‘Before The World Set On Fire’ Ending Explained & Movie Recap: Did Anya Kill Wilder?

As the title of a film, Before the World Set on Fire is both intriguing and confusing. Jaclyn Bethany’s new film pretty much sets off along those lines and chooses to leave the audience without a proper explanation. However, there’s enough for you to come up with one yourself, if you have closely followed the film. Although that might seem to be quite a struggle given at least half of the film is pretty much a slog. That’s not at all a good thing for a film with a mere seventy minutes runtime. The issue here is that the first half of the film feels like sitting clueless in a philosophy class. Even more so, as the lead character is a philosophy professor herself and the seminar that we see in the film is where the unfortunate thing happens – you know what I’m talking about. But even then, Before the World Set on Fire could have done away with a lot of the class. Instead of focusing on several philosophical theories of Nietzsche, centering on “Ubermensch” would have been better, most likely. Anyway, my aim is to simplify the film here so let’s get on with that.


Spoilers Ahead

What Happens In The Film? 

Philosophy professor Anya Davis is being interrogated by her college authority, regarding the death of one of her students, Wilder Buck-Hewitt. As a matter of fact, Wilder killed himself during an online seminar conducted by Anya. The film plays a bit of trickery by going full nonlinear in the opening ten minutes. You see Anya walking around the woods in an unspecified time period, her getting appointed at Eastlings (that’s what the college is called), then attending the “book burning tradition” and subsequently meeting Wilder for the first time. The first conversation she has with Wilder is about the book burning tradition – something that he strongly criticizes as he believes that is a sign of denouncing history. Anya appears to be sort of fascinated by her student – he’s clearly one of a kind. Little did she know he would kill himself one day, that too during her class! 


What Happens In The Seminar?

What if the film had started with the zoom call seminar and went ahead without any flashback? By now we’ve become familiar with screen-time thriller-horror films thanks to the likes of “Searching” and “Host”. The latter is particularly similar to Before the World Set on Fire, given the entire film was shot through a zoom call during the Covid-19 Pandemic. While it initially seems like Before the World Set on Fire is also a film set during the Covid, it turns out that there’s a fictional virus here called “Sweat”. This one is (thankfully) small scale and contained within the college campus. As a result, everyone is in quarantine and that’s why Anya has to conduct her class online. The students – Mara, Molly, Reed, Parker, Kasper, Selena, and Wilder expectedly talk about the virus and these conversations are very much relatable thanks to our own experience. What’s unrelatable (and irrelevant) is the tiring philosophical discussion that goes on and on for a while. Nietzsche and several other philosophers’ names are thrown in, and the discussions soon start turning into arguments. It’s understandable that the director is only setting up the big final act here but making things a little more accessible probably would have been better!

What is Ubermensch?

The “Ubermensch” is one of the most popular philosophical theories of Nietzsche. The term “Uber” basically translates to super or superior and “mensch” means human with honor. It basically implies a human being who is superior compared to the rest and is beyond the worldly things. The theory is not particularly gender specific but Wilder seems to have this delusional idea of men being superior to women which obviously causes a lot of trouble during the seminar. Especially with Mara, who’s in a relationship with Wilder, and Molly, a free-thinking, progressive young girl, find it really difficult to digest Wilder’s beliefs. Reed, who’s a typical womanizer is belittled by Wilder but it soon becomes abundantly clear that it is Wilder who’s so full of himself. Not to mention, Wilder actually believes he’s an Ubermensch, which eventually leads him to jump out the window.


Did Anya Kill Wilder?

Before the World Set on Fire effectively dangles the question of the teacher playing a part in the student’s death. Of course, Anya didn’t ask Wilder to do what he did but she did have a special bond with Wilder. I felt it was a conscious decision to not get into the bottom of Anya and Wilder’s exact relationship, which only means you can think whatever you want to think. While Anya did have a physical relationship with her colleague, Professor Keaton, she seemed at home with Wilder – which surprised Keaton. He even mentions during the interrogation that he believes Anya was fascinated by Wilder.

Let us now look into some cold facts. Wilder was the one who was also responsible for spreading the virus around the college campus. That could happen only because he could enter the science lab – a place where a student could only go under their professor’s supervision. Every single time Wilder went there, Anya’s key card was used. Meanwhile, the interrogation also reveals that Anya had a difficult battle with mental illness – although she keeps saying that her struggles with depression in the past has nothing to do with her current life. I do agree with her here, but even then the keycard thing can’t be ignored. 


My conclusion would be both Anya and Wilder were deeply disturbed and a bonding between them was formed. For Wilder, it felt like someone was finally seeing him properly. He always struggled with not getting recognized for who he is and from what we saw, his relationship with Mara was not exactly a good one either (which is on him). Wilder reached a point in life where he probably believed that nothing would happen to him if he jumped. He genuinely thought he was superior to anyone else, who can’t get hurt like a normal human being. It is clearly a stupid thought and Anya can’t be blamed for the entirety of it. But she can’t also be given a complete clean chit.

Rohitavra Majumdar
Rohitavra Majumdar
Rohitavra likes to talk about movies, music, photography, food, and football. He has a government job to get by, but all those other things are what keep him going.

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