The World to Come: Tale of forbidden love in frontier America that subverts expectations

Award-winning drama features powerful performances and gorgeous cinematography

Katherine Waterston and Vanessa Kirby in The World to Come.

Film Title: The World to Come

Director: Mona Fastvold

Starring: Katherine Waterston, Vanessa Kirby, Casey Affleck, Christopher Abbott, Andreea Vasile

Genre: Romance

Running Time: 109 min

Fri, Jul 23, 2021, 05:00


Christopher Abbott, who has lately starred in First Man, Black Bear, It Comes at Night, Possessor and Piercing, has become as essential as the filmmakers who direct him. If he’s in it, it’s worth seeing.

Abbott is joined in this Queer Lion-winning frontier drama by the equally compelling Vanessa Kirby, fresh from her wrecking turn in Pieces of a Woman, as well as Inherent Vice’s Katherine Waterston and Casey Affleck, who also produced.

The ensemble has gathered around Mona Fastvold’s thoughtful period drama 
of forbidden love. Working from a script written by Ron Hansen and Jim Shepard (the latter also wrote the story it’s based on), Fastvold, who co-wrote The Childhood of a Leader and Vox Lux, brings unexpected textures to what might have been a routine LGBT period tragedy, with temporal skips, ecstatic voiceover, occasionally anachronistic phrasing, and Daniel Blumberg’s thoroughly modern score framing a tale set in 1856 somewhere in rural Syracuse.

Abigail (Waterston) is a dutiful, taciturn wife to dutiful, taciturn Dyer (Affleck), bonded by farm work and grief for their dead daughter Nellie. The arrival of the glamorous and witty Tallie (Kirby) and her husband Finney (Abbott), the new neighbours, awakens strange sensations in Abigail. “Astonishment and joy! Astonishment and joy!” she writes in her journal. Their husbands watch suspiciously as the women bond and fall for one another.

Arriving as part of the recent vogue for historical lesbian romances, The World to Come is better than Ammonite and rather more carnal than the chilly Carol, if not nearly as swooning as Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire, nor as fascinating as Fastvold’s own writing.

The director makes terrific and tactile use of the landscape – rural Romania plays the eastern United States here – with brutal winters, springtime clotheslines, and clandestine woodland encounters. André Chemetoff’s cinematography is alternately glowering and gorgeous. 

The performances are predictably powerful given the personnel. Kirby, in particular, is a force of nature.

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