Accidents happen and they determine our fate irrevocably. Or so it would seem. Manchester By The Sea (2016) is a story of pain written from a cold and naturalistic point of view. The film sheds light on the phenomenon of grief poignantly. However, like its protagonist, the film is challenged in seeing beyond, where spiritual redemption lies forever waiting in grief’s shadow.
Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is a brooding, irritable loner who works as a handyman for a Boston apartment block. One damp winter day he gets a call summoning him to his hometown, north of the city. His brother’s heart has given out suddenly, and he’s been named guardian to his 16-year-old nephew. As if losing his only sibling and doubts about raising a teenager weren’t enough, his return to the past re-opens an unspeakable tragedy. (Synopsis: IMDB)
What’s especially frustrating about the film is how easily it resigns itself to its own single-minded pessimistic viewpoint without thoroughly investigating it. Like its protagonist, the film seems so willing to comply with the facts of life, rather than attempt to understand them, much less challenge them in any meaningful way. In Manchester, everything just is. And everything just sucks.
“I can’t beat it,” says Lee (referring to his own guilt/grief) as his nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), practically begs him to be his guardian. Here is this man’s opportunity at redemption staring him in the face, who he happens to be quite compatible with, and he runs away. It just doesn’t make sense.
And that’s not the only thing that doesn’t make sense about Lee’s character. Here is a thinking man, and a responsible man, who nonetheless commits a blunder so massive it could cut a hole in the fabric of spacetime.
Given the irony in Lee’s character, it would seem as if writer/director, Kenneth Lonergan, is suggesting that the film’s subject, death, does not make sense.
Maybe it doesn’t. As someone who has yet to endure a significant loss, I don’t think I’m in a position to say. And maybe that’s why this film didn’t fully resonate with me. Perhaps your experience of this film will be quite different!
For those of you who have lost someone you loved deeply, especially, are some wounds too deep to ever fully heal?
Manchester By The Sea
Release Date: November 18, 2016 (USA)
Director: Kenneth Lonerman
Writer: Kenneth Lonerman (Gangs of New York, Analyze This)
Starring: Casey Affleck, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges, and Michelle Williams.
The Inside Out: Sadness (30%), Anger (17%), Fear (6%), Disgust (4%), Joy (3%).