The best pieces of writing are those which consist of characters which are tumultuous, unpredictable and complex. As a reader, you like to be surprised more than you may care to realize. The mark of a great screenplay is its ability to catch the audience off-guard with characters who don’t conform to the socially acceptable forms of simplistic, unidimensional emotions such as anger or love or happiness. The reality is more like the Oscar-winning Animated feature Inside Out where our singular reactions are governed by a myriad of emotional triggers and the outcome is almost never predictable. However, this is easier said than done when you have to film such complexity in emotions and expect the message to be conveyed to your viewers without any dissonance. Some film-makers use tools such as non-linear screenplay to portray the chaos in their protagonist’s minds while some use a montage of images which are able to create the precise concoction that would relay their perspectives.
Writer and Director Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By the Sea is a treatise on how different people handle loss differently. The inconsequential clamoring to hold on to things even after they are gone, is perhaps the story of our lives. Its a time when denial and acceptance walk hand in hand and at some point, life becomes too overwhelming to carry along the heavy burden of memories. Lee Chandler, played by Casey Affleck, is a quiet and timid handyman in a small town called Quincy in Boston where he is trying to make a living doing odd jobs, unfazed by the scathing remarks from the residents who are characterized by the petty-mindedness that such small towns have. One fateful day, Lee is called back to his hometown of Manchester-by-the-sea as the closest blood-relative of his brother who had suffered a severe heart-attack. As his life slips away, the inevitability of the loss hits Lee and he is taken back to the times when he used to go fishing with his brother and his nephew Patrick, played by Lucas Hedges, who is now a 16-year old and is seemingly devastated by his father’s death. Lee soon learns that his brother had legally assigned him to be the guardian of his son, in case of his untimely death. Keeping aside the monumental responsibility, he is now faced with the decision whether to move back to Boston or to uproot Patrick from his community and have him settle in with him far away from their hometown.
Throughout the timeframe of present events, Lonergan shows us the glimpses of Lee’s past life and the tragic events that have shaped his present aloofness. The crushing aftermath of that incident also broke up his marriage as neither he nor his wife could stop blaming themselves for it. Even though acceptance dawns on them, their lives are forever changed. Patrick’s guardianship forces him to become a parent once again. When he is coping with the death of his brother, he is also faced with the immense responsibility of the future of his only child. His failed marriage and parenthood seem to be the baggage that mar him down, making it almost impossible to take care of the growing boy who is going through his own struggles and coping with the death of his father in his own rebellious manner.
Affleck’s defenseless and vulnerable personage scream out through his quiet demeanor. He portrays a man broken down with blinding loss throughout his life with an authenticity which almost gives you a sadistic pleasure to watch. The excruciating pain that he keeps suppressed within his cold exterior is gut-wrenching. It’s commendable how the director chooses to show such powerful emotion through so little action. Lucas Hedges also shows promise through one particularly upsetting scene where he breaks down from the rebellious masquerade and cries on the shoulder of his uncle.
Manchester By the Sea is as much about loss as it is about acceptance. Lonergan captures real emotions here which are complex and seemingly unfounded in their realization. This one will stay with you long after you have watched it.
gobblpoint: One of the most deeply affecting films that we have seen this year. Manchester By the Sea has some very compelling performances with a blatant relatibility that is missing from most movies today.
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