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The World to Come film review


Directed by: Mona Fastvold

Written by: Ron Hansen, Jim Shepard

Starring: Katherine Waterston, Vanessa Kirby, Casey Affleck

Film Review by: Chris Olson


The World to Come (2021) Film Review

Being only her second feature film in the director’s chair, filmmaker Mona Fastvold shows exquisite poise with The World to Come, penned by Ron Hansen and Jim Shepard.

Katherine Waterston and Vanessa Kirby in The World To Come
Katherine Waterston and Vanessa Kirby in The World To Come

Katherine Waterston is Abigail, a frontiersman's wife in the 1850s American East, whose disillusionment is rife. Her days are filled with chores and a creeping abandonment of the limited social interaction offered in the small settlement until Vanessa Kirby and her husband move onto the farm next door. All of a sudden, adventure, exploration and a poetic desire to live revive Abigail but not without dangerous risks.

A rich tapestry to unpick, The World to Come is not only simmering with palpable tension throughout, it offers audiences a collection of heartbreaking subthemes to be consumed by.

Abigail utters “My life has surprised me by being far more ordinary.” when lamenting on her childhood dreams of using her intellect to help the world. Her quest for knowledge is remarked as an attempt to overcome her misery, yet her soulful notes in the journal she keeps (which provides the moving narration) reveal how little solace this brings her. It is indeed only the riveting excitement of Kirby’s Tallie that lights a fire underneath her. And whilst the harsh landscape and living conditions are a constant test, it’s the small tangle of her personal relationships which threaten oblivion.

Another thread of the film is legacy. Whilst the men keep a painfully detailed account of all of the goings-on around the farms, very little is recorded of the women. Abigail comments the ledgers contain “no record of our emotions or fears, our greatest joys or most piercing sorrows”. The role of women being a central theme leads to the contemporary arguments surrounding the rights of women, in particular over their bodies.

It’s a harrowing revelation that our own society faces such similar frontiers to that of these characters.

Beautifully filmed with an attention to the tenderness of the scenes, Fastvold ensures the delicate struggles being explored in the film are never threatened with exploitative drama. We witness the fallout at a more heart-rending pace, allowing the emotion of the script to soak us and leave us chillier than the scene before, which only warms us more to Abigail’s story. Casey Affleck is a brilliant and unassuming presence as her husband, and Kirby is a tremendous force on screen but this show is completely stolen by Katherine Waterston with what very well may be a career-defining performance.

Aside from a slightly irksome soundscape, this is brutally beautiful storytelling that is as poetic as it is quietly thrilling. A stirring central romance, perfectly played by Waterston and Kirby, that breaks no barriers but simply puts them out for display, in all their abject misery.

Watch the Film Trailer



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