Disaster films are challenging to watch, considering that any one of us could experience an environmental incident. In the case of Mahalia Belo's The End We Start From, a flood has swept across London. Amidst the inclement weather, a pregnant woman (Mother), played by Jodie Comer, is trapped at home when her water breaks.
She makes it to the hospital and gives birth to a perfectly healthy son named Zeb with the baby's father (Joel Fry) by her side. However, the aftermath of the disaster results in chaos and greed among civilization, and Mother is whisked away to the country with her family for safety. Still, after unforeseen circumstances force her out into the wilderness, she attempts to find her way back home, encountering many obstacles along the way.
As The End We Start From begins, viewers are instantly thrown into an environment of realness. The soon-to-be mother relaxes in her bathtub and enjoys the peaceful surroundings. She chuckles at a television show while sitting comfortably on the couch enjoying snacks. Each activity Mother partakes in is comforting, and one any viewer could envision themselves carrying out daily. This makes Belo's subtle approach even more effective and chilling, showcasing that our existence can be threatened even in the safest of places.
As rain pounds against the windows of Mother's house, imminent danger lingers as we witness flood water pouring through the door. It's a notable shot that instills fear and anxiety as viewers wait in anticipation to learn the fate of Mother and her baby. The narrative uses symbolism to showcase how water can serve a great purpose or be detrimental, depending on the context. On the one hand, drinking water is vital for survival, yet in another instance, flood water can threaten people's subsistence and take many lives.
After a promising setup, a devastating event lands Mother and Zeb in a shelter. The baby's father chooses not to enter the facility, though he insists that Mother seeks refuge with their newborn to ensure the pair have food and warmth.
All characters introduced in The End We Start From, except for Zeb, lack first names. This emphasizes that any viewer could find themselves in the shoes of characters on the big screen should an environmental disaster occur. Zeb, being the only named character, reflects the importance and joy of new life. Babies cannot defend themselves, and motherhood is one of the most important responsibilities a woman has, especially when protecting their child from harm.
Mother finds herself in threatening situations multiple times throughout her unpredictable journey, though moments of brutality are implied rather than shown. This adds to the eeriness of how each tragedy occurs, which is left to the imagination. One strong theme The End We Start From reflects is that disasters can bring out the worst in people, and only when faced with such, do we see individuals for who they truly are.
Comer gives a powerful, award-worthy performance reflecting Mother's vulnerability, selflessness, and strength. In scenes absent of dialogue, viewers can feel every emotion Mother is experiencing and the heartbreak she faces when coming to terms with the events that have occurred.
Zeb's first days are spent in the wilderness instead of the comfort of a warm home surrounded by family and happiness, which is devasting to witness. No matter her role, Comer breathes life and personality into each character. However, The End We Start From is undeniably her most emotionally charged and impactful work to date.
Though Mother and Fry's characters are romantically linked, the most uplifting connection is the friendship between Mother and another unnamed mom (Katherine Waterston), whom she meets at the shelter. When Zeb won't stop crying, the other shelter mom helps rock him to sleep, and as a menacing incident occurs, both mothers unite as they fight to survive.
The bond between the two is a pleasure to watch and brings some relief to a narrative full of dread and trauma. One of the film's biggest highlights is a brief cameo from Benedict Cumberbatch. Though his screen time is short-lived, his moments are compelling and memorable, delivering one of the best scenes alongside Comer and Waterston.
In the presence of tragedy, The End We Start From injects hope when the audience least expects it. From a beautiful, unforeseen friendship to a boat ride with Mother and Baby across flooded streets, as the gorgeous sun beams down upon the two, the film teaches us that life is precious and that even in the face of a crisis, better days lie ahead.
Though Mother hits rock bottom, through her journey, she learns that motherhood is the greatest gift. Another major takeaway from The End We Start From is that unpredictable, potentially life-threatening circumstances may forever change us. However, they also make us more resilient as we push for survival.
If you're entering The End We Start From viewing experience hoping for a violent survival story jam-packed with action, this film may not be for you. Instead, Belo's understated approach to the narrative expresses the gift of motherhood and the importance of humanity and unity amidst crisis, led by Comer's immaculate, nuanced performance.