The End We Start From Review

The End We Start
The End We Start
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This is a tricky balance for all dystopian films about the end of the world to strike, walking on the tightrope between the terrifying threat of extinction and innate human perseverance that fosters an almost unbreakable sense of optimism. And there is no better way to ignite hope than looking at a future that could be possible, and children are often used as means for this. Think Alfonso Cuarón’s seminal Children of Men or John Hillcoat’s The Road, two dystopian stories where ordinary men are turned into heroes simply because they cannot bear to harm those children they care for so much.

In many ways, Mahalia Belo’s feature debut The End We Start From does take a similar approach. When water comes crashing down through the gaping windows of her London townhouse, an unnamed woman (played by Jodie Comer) goes into premature labor. It won’t stop coming though it seems like it will be soon replaced. The father R (Joel Fry), mother and their newborn then head out towards R’s family who live in a rustic cottage with ample food stores and good farming grounds where they can comfortably chew their mouths off. But alas, this being a post-apocalyptic drama, idyllic life in the country cannot last indefinitely; soon tragedy comes knocking upon their door destroying the family only for them mother & child have to go alone on a survival journey as they leave home behind.

Megan Hunter in her novel The End We Start From doesn’t say much about the ecological disaster that makes a global city unlivable, nor is it mentioned if such happened elsewhere. The screenplay adaptation by Alice Birch follows that lead; Belo chooses to translate literary prose into visual contemplation instead as the director with the mother capturing the emotional pain of facing the unknown carrying a small baby in her hands. The movie’s most amazing thing is how it undertakes Jodie Comer for its main character, an actress who can switch from one psychological gear to another and she is equally effective at times of passion shared between two lovers as she is when standing on the edge of extinction.

Besides, Elisabeth Waterston acts as a colleague mother at an emergency shelter, Mark Strong plays R’s caring father and executive producer Benedict Cumberbatch acts like a soulful nomad. In addition to brief cameos for these latter two characters, Waterston fills in competently as a lively sidekick but also punctuates moments of fear with some well-placed jokes about difficulties of motherhood that are not covered with rose tinted glasses. It soon becomes too much: too much repetition, too boringly stereotypical relationships (involving other characters), and way too one-dimensional friend whose only role was to give us some glaringly artificial conversations just so that we could learn more about her past life. We know nothing more about these people than we do about what made London turn into some type of open-air aquarium overnight, resulting in an estrangement which denies them our sympathy.

This lays bare Belo’s weak point: The End We Start From does not have enough emotional pull because it prefers meditative quietism over dramatic exposure. There is no time for us even to feel sorry – let alone terrified –for those caught up in this flood. Whenever there aren’t any other circumstances that presuppose compassion towards the protagonist as she happens to be a mother or there are abrupt groans in the story line. It also makes the film shift directionless: while the second act never ends; the ending seems like an afterthought that was hurried due to the characters just coming and going without any real explanation for their existence apart from merely developing the mother’s journey.

The long-awaited reunion comes at last, but it seems not enough. At least, patience is another scarce commodity and it is hard to locate a needle of reward in The End We Start From’s haystack of frustration. This is unfortunate because Belo sometimes captures unadulterated humanity: those few instances when Comer gets to let her mind linger on the sorrow accompanying motherhood, or also on its end as much as its beginning. It all just sinks in for a moment.

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