Friends become lovers in The World To Come
Director Mona Fastvold directs the historical romance The World to Come from Bleecker Street. An adaption of Jim Shepard's same-titled short story (who also wrote the script), the film tells the story of Abigail (Katherine Waterson) and Dyer (Casey Affleck). A couple who is living in a mid-19th century American East Coast frontier town.
The couple recently experienced the death of a daughter, which has led to the pair becoming withdrawn. Shortly after another married couple arrives, free-spirited Tallie (Vanessa Kirby) and her husband Finney (Christopher Abbott). Naturally, the two women connect and begin to build a friendship that leads to the women finding themselves drawn to each other. Before long, Tallie and Abigail discover their mutual intimacy and begin to fill a void in each other's lives they never knew existed.
The World to Come is Mona Fastvold's directorial follow-up to 2014's, The Sleepwalker. From the plot synopsis of The World to Come, I had the inkling the film would be something along the Brokeback Mountain lines but set in the 19th century, and a small portion of the film is. In Abigail's role, Katherine Waterson successfully portrays a woman in a dull marriage that has become routine since the death of her daughter.
Abigail spends her days doing farm chores, has supper with her husband, and goes to bed, only to wake up the next morning to do it all over again. Casey Affleck portrays Dyer as a man who thinks he's an alpha, but the reality is he's a beta. Dyer loves his wife but watching the film, I had the feeling that he wasn't in love with her and he's only with her for convenience. The film's script subtly reveals that Dyer is going through grief stages himself, without ever mentioning the terms, as it is the 19th century.
When the film began, and the director uses images of the calendar date to correlate with Abigail's voiceovers, I didn't know where the film would go. Thankfully when Vanessa Kirby's Tallie arrives, the film picks up steam. The script lets us know that Finney (Christopher Abbott) is a controlling man who only sees Tallie as an object instead of a spouse. He shows his wife little affection in public, lacks communication skills, and is abusive to her.
Therefore, the script's angle of when Tallie and Abigail fall in love makes sense, with its organic approach. Both women are in passionless marriages, and the friendship they develop while spending time together that turns into passion is validated. One of the most essential things in a marriage is communication, so given that the husbands don't properly communicate with them, it makes sense.
In the roles of Tallie and Abigail, Vanessa Kirby and Katherine Waterson have great chemistry. The script avoids the clichés of turning Tallie into a thirsty woman who turns out Abigail which I respected. I also like the film's script staying true to the script and not opting for a fairy tale ending. Given the time, Abigail and Tallie just can't run off together, and both women acknowledge this fact.
While they deliver substantial supporting work as the husbands, Casey Affleck and Christopher Abbott really don't have much to do in the film. This is fine as The World to Come is more about the wives. If anything, the script could've removed the two characters after the first act with a plot point of the men simply going away for work each day, and the results would be the same.
I will point out that The World to Come is a slow burn and very dialogue-driven, so I doubt that I would revisit the film again. However, as a one-time watch, I don't feel that my time was wasted, and I will recommend it for fans of period pieces.
Final Grade: C+
The World to Come is open in limited theaters now and hits On Demand and Digital March 2, 2021