The End We Start From (2023) ★★★★☆
On the surface, this is a journey to safety for a mother and her newborn, but it is just as much an internal journey — a trying but cathartic road through bereavement, motherhood and belonging. (4 /5) Beware: spoilers.
A wonderfully claustrophobic facing up to the fragility of the systems we exist in, and think of as infallible — societal, familial and internal. What we take for granted is perched atop a house of cards, ready to crumble when the balance shifts. Or in this case, when the storm waters flood the entire country just as you're about to bring a new human into the world.
The End We Start From is a very elegant take on the climate apocalypse / survival genre, based on a novel by Megan Hunter. On the surface, the story is a journey to safety for a woman and her newborn, but in truth, it is just as much an internal journey — a trying but cathartic road through bereavement, motherhood and belonging.
The film is realised minimally in every sense (most characters aren't even given names) but this doesn’t take away from the suspense it holds. Multiple dystopian scenes reminded me of early Black Mirror (I know, sorry) and had me often forgetting to sip my drink. But this skillful managing of my attention span isn't the film's main strength. For this is undoubtedly a poetic film, carefully blending a harrowing lived reality with a tumultuous inner narrative in a way that doesn’t feel self-indulgent. Powerful visual metaphors draw parallels between the extreme emotions of being a new mother while navigating constant danger, making a comment on parenthood accessible to any viewer.
Director: Mahalia Belo
Country: United Kingdom
Screenplay by: Alice Birch, Megan Hunter
Based on: The End We Start From by Megan Hunter
Cinematography: Suzie Lavelle
Producer: Leah Clarke, Liza Marshall, Adam Ackland, Sophie Hunter, Amy Jackson
Editor: Arttu Salmi
Editor: Arttu Salmi
Cast: Jodie Comer, Joel Fry, Katherine Waterston, Benedict Cumberbatch,
Runtime: 1h 46m
We could easily read this film as a biblical flood story — if not washing away the sins of, at least exposing people's bestial nature governed by basic necessities like food and shelter. But that's almost a given. What's more thought-provoking, is that here Noah's Arc a.k.a. the ex-stock-trader-holiday-home-turned-commune, is less a vehicle for rebuilding the world, and more of a tomb of conservative, self-serving thinking: a head buried in vintage linen sheets while others suffer.
The virtues of Jodie Comer's acting need no extolling, she brings everything to this role. The only element that I would have liked either more of, or earlier, was the backstory of how the protagonist decided to have a child, as it could have added another dimension to earlier scenes.
The cinematography by Suzie Lavelle is flexible and evocative, and serves the story perfectly by enabling the internal while still painting nature as untamed and beautiful. I loved the expansive moody landscapes, as much as the "old life" vignettes, or the minimally used VFX wide shots of post-flood London. Same for the score by Anna Meridith, which pulsated through difficult moments and gave poignancy to others.
The End We Start From is intelligent, dynamic film-making which plays with form and genre in a way I thoroughly enjoyed.
Making a feature film takes heaps of hard work, dedication and love. The creative process is subject to myriad modalities, and the finished film invites just as many interpretations. So I'd like to acknowledge this context when writing film reviews, be they favorable or otherwise.