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'The End We Start From' LFF 2023 Review: A Mother’s Odyssey

Jodie Comer in 'The End We Start From' (2024)
Image courtesy of Getty / BFI London Film Festival

Adapted for the screen from Megan Hunter’s riveting 2017 book of the same name, The End We Start From tells the unique and gripping story of a woman (Jodie Comer) who, along with her new-born baby Zeb, tries to find her way back home during an environmental crisis that leaves London completely submerged in floodwaters.

Despite this film being driven by a prevailing undertone of disaster and mass destruction, it most certainly wasn’t the theme that stuck with me the most. At its core, The End We Start From embodies an Odyssey-like journey, themes of motherhood, and the power of water. Water is used as a frequent motif from the get-go, as Comer’s unnamed character is introduced to the audience submerged in a bathtub, humming to her soon-to-be-born baby. From here we are instantly transported to the immediate and destructive nature of the sudden flood. This powerful dichotomy between moments made me consider the importance of water in this film and how the director essentially applied a role to inanimate elements to drive the story forward into places of both peace and turbulence. Like the water, the baby she carries throughout the film is what inflicts pain and anxiety upon her, whilst also being the person encouraging her journey and effectively saving her life without saying a single word. These unspeaking characters were influential to the storyline and progression of plot points in the film.

Something that also stuck with me is how clear it is that this film is guided by the work of incredibly talented women, such as director Mahalia Belo, and writers, Alice Birch and Megan Hunter. The feminine lens provides a refreshing depiction of the story which predominantly centres on the multi-dimensional nature of mothers and their important role in society. It was unique and enjoyable to watch what is essentially a disaster movie, but that isn’t built to shock the viewer by showing the extent of the destruction. Instead, it seems far more intimate, centring on predominantly a singular mother and the small, yet ever-changing circle of people she’s surrounded by on her treacherous, watery journey. Every scene felt like it had an intention, no matter how simple.

Before the film began, the audience was greeted by the director, author, writer, producer, and all the many other talented creatives involved in the film. When introducing The End We Start From, Alice Birch gave the impression that as a mother, she’d never experienced such a striking representation of motherhood in film before. Despite the intensity and rarity of the disaster depicted, it is how the mother coped, and the lengths she went to for her baby which made it feel so genuine. The intimate and unapologetically honest look into motherhood’s turbulent nature was also driven by the film's cinematography. From the provocative, alternating colour schemes to the haunting soundtrack, the movie felt true to the subject matter and kept me thoroughly engaged throughout.

If I were to apply one criticism to The End We Start From, it would be regarding the discourse. Despite her strength portrayed throughout the movie, I was eager to hear more of Comer's internal dialogue externalised from the beginning. From frequent moments of mental torment to physical agony, the audience is often left to guess how the mother is feeling. But then again, the lack of words the writer gave to Comer’s story allowed the audience to apply their own meaning to Comer’s situation, whilst also adding greater poignancy to the words that were said. Without spoiling the ending, of course, the desire from the audience for Comer to externalise her thoughts in the final scene felt palpable, but looking back, her silence actually made this the most powerful scene in the film.

I feel Belo successfully adapted Hunter’s story in a way that validated and represented motherhood in a way I’ve never seen before. By honing in on an individual’s story amidst a wide-scope disaster, the audience is granted deeper access to the mother’s unusual and liberating journey.

'The End We Start From' will be in cinemas from 24th January 2024


Edited by Oisín McGilloway, Co-Film & TV Editor


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