Our Review

            Movie: THE WORLD TO COME

           Rating: R, some sexuality/nudity

                             Length: 1:38

                 Release Date: March 2, 2021

Jeanne: Normally THE WORLD TO COME would be right up my alley --- a small film about a love affair between two lonely, married women in the mid-19th century. Alas, it is not what I was anticipating. Though it is directed by a woman, Mona Fastvold, THE WORLD TO COME is based on a short story by Jim Shepard, who co-wrote the screenplay with Ron Hansen. I’d like to be able to blame my criticism on the fact that this was written by men, but AMMONITE, another period piece about two women in love, was penned by Francis Lee, and it is breathtaking.

 

THE WORLD TO COME begins on January 1, 1856. Abigail (Katherine Waterston), who provides the narrative voice via her journal, describes the bitter cold of the day but, as we learn, also of the life she shares with her husband, Dyer (Casey Affleck). Their little girl died only months ago, but Abigail, deservedly so, is finding it difficult to move on, and rebuffs Dyer’s advances to try for a second child.

 

The spring brings a new neighbor, Tallie (Vanessa Kirby), whose life is equally miserable, but for different reasons. She and her husband, Finney (Chris Abbott), have never had children, nor does Tallie have that desire. She’s much more unrestrained by the norms of the period, and it’s immediately apparent that she feels suffocated by her life. And as she becomes more and more brazen in her desires, Finney becomes more possessive. 

I sound like a broken record, but for movies such as this, it’s all about the writing --- and Shepard’s and Hansen’s script is simply not compelling. And it doesn’t help that Waterston and Kirby elicit so little chemistry, which was incredibly disappointing for me. I was waiting for a moment of real desire between these two very different women --- and the touch of pinkies didn’t do it for me.

 

Eventually, they embrace and kiss, but it isn’t until the end of THE WORLD TO COME that we are exposed to the real extent of their love. And for me, it was too little, too late. I was actually shocked that Fastvold chose to reveal those scene snippets in the final moments. It would have increased the believability factor had their intimacy been allowed to progress in real time.

 

And as I have already mentioned, though Waterston and Kirby are both fine actors, there was NO spark between them. Unlike Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan in AMMONITE, whose looks between them crackled with desire, there was none of that here.

 

And Affleck’s role was virtually non-existent. Dyer is as broken as Abigail over the death of their daughter, but again the writing never allows his character to fully develop. What does he really feel – what does he want? For a man in that time period, he’s amazingly understanding, but I fear it’s because his character is not fully defined.

 

The most interesting of the foursome is Finney, and Abbott gives the best performance, though his is the smallest part. Abbott personifies what we might expect of a husband of that era; brooding, demanding, demeaning. And the last shot of him and Tallie is truly the best of the film --- it’s startling, and yet tragic.

 

The most beautiful aspect of THE WORLD TO COME is the magnificent scenery photographed by Andre Chemetoff. Romania, in the Southern Carpathian Mountains, was used as a stand-in for upstate New York in 1856. Unfortunately, the original score by Daniel Blumberg, in his first feature length effort, only added to my disappointment of THE WORLD TO COME. Its effect is jarring and discordant, much like the film itself.

 

THE WORLD TO COME streaming services not yet known, although Netflix and Amazon appear to be candidates.

 

Opinion: Don’t Bother!

David: THE WORLD TO COME is yet another recent film involving lesbian lovers. It will compete for audience adulation with two superior movies, TWO OF US and AMMONITE, both reviewed by Jeanne and me. This film stars Katherine Waterston and Vanessa Kirby as two married farm women living in upstate New York in 1856. Filming took place in Romania to replicate New York at that time.

 

Abigail (Waterston) is married to Dyer (an under-utilized Casey Affleck) and Tallie (Kirby) is the wife of Finney (Chris Abbott). Abigail and Dyer have suffered the recent loss of their young daughter which has a profound impact on their relationship, and they work to survive the harsh winter on the land they own. Tallie and Finney only rent their farm which is close to the Abigail/Dyer property. Finney, meanwhile, is a controlling figure which goes against the grain of the independent-minded Tallie.

 

Both women are unhappy in their marriages --- sex is a forgotten area even if, in Dyer’s case, at least, the husband initiates physical intimacy. When Tallie espies Abigail one day she pays an unexpected visit to her house to introduce herself. There is no doubt in the audience’s mind that the two share an immediate attraction --- call it manipulation or not --- but in 1856 there is an unspoken societal rule prohibiting any further interaction.

 

Obviously, THE WORLD TO COME must pursue their physical relationship or the story has nowhere to go. However, Jeanne will write that the chemistry between the two women is lacking. I would refute that notion. Director Mona Fastvold does elicit the kind of gradual recognition required by both characters that they indeed have discovered feelings which will transcend them from their drab, mundane existence.

 

While Abigail seems reticent about a potential relationship, if Tallie had not made the bold first move with Abigail, their affair would never have gotten off the ground. Abigail is far too rooted in the lifestyle and demands of a farmer’s wife despite what her true desires may be. Now THE WORLD TO COME must concern itself with the two women furthering their mutual burgeoning love without the knowledge of their husbands. If Fastvold meant to convey any suspense in this aspect it is non-existent.

Based on the short story by Jim Shepard with a screenplay by Shepard and Ron Hansen, THE WORLD TO COME is not what I would describe as cogent. Part of that is derived from Abigail’s monotone narration of the movie which I suspect is an intentional ploy to impart her grim circumstances.

 

In the “hard to believe” category, at one point Abigail and Dyer make an 85-mile trek to Syracuse at Abigail’s demand to catch up with their former neighbors, Tallie and Finney, who have moved. It seems that such a trek would require at least one or two grueling weeks to complete but this is glossed over in the movie.

 

Separated by distance, a confused Abigail and a despondent Tallie exchange letters which proves to be an unwise --- albeit necessary --- means of communicating. The inherent risk of someone other than the intended recipient of a missive reading the contents plays a major part of THE WORLD TO COME.

 

Waterston and Kirby manage to convey the stilted English of the era and I did believe they shared a special rapport. But the roles of the husbands are practically non-existent. As Finney, Abbott is only briefly seen as a controlling figure in Tallie’s life, while Affleck’s character’s involvement in the story is so minor that its lack of depth is only a microcosm of his immense talent. Of course, this could be Fastvold keeping to the constraints of the original short story for which she cannot be faulted.

 

THE WORLD TO COME streaming services not yet known, although Netflix and Amazon appear to be candidates.

 

Opinion: Mild Wait for VOD