The End We Start From shows how not even the end of the world is all gloom and doom; life goes on as long as we keep trying.
Over the summer, many environmental phenomena and intense weather patterns have shifted media focus to the ongoing climate crisis. Things are bad and continue to get worse, but life still goes on in spite of that. People are still being born, we humans still go about our jobs, and the sun rises and sets in its natural order. The End We Start From, which made its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday, is perhaps the best affirmation of this. It is a story of family, love, and perseverance, even in uncertain times. The film asserts how not even the end of everything should be depressing, but life should continue to make the most of it.
As the island of Great Britain is submerged in a flood, a nameless woman (Jodie Comer) delivers a child while her house goes under. Her husband (Joel Fry) suggests moving them to a shelter, as their whole city has been drowned in the flood, to the point of basically leaving them on an island. Things get worse as the man has to address his own inner demons, leaving the young mother alone. Tensions rise throughout as survival becomes the key player in the film from then on. In every scene of this movie, the baby is present, reminding viewers of the stakes at hand. It is never easy to raise a child, less so during the climate crisis, but our young heroine does it because she knows she must.
The End We Start From is Mahalia Belo’s first feature film. For a first feature, it seems like she already has a handle on long-form direction with an impressive foot forward here. She makes great use of scenery and nature shots, making the environment feel alive. Many conversations and flashbacks are shot in close-up, building the intimacy of each relationship and reading character expressions. Animals are used to show conflict with nature continuing after the crisis. Belo is a thrill seeker and a humanist, as she captures both the suspenseful and relaxed moments of her film to perfection. The one aspect where the movie falls short is with its worldbuilding. Not much is done to address the nature of the climate crisis or make any statement on how it got this bad. Though the human element in the movie makes up for that.
The actors do their best for the most part. Katherine Waterson, as another young mother, is a good presence and welcoming of our lead. Despite the heavy promotion of his role, Benedict Cumberbatch makes little more than a glorified cameo as a homeless man offering the protagonist shelter. But even so, he makes the most of his limited screen time. The breakout performance is of the main lead Jodie Comer. She suffers, grits it out, and cares for her baby at every chance she can get. Every moment is felt in her performance. As her face contorts and her body gives way, Comer gives it her all with her body being put on the line for every intense scene. The reflection of her suffering and pain gives the audience something to latch onto and creates a character deserving of audience sympathy.
The film is a departure from most in the post-apocalypse genre as it is not as nihilistic. Instead it highlights the importance of relationships.throughout the film, Marital, familial, and communal bonds endure as the woman finds welcome everywhere she goes. Rather than show humanity turning on itself, this movie instead shows the importance of altruism. The woman goes first to a shelter, then to a commune, where there is always a caretaker willing to help. She bonds with others in her shared suffering and still holds love for her husband even when he leaves. Everyone is in the same boat, so the need for infighting is rendered moot when everyone suffers together. The least anyone can do is help another in a stressful situation. As the title suggests, The End We Start From starts at the end, but as it unravels shows how there can be new beginnings.
The End We Start From is a topical film, relevant to many aspects of today’s world, even beyond climate change. It details relationships, parenthood, and isolation, but above all, gives the message we should not lose hope. No matter how bad things get, we must keep going, and continue through everything life throws at us. Even if we cannot escape the pains of life, survival is key. So with even the faintest glimmers of hope, humanity can survive anything.
The End We Start From premiered at TIFF 2023 in September. Read our list of films to watch at the 2023 Toronto Film Festival!