypical choice of using
16mm (at least as far as westerns and romance pictures go), that does
wonders to visually embellish the gritty ruggedness of the landscapes that
these characters reside in (this is not a warm, bright, and heavily
romanticized look at the period in question).
That's not to say that THE WORLD TO COME looks aggressively grim
and dour, though. To the
contrary, the film looks textured and authentically lived, sometimes
carrying the veracity of a you-are-there documentary of the era.
THE WORLD TO COME was shot in Romania doubling for New York, but
the result is astoundingly seamless in terms of capturing the limitless
remoteness of these pastoral settings and how they affect these
characters, in one form or another. But
Fastvold and Chemetoff do find beautiful imagery to escape into as well,
like opulent magic hour sunsets or the way that interiors are embellished
with the welcoming and soothing glow of candlelight. THE
WORLD TO COME manages to make its world feel both suitably grungy, yet
hypnotizingly inviting in its own unique way.
The biggest heavy
lifting that occurs in this film definitely comes from the performers, and
Waterston in particular has always been a real fly-in-under-the radar
actress in terms of her thankless range.
As Abigail she has to portray years of anguish and regret in a
mostly non-verbal manner, and it takes a special kind of understated
acting talent to relay so much as to the psychology of her character
without directly and methodically tipping it off.
She's rather well matched by Kirby, and the tandem creates palpable
passion and chemistry throughout as two women that feel that their love is
right in a world and time that feels the exact opposite.
The two actresses are so good here that it unfortunately emphasizes
one of the weak points of THE WORLD TO COME when it comes to the male
characters, with both Dyer and Finney being largely underwritten and
improperly fleshed out in the broadest of strokes.
However, to be fair, how many westerns/period films have there been
that have marginalized their female characters in order to prop up the
prominence of the men? Too many to count, by my estimation.