A young mother and her newborn child struggle to survive an ecological disaster that has ravaged Great Britain. The End We Start From takes a more thoughtful and feminine tone in a genre usually dominated by machismo heroics. There are no gunfights, cannibals, or apocalyptic wastelands here. Where do you go with no food or shelter? Can you trust strangers not to exploit or hurt your family in a desperate situation? The film resonates as lucid and poignant but does suffer from pacing issues and a predictable outcome. Its lack of a strong climax wanes interest regardless of the compelling characters.
A heavily pregnant woman (known only as ‘Mother,’ and played by Jodie Comer) sits in her London townhouse during a ferocious storm. News reports warn of unprecedented flooding and dangerous meteorological conditions. Water pours under the front door. She flees upstairs to escape the deluge but has another crisis. Mother goes into labor as calamity takes hold outside. She calls for emergency services but they are overwhelmed.
The film cuts to Mother in the hospital with her son. R (Joel Fry), her husband, has finally arrived. They are overjoyed despite the hospital’s panicked state. R is thankful an ambulance was able to rescue her. The family returns home to unlivable conditions. They need to reach higher ground. R decides to drive to his parents’ house in the English countryside.
Traffic snakes for miles in the pouring rain. Authorities have blocked access to the village. Only proven residents are allowed refuge. Mother and R beg to be let in with the baby. They are enthusiastically greeted by his parents (Mark Strong, Nina Sosanya). Supplies soon dwindle to nothing. There’s not a crumb left to scavenge. R and his parents have no choice but to leave their sanctuary. Mother will care for the baby while they attempt to reach an emergency distribution center. She takes a long walk to clear her head. Mother’s terrified when she finds a stranger ransacking the house.
The End We Start From doesn’t spend any time on details or exposition. Based on the novel by Megan Hunter, you’re tossed into the narrative deep end without a life jacket. The characters aren’t named for a legitimate reason. Mother, husband, baby, and the parents are meant to be general representations of ordinary people. These archetypes have a known place and function in society, but accepted roles become blurred when civilization collapses. Those who are meant to be strong and supportive learn the cruelty of failure.
Director Mahalia Belo (Requiem, The Long Song) builds the protagonist’s strength through urgent necessity. Grief takes hold in the absence of hope. R, a man who loves and cherishes his family above all, falters when the pain of tragedy becomes insurmountable. He is not a tough and resilient patriarch with the answers. Some may brand him a coward or weak, but letting go isn’t an easy way out. R makes a critical choice to ensure his wife and son’s safety. These are difficult scenes to watch but reflect a savage truth. He cannot be a liability to Mother in dangerous times.
The End We Start From introduces a pivotal character in the second act. O (Katherine Waterston) is another woman with a young daughter. She becomes Mother’s most valuable ally as everything devolves into further catastrophe. O’s journey had a different beginning but a similar outcome. Men were not going to be saviors despite their best efforts. Mother and O forge an alliance that grows into a strong bond. Saving their children is paramount. Mother finally has a companion with fortitude, but that doesn’t mean they agree on what direction to take.
Joder Comer continues to be remarkable in a highly nuanced performance. The opening scene of her giving birth shows stamina and resolve. Mother’s heart breaks but her sturdy demeanor never wavers. Mother pushes forward regardless of the obstacles in her path. She’s not Sarah Connor from The Terminator. Mother isn’t a weapons expert or a badass fighter. As a director, Belo constantly reinforces a more admirable physical prowess for her characters than the usual action tropes. Mother walks for miles carrying an infant and meager supplies in search of refuge. Comer doesn’t say much throughout the film. Her actions speak louder than words. Mother cannot succumb to despair and risk her son.
The End We Start From requires an adult sensibility. The film infers rampant violence but eschews the carnage and brutality normally seen in this premise. We are keenly aware of what’s happening without gory minutiae. Mother is always the focus. There’s also a sliver of humanity in some of her encounters. Benedict Cumberbatch pulls double duty as a producer and has an affecting cameo. Strangers can be kind to a hungry woman and baby. Therein lies the moral of this story. We can hold true to our values in dire circumstances.
The End We Start From is a production of SunnyMarch, Hera Pictures, Anton, BBC Film, BFI, and C2 Motion Picture Group. It is currently in limited US theatrical release from Republic Pictures. Signature Entertainment will release the film in more theaters in early 2024.