*This post contains spoilers*
Surprisingly this is only Kenneth Lonergan’s third directorial endeavour, however, it is no shock that the film received two Oscars in 2017, with Casey Affleck winning Best Performance by a lead actor and Lonergan receiving Best Original Screenplay. The film follows Lee (Affleck), who has to return to Manchester-by-the-Sea to look after his teen nephew after his brother’s anticipated yet sudden passing.
This is a narrative completely wrapped up in loss. What is impacting is the way in which this loss is portrayed. We watch a son not shed a tear about his father’s death until he realises that his body will be in a freezer until the weather allows for his burial, this reality causing him to completely break down when he sees meat in his own freezer. We see a brother desperately not want to return to his home town, at first with a hidden reason, and how the loss of his brother spurs the memory of a whole other world of loss.
What I think Lonergan does effectively is the portrayal of the brother, Joe. Although the narrative begins with Joe’s death through non-linear memory recall from Lee we are allowed an insight into the man he was. This makes the loss of the other characters even more heart-wrenching, as we now know exactly what they have lost.
The film isn’t pretty emotionally, and it seems partnered this with the picturesque landscape of Manchester, instilling the idea that although death is hard life goes on pretty much the same. Patrick still has his friends over to talk about Star Trek (albeit after condolences) he still juggles his two girlfriends, band and hockey. Whilst of course dealing with losing his father. While these people should be allowed a space to grieve, Lee has to talk to doctors, morticians, funeral homes, his ex-wife.
Throughout the film, the most realistic depiction of devastation and loss comes not from the death of Joe but from an earlier trauma. This is where Michelle William’s portrayal of Randi is heart-wrenching and somewhat beautiful. Effectively Lonergan doesn’t give us access into Randi and Lee’s relationship right after their three children’s perish in a house fire, we are instead left with a void in time that only the couple has access to. This is a space that only they have a right to as grieving parents and old (maybe still) lovers.
We witness a chance encounter between Lee and Randi in the street, however it is clear that Randi has been thinking a lot about what she would say to him. Her emotional turmoil reaches a pinnacle when she sobs, “my heart was broken… cause it’s always gonna be broken.” With her new born baby in a pram next to her it is only too evident that life goes on but pain never leaves. Whilst her son will bring her joy he will also be a constant reminder of what she previously lost and can never again have both with her children and with Lee.
Manchester By The Sea gave a beautiful and honest portrayal of loss, definitely something to put on the watch list. (It is available with Amazon Prime)