Prior to it being scheduled to open at the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center this weekend, I had never heard of “The World to Come.”
The film, which tells the story of neighboring married couples living in the harsh landscapes of the United States in the 19th century, had completely flown under my radar. I hadn’t seen a trailer, and I don’t recall the film ever coming up in any conversations. With the lack of conversation surrounding the film, I assumed the film must not provide much to talk about.
Now, having seen the film, I can say my assumption was wrong. The film does have a very interesting — and occasionally depressing — story that manages to have a significant emotional impact on the viewer. “The World to Come” is a little meandering and unfocused at times, but the overall experience is still something worth discussing.
The two couples at the center of the film’s plot are Abigail and Dyer (Katherine Waterston and Casey Affleck) and Tallie and Finney (Vanessa Kirby and Christopher Abbot.) Though Dyer and Finney do have their moments of development, the main focus of “The World to Come” is on their wives, Abigail and Tallie. The two form an intense connection immediately upon their meeting. They’re able to be significantly more comfortable and open with one another than they are with their own husbands.
Though it’s not immediately obvious, as the film continues it becomes apparent that Abigail and Tallie’s relationship is increasingly romantic and sexual. The connection the two share is undeniable, yet they keep their feelings a secret so as to not upset their husbands and tarnish societal expectations of them.
The romance between Abigail and Tallie feels genuine and real, which in large part is due to the fantastic performances from Waterston and Kirby. Both actresses are absolutely incredible in this film, and the chemistry between them is palpable. They are each able to perfectly capture the strong emotions of their characters, yet they are subtle in their portrayal of these feelings. They are never over-the-top or extravagant in showing their love for each other, but rather very personal and intimate. Both actresses are nothing short of stellar, and their performances are far and away the most impactful and impressive aspect of the film.
The rest of the film works well enough for the story it is telling.
There are moments throughout that seem to get lost on the road the film is paving. It occasionally trails off into seemingly random conversations or events that ultimately do little to forward the overall story. None of these moments were overly distracting or unpleasant, but they just aren’t all that captivating and ultimately felt somewhat unnecessary.
Overall, when watching “The World to Come,” I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was just a slightly more vanilla version of “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” which also explores a forbidden love between two women, except that film is set in 18th century France. “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” had many of the same themes, only executed better.
There are certainly differences between the two films, but the eventual takeaways from both seem to be knocking on the same door. While “The World to Come” did a good job in its execution of story, it’s nowhere near as emotionally riveting or poignant as “Portrait of a Lady on Fire.” I don’t want to discourage people from watching “The World to Come” purely on that basis, though, as it’s still a film worth viewing and discussing.
“The World to Come” was a solid film I’m sure many people will enjoy. I was certainly moved by its central story and the performances from Waterston and Kirby. However, I also don’t see it being a film that really sticks long-term. I only saw it a few days ago, and I’m already forgetting about it. So in an odd way, the film has come full circle for me. I wasn’t aware of it before watching it, and now it’s already leaving my mind.