In The World to Come, two neighboring couples battle hardship and isolation along the mid-19th century American East Coast frontier. As the landscape challenges them physically and psychologically, the women begin a forbidden romance.
Note: this review contains a major SPOILER for the end of The World to Come. Sorry, I have to talk about it! Jump down to the Bottom Line for the spoiler-free take.
I’ll be honest – when this movie started playing, I thought I was going to hate it.
I found the opening of The World to Come VERY difficult to get through. It’s hard to capture someone’s attention by displaying the monotony of daily frontier life – milking the cows, feeding the chickens, cleaning – and it’s even harder to keep that attention when the voice-over narration comes from Abigail’s soft spoken, flat monotone. I was bored and unfocused immediately, and worried that the whole movie would drag and never make the right impression.
Luckily, though the narration remains present throughout, the film moves out of the setup phase quickly. From the moment Abigail first sees Tallie, we see the connection between them. (And there’s gentle pinky touching between the two by 20 minutes in. So seriously, just push through the first few minutes, and you’ll be on board with this one.)
The pacing of the romance in The World to Come is excellent. Abigail and Tallie share an instant connection, and the chemistry between Katherine Waterston and Vanessa Kirby works beautifully. Director Mona Fastvold contrasts the open harshness of the frontier in a way that reinforces the closeness and intimacy of the two women. This story shares all the hallmarks of a great period romance: longing glances and innocent-but-charged touches, clandestine meetings, and all the pent-up yearning you can handle. There’s foot rubs and poetry reading and the giving of special gifts. It’s got two women bonding over the difficulty of living in a time where their rights are few and far in between. In short, you’ll fall for Abigail and Tallie’s love.
(I’m going into real spoiler territory now, so this is your final warning I’m going to talk about the end of The World to Come.)
It doesn’t have a happy ending. I don’t think movies HAVE to have a happy ending, to be clear. But personally, I like knowing what I’m signing on for upfront, especially when it comes to a romance. And with the “bury your gays” trope looming over the LGBTQ community, I feel the need to point out that one of our leads doesn’t survive the film. It’s a very emotional ending for sure, but I want to be clear viewers aren’t getting a Pride & Prejudice finale here.
The World to Come: The Bottom Line
If you’re looking for a feel-good ending, The World to Come isn’t your movie. But if you’re there for the journey – and more importantly, the YEARNING – this romance delivers.
The World to Come premieres in select theaters February 12.