The World to Come (2020)

Movie poster for The World to Come, featuring two young white women touching noses with their eyes closed and holding each other's hands to their hearts.

Content Warnings: Domestic assault (implied); Animal slaughtering; Child loss (illness)

Genre: Sapphic Historical Romance

“Somewhere along the mid-19th century American East Coast frontier, two neighboring couples battle hardship and isolation, witnessed by a splendid yet testing landscape, challenging them both physically and psychologically.”

IMDb blurb

Directed by Mona Fastvold

Written by Ron Hansen and Jim Shepard

RATING out of 10 violets, with 1 being the least and 10 being the most pain

9/10 belligerent violets.

This review contains spoilers.

After the brutality of Tell It to the Bees, I scrambled to find a softer, lighter film. A brief review “for parents” informed me of all the same content warnings I offered you above, and although domestic assault and animal slaughter are in no way “soft” or “light,” I was intrigued by the idea of two desolate, overworked, and underappreciated women finding solace in each other. So I took the plunge.

Abigail (Katherine Waterston) and Tallie (Vanessa Kirby) are enchanting together. I loved Abigail’s meekness and Tallie’s long, flirtatious looks. It was a slow burn in the best way, until it wasn’t, and then it was the most beautiful and joyful romance.

My favorite scene is the one on Abigail’s birthday by the fireplace.

I will say that the trailer does offer you quite a nice glimpse of all the soft, Sapphic content of this film. It does leave out a rather gut-wrenchingly beautiful montage of Abigail and Tallie’s loving-making, which is precisely gut-wrenching because we only get this after Abigail learns that Tallie has died.

Tallie’s death, even if it were by a historically plausible cause like diphtheria, is atrocious because it robs these women of a happy ending. The frontier was a place where women were pioneers, who often lived without men. Of all the places at this point in American history, this would’ve been the one to allow these women the greatest chance at happiness. But it’s not enough to just bury our gays–the filmmakers wanted to abuse them, too.

Although domestic violence is not depicted, it is very heavily implied in Tallie’s interactions with her husband, who frequently quotes horrific stories from the paper about husbands murdering their wives to Tallie. So while her husband tells Abigail that she died of diphtheria, it is very strongly suggested that he murdered her after reading Abigail’s love letter to Tallie.

So Tallie doesn’t just die, robbing them of a happily-ever-after. Tallie is murdered and abused. And not just because she’s a woman–because she’s a woman in love with another woman. The filmmakers went for not only the bury-your-gays but the bury-and-abuse-your-gays trope.

I guess you could watch this film up until the point when Tallie’s husband rips her out of the town and away from Abigail if you don’t want to be traumatized (although the only way you know they’re gone is when Abigail and her husband discover a blood-soaked rag in their empty home). And Tumblr’s got all the lovely gifs for you to look at if that’s the only experience you want to take from this film. (It’s no surprise that nobody on Tumblr wishes to memorialize the scene where Abigail sees for herself what’s become of Tallie with a gif set…) But, if you’re like me, I know you’ll be tempted to see this film through to the end because even though I tell you it ends bad, you will have seen some gif set that suggests that there’s more beauty than what I’ve let on. But that beauty is only shown after Abigail finds Tallie’s dead body tucked into bed. And by this point, it’s too late.

Since writing the review for The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and author Taylor Jenkins Reid’s interview about wanting to tell “beautiful [queer] love stories,” I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this idea that queer romance seems to hold onto so tightly. If you watched the trailer, you might’ve noticed that The Guardian commended this film for being “a ravishingly beautiful love story.” My eyes are drawn first to that idea of “beautiful” again but primarily to “ravishingly.” Queer pain is not only beautiful but delightful? I know these are not the words out of either the director or the writers’ mouths, but these are the words that they chose to use to advertise this film, which begs the question–is queer media necessarily “ravishingly beautiful” because it is also tragic?


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