In a vague near-future world that resembles our own, London faces a devastating flood. At the same time, a young woman (Jodie Comer) is giving birth to her first child. The birth is intercut with the flood, juxtaposing the miracle of life with the death of an old world. Unable to return to her home, she and her partner (Joel Fry) flee with their newborn to the city to be with his parents (Mark Strong, Nina Sosanya). The young couple previously lived in the country, where the flood hit the hardest, but things aren’t much better in the city. Food is scarce and the city is erupting with violence fueled by the fear of starvation. And yet, for a moment, the family seems to thrive on love alone, bonded by the joy of having a new baby.
But as the young woman struggles to nourish and care for her child, her partner buckles under the stress and pressure of being a new father at the end of the world. And when tragedy strikes, their family is ripped apart by sadness and uncertainty. The film, based on the novel of the same name by Megan Hunter, takes a quiet, emotional approach to the end times, with director Mahalia Belo favoring a meditative visual style. Rather than lingering on brutal imagery, Belo instead takes every opportunity to emphasize the beauty of the Earth. This reminds us that nature is not the culprit — it’s the interference of humanity that has corrupted nature’s beauty.
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Soon, the young woman is off on her own with her son, taking refuge in a shelter as she contemplates her next steps. Along the way she bonds with another young mother (Katherine Waterston) on her way to an island commune to start life over. When their shelter is violently raided, the young mothers decide to travel to the commune together. Their journey is harrowing, bonding them into a makeshift family. And for a moment, the future looks bright. They sing cheerful songs from the films of the past like Grease and Dirty Dancing, sharing them with their children. Waterston’s sarcasm and playful spirit are a welcome distraction from the solemn bleakness of everyone else they encounter. But the past keeps tugging at Comer’s character, with visions of her partner invading her dreams. She can’t stop wondering about the life they had and the life they could have again if only they were reunited.
The script, written by Alice Birch, takes a spare approach to conversation, reminding us of the story’s novelistic roots. Few characters are addressed by name, adding to the naturalism of their situation; we are often seeing intimate moments, where names would organically be left out. Identity itself barely matters in the world they’re in. There are long stretches of the film with no dialogue at all and we simply watch the women go about their lives, casually incorporating wilderness skills into their daily routines. They evade danger with quiet purpose while watching each other with love. There’s sad beauty to their friendship and dual fight for survival. Comer gives a career-defining performance rivaling her work in Ridley Scott’s underrated The Last Dual. Her character is driven by pure maternal instinct and the desire to give her child the life he deserves.
The End We Start From addresses an important question we’re all facing as climate change worsens: Is it ethical to have a child while the world is dying? Unlike the pessimism of a work like First Reformed, however, Belo’s film instead focuses on the affirming potential of life going on. The tension between past and future dominates the second half of the narrative. Is the future worth investing in? Motherhood forces the answer, with full knowledge of the pain that may follow. As the people around the story’s characters become more cruel and individualistic in order to survive the harsh conditions, it becomes clear that humanity isn’t socialized to take care of each other. The horror of The End We Start From lies in its plausibility. But there’s still beauty in love and family. Ultimately, that is what the film wants us to embrace.
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