Our film opens out at sea, a mood-setting piece of music accompanying the craftsmanship on screen. Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is seen laughing, participating in friendly banter and good spirited teasing with his nephew Patrick (then, played by Ben O’Brien) and brother Joe (Kyle Chandler). We first meet Lee as a happy man, a smile on his face and a leap with every step. The first thing this film makes clear is that Lee and Patrick have a good relationship, despite Patrick’s humorous honesty towards preferring his dad, Joe. The film’s first cut sees us jump ahead in time, Lee’s personality almost unrecognisable in comparison to what came before. The grief begins.
Everybody deals with their emotions in different ways. Nobody’s the same. We all have to find our own path to redemption, even if that redemption is never found. Lee’s dealings with depression are more of an unconventional, but completely justified and well-realised way of accepting the tragedies in his life. When we initially catch up with Lee, before we see any of the flashbacks to earlier stages in his life, he’s in a sort of perplexed state of being. It’s motionless, aggravated and repetitive, living day in and day out with a similar routine and rarely any need to smile. Its not too long before we start to come to terms with just how broken he really is, an endless series of heartbreak bottled down inside of him.
This is a film compromised almost entirely of dialogue, but not in the way a stage play deals with it, or even in the way most dialogue-centric movies do either. It’s all about the craft; the way Lonergan evokes a feeling inside that nothing on screen is deliberate. Countless moments throughout feel authentic and improvised, whether it’s Lee slipping on a chunk of ice or his car keys slipping from his grip in a moment of pure rage and frustration. It doesn’t sound like much on the page, but it’s the little moments scattered throughout that just made this film all the better. They helped in crafting the bigger picture at hand.
What’s on display here is subtle, moving and frustrating all at the same time, backed up with some serious heartbreak. There’s a scene about halfway through that’s so raw and full of emotion, punching me right in the gut until the tears started to flow. I cried in this film. Oh, and I cried and I cried and I cried. The thing about it is that it’s never just one scene that put me to tears, although the flashback hit me way too hard, but instead the film is two hours and fifteen minutes of constant emotion. It hits you with its relentless sadness, bringing up all sorts of feelings you weren’t expecting. It’s far from a pleasant, happy go lucky film, its conclusion not at all what you’re expecting, but it’s brilliant in its evocative realism and dire understanding of the human condition.
Manchester By The Sea is a film willing to take the hard way to your heart, one of the more frustrating and depressing films of 2016, yet also one of the more real and brilliant ones too. It’s a film that will have you crying, laughing, screaming and sitting uncomfortably all at the same time, stirring up all sorts of emotions you didn’t think you had, but you welcome anyway.
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