Picture it: mid-19th century American East Coast frontier. Life is hard; it’s round the clock, back breaking work just to stay alive. It’s dirty, full of drudgery, isolating, dark, and monotonous.
Dyer (Casey Affleck) is a poor farmer who will toil his whole life away and never have anything to show for it. His wife Abigail (Katherine Waterston) works just as hard at even more menial tasks. Their relationship is predicated on hard work and common sense. Their life is colourless, hard-scrabble, and bereft after the loss of their only child. When another couple appears in the “neighbourhood” (which is to say, another isolated cabin miles and miles away), their dreary lives are cheered just a little bit by the ability to see another face once in a while. Abigail becomes particular friends with the wife, Tallie (Vanessa Kirby), though Tallie’s husband Finney (Christopher Abbott) is a real stick in the mud, another burden to be borne, but worth the price of seeing Tallie.
If Dyer notices that Abigail and Tallie are growing closer by the day, he’s hardly the type to say anything, but Finney is much more jealous, and perhaps this isn’t the first time his wife has wandered over to someone else’s homestead. Abigail and Tallie relieve their loneliness and ignite something in each other’s company. Their relationship turns intimate, and physical, a balm on their otherwise psychologically taxing existence.
The World To Come is based on Jim Shepard’s lyrical story of the same name, which is fine for a piece of literature but translated less well on screen. Katherine Waterston provides a poetic voice-over that grows tiresome very quickly, not to mention suspicious. Dyer, who eats potatoes for every meal of every day of his sad little life, hardly seems the type to have said that “contentment is a friend who rarely visits” although the sentiment, at least, rings true, the biggest excitement in his life provided by a molasses enema when he gets the flu.
Waterston and Kirby are wonderful together, and the setting is absolute perfection. The sense of longing and emptiness are well conveyed, and Waterston does a fine job embodying both Abigail’s stoic reticence and the private, flowery language of her journal. The World to Come has plenty of isolated aspects to admire but they amounted to a boring film and a frigid love story that I didn’t need to see (again: this is hardly the first of its kind). Mona Fastvold is an excellent director who picked a crummy script and failed to breathe enough life into the story to justify it or indeed to hold any emotional heft. This one left me cold.
The World To Come will be released via video on demand on March 2, 2021.