There are many movies based around grief. Usually, the grief is personal. In The End We Start From, it is life as we know it that is being grieved for. Heavy rainfall has led to flooding, which has caused people to flee their homes in search of food and shelter. While the premise plays on concerns related to our ongoing climate crisis, this isn’t political. There are no explanations for what is happening or how it could have been prevented. This is kept at the human level. It is an intimate, quiet, drama about survival in the face of losing everything. It is a sad, though ultimately hopeful, story that works quite well, in large part due to an economy of storytelling and a very empathetic lead performance from Jodi Comer.
Comer’s character (unnamed and listed as “Mother” in the credits) gives birth as this begins. As she sits in the hospital with her partner (listed as “R”) and their newborn son, waiting to be discharged, they wonder where they will go. Their home is uninhabitable. Their search for safety eventually leads to him abandoning them, turning her into a single mother who must always make decisions with her child’s future in mind.
The End We Start From (95 minutes, without the end credits) isn’t really any more complicated than that. This woman and her baby go to various places as she looks not just for shelter, but for a sense of life moving forward. Everywhere they go they find loss and fear.
A baby is a symbol of a new beginning. That innocence and potential he represents is the opposite of the reality Mother experiences. R sees him (as well as her) as a challenge he is not capable of accepting. For Mother, the baby is a commitment, a companion, a piece of herself and a promise that, one day, tomorrow will be better.
The End We Start From (adapted from a 2017 novel by Megan Hunter) is fascinating because it isn’t a traditional disaster movie. It is actually a story of birth and death on an oddly small scale. Yes, the crisis brings out the worst in people, both desperation and cowardice. However, the tension comes from the fear that this wandering, this complete lack of comfort, might be all there is left. The larger action takes place offscreen. It’s more focused on this woman’s grief for everything that used to be, and how she keeps pushing herself for the sake of her child. Her bravery comes from the knowledge that continuing on could be pointless, yet giving up means giving up on him.
Director Mahalia Belo (making her first feature) doesn’t show us what is going on outside of Mother’s perspective. We hear snippets on the radio or first-hand accounts from those she comes across, but the view is narrow. This doesn’t come off as a screed on climate change. That is merely the jumping-off point to observe how close life and death, tragedy and triumph, happiness and devastation are to each other. We live every day on a razor’s edge, not realizing how close we always are to our happiness suddenly coming to an end.
This is structured intriguingly, keeping us with Mother as she deals with each new situation. Jodie Comer is consistently captivating in the role. There isn’t a ton of dialogue (though she does have a couple of effective speeches), so she has to do a lot with facial expressions/body language. Comer is so authentic throughout. Since she is the plot, nothing she says or does feels false. It’s not the type of showy performance that gets awards buzz, yet it is absolutely perfect for a movie about pushing through under extreme circumstances.
Add in a very good supporting turn from Katherine Waterston (as a single mom Mother meets at a shelter) and patient direction and you get a thoughtful production that makes struggling to find normalcy in the wake of a massive disaster terrifyingly relatable.
3¾ out of 5
Jodie Comer as Mother
Joel Fry as R
Katherine Waterston as O
Directed by Mahalia Belo
Screenplay by Alice Birch