The World To Come. (15.)
Directed by Mona Fastvold
Starring Katherine Waterston, Vanessa Kirby, Casey Affleck and Christopher Abbott. In cinemas. 104 mins.
Movies have taught me everything I know about lesbianism. Previously they had suggested that this was an activity dabbled in by restless augmented housewives around swimming pools in the Hollywood Hills. Recently though films like Portrait Of A Lady On Fire and Ammonite have steered me towards a view that it was something that happened in the 18th century, in the cold. Now, The World To Come lands us in the backwoods of New York in 1856 where the wives of two farmers gradually resolve to act on an instant mutual attraction.
The piece is constructed as a series of journal entries by Abigail (Waterston) that are filled with weather observation and wordy similes: “My heart is like a leaf born over a rock by rapidly running water.” Starting in January the first of these entries records that there was “ice in the bedroom,” which is a measure both of the harshness of the winter and the state of relations with husband Dyer (Affleck.) But when Tallie (Kirby) moves into the area she finds someone with whom she can share her love of words and poetry.
As a record of passion, it is austere and methodical. Waterston and Kirby give subtle performances that communicate the emotional connection between the two women (their sexual connection is held back for a last-minute reveal) but the film itself is much more focused on presenting their existence as an unrelenting struggle to survive in a hostile landscape.
The horror of being holed up with someone you no longer love is a timely aspect many will identify with. And any woman stuck married to wet blanket Casey Affleck has my instinctive sympathy but while Tallie's other half Finnie (Abbott) is a bible spouting brute, Affleck is at least a very decent and diligent wet blanket. When he notices that his wife would rather dally with miss Tallie than do her share of the work he is hurt but reacts with dignity. The patriarchy is usually fingered as the villain in these pieces but in this society and at this time everybody is repressed by religion, social conventions and the daily grind to survive and maybe those oppressive constraints were the forces that held society together and got them through hard times.