Jodie Comer in "The End We Start From"
“The End We Start From” begins with a calm before the storm. A young woman (played by Jodie Comer) gazes at her pregnant belly, her eyes filled with wonder. Moments later, water seeps through the door of her London flat. Without a moment’s notice, the entire city becomes submerged by flooding. In the midst of environmental disaster, the woman makes it to the hospital and gives birth to her first child. The end of one world gives way to the start of another: the novelty of motherhood. When the woman, her partner (played by Joel Fry), and their newborn are forced to leave London in search of a safer place, they are exposed to the elements of terror and uncertainty. Making her feature directorial debut, Mahalia Belo finds a sensitive balance between moments of calm and panic. Despite some uneven pacing and undeveloped plot points, a remarkable Jodie Comer makes the film resonate as a poetic and muted character study. Grounded by Comer’s work, “The End We Start From” is a gentle post-apocalyptic drama that branches into an intimate depiction of motherhood and existential crisis.
Based on Megan Hunter’s 2017 debut novel of the same name, “The End We Start From” is far more hopeful than many dystopian-set stories tend to be. From the protagonist (Comer)’s befriending nature towards her surroundings, to the uplifting visions she has of her partner when the fate of his character is unknown during the film’s second act. The story has a fragmented structure that effectively frames what the protagonist is going through. As her mind falls to pieces, she holds onto her sense of determination and persistency. She creates a protective bubble around her child, ready to fight for him at a moment’s notice, while also feeling the urge to flee. The film captures these internal perspectives on a strong visual level, from Belo’s observational direction and Suzie Lavelle’s cinematography, to Arttu Salmi’s fluid editing. There is a lulling quality in how one scene flows to the next, with occasional breaks of intensity during moments of impending danger. The delicately filmed opening sequence is a fine example, paralleling intense images of the birth and the flood without becoming too on-the-nose in its metaphorical comparisons.
Weathering the storm of “The End We Start From” is a magnificent Jodie Comer, who delivers some of her most contemplative and layered work yet. Her character’s frame of mind acts as a guide for direction, and in the hands of Comer’s talent, the story finds its footing. Comer brings exceptional attentiveness to a new mother’s physical and psychological journey, while also attuned to the environmental changes that push her into isolation. Her presence alone establishes a magnetic connection to the viewer. Comer is the anchor to the film’s non-linear storytelling. From her sense of humor and impromptu expressions of joy, to moments of deep existential crisis where she questions her place in the world, Comer finds the layers to this role. Her processing of extreme change makes for complex material to watch.
Over the past 8 years, screenwriter Alice Birch has covered an exciting breadth of material; from 2016’s “Lady Macbeth” (Birch’s film debut) and 2020’s Emmy-nominated “Normal People,” to 2022’s “The Wonder” and this year’s Emmy-nominated “Dead Ringers.” Birch’s adaptation of “The End We Start From” continues in the vein of character-driven stories that speak to women’s experiences amid some sort of collapse, whether societal or internal. Her dystopian screenplay tackles a bit of both – the breakdown of London’s infrastructure, and the disintegration of individual life within it. Comer’s character not only has to face survival on a practical level, but also question where she fits in a new world. Plus, layered within is her constantly evolving journey of motherhood.
While the themes are well balanced, the story sometimes moves at an uneven pace and engages in unfocused plot points. Outside of the protagonist’s perspective, the film jumps too far ahead with its introduction of vague supporting characters. When the family finds temporary solitude with her partner’s parents (played by Mark Strong and Nina Sosanya) at their countryside home, the writing of those new characters feels too abrupt to make an impact. Strong and Sosanya are given very little to work with. Faring a bit better is Katherine Waterston’s character O, a mother also in search for safety and whom the protagonist meets at a commune. Waterston brings refreshing spark and charm to the screen, making her role memorable. She and Comer share intuitive chemistry that speaks to their characters’ intense, empathetic bonding. In one of the most endearing scenes of the film, the two of them walk through dirt roads while scream-singing the lyrics of the classic ballad “I’ve Had the Time of My Life.” The film has a missed opportunity by not exploring their bond in further detail, as the buildup to their final scene doesn’t quite hit the intended emotional mark.
The film at its core is about a woman figuring out how to be a mother, and rediscovering her sense of self in the process. Despite the dangers ahead, and the potential benefits of her family splitting up to get help, she firmly argues, “We have a baby, we’re a family…we stay together.” Despite clear roadblocks and words of discouragement from others in her path, she desperately tries returning back to London, even if it means giving up safety elsewhere. London is home; without that sense of place and stability in her mind, she feels lost. This is beautifully conveyed in the film’s final act, when she questions to herself, “Where am I?”. Comer’s utter helplessness and disorientation in that moment are stunning to watch. Moments like this speak to the strength of her commitment and the emotional resonance of Birch’s screenplay.
Beyond the acting and writing, the production of “The End We Start From” also calls attention to the tone that Belo’s direction goes for. The various sounds of water are captured effectively throughout the film, from intense moments of flooding to raindrops falling onto windows. The sound design builds tension and creates a palpable atmosphere around the characters. The film utilizes a limited budget to impressive results; the special effects have an organic and realistic quality to them, particularly when it comes to rooms being submerged in water. The score by Anna Meredith also stands out; while it does feel out of place in a few scenes, its overall intensity captures the sentiment behind the story.
“The End We Start From” may be a little too muted in its approach and uneven in its storytelling, but Comer is such a powerhouse performer that the film simply shines in spite of its flaws. Comer infuses the story with a range of messy human emotions that makes it impossible not to feel connected. Playing a character who tries to find her footing between the impact of crisis and the escape from it, she taps into the film’s resonant themes and guides the viewer on a grounded journey. The power of her work rests most vividly in the moments she leaves unsaid; a single glance can evoke just as much as an emotional speech. Coupled with Belo’s steady direction and an introspective character study, the film finds enough ways to resonate.