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Review: The World to Come (2021)

The World to Come (2021)

Directed by: Mona Fastvold

Premise: Set in the 1850s, a married couple manages their farm and mourns the loss of their child. When a new couple moves nearby, the two women become fast friends and their relationship eventually turns romantic.

What Works: The World to Come sets the tenderness of love and human connection against the difficulty of nineteenth century agrarian life. Successful love stories are about people who have a delectable attraction to each other that makes the audience want to see them get together. The World to Come accomplishes that between its two female leads. Katherine Waterston plays Abigail, a woman who is married to a farmer but who lost her child to illness and is now emotionally adrift. Abigail meets Tallie, played by Vanessa Kirby, and it’s immediately evident that these women share a mutual attraction. But neither the characters nor the filmmakers give themselves over to romance right away. That works to the movie’s advantage. They become friends first, making a connection and feeling each other out before giving in to passion. The romance builds slowly and as a result we understand why these women want to be together. Their romance isn’t just about lust. They have an emotional and intellectual rapport and that human connection contrasts with Abigail and Tallie’s marriages in which they are expected to serve the role of homemaker. The vibrancy of their love story contrasts with the harshness of the world in which they live. The filmmakers capture the isolation and the starkness of life in the wilderness and the setting is photographed in ways that visualize that difference. A blizzard sequence effectively visualizes this idea. The World to Come is a rare example of narration done well. Voiceover is frequently a storytelling crutch but the narration of The World to Come adds to the story and the characters by revealing what we couldn’t otherwise know.

What Doesn’t: There is a familiar formula to gay romances especially those stories set in less tolerant times. The World to Come adheres to that formula especially in the ending. This makes the movie relatively predictable but it also comes across outmoded and perhaps even regressive. Gay romances are not as novel as they once were and the forbidden love formula is tired and out of step with the contemporary audience. Using simplistic homophobia to create tension can be a lazy shortcut and resolving that tension through homophobic violence is cliché. Most of the production design of The World to Come looks convincingly of its time period but one important exception is the appearance of the two female leads. The actors do a fine job but their clothes and especially their makeup looks too clean and contemporary for the rugged circumstances in which these characters live.

DVD extras: Trailer.

Bottom Line: The World to Come is a familiar gay romance but its conventional narrative is allayed by some exceptional character work. The movie provides the heartache and passion required of a love story and there’s a bit of subtext that enhances the familiar narrative.

Episode: #867 (September 5, 2021)