Monday, December 06, 2021

Manchester by the Sea: This film about grief is compulsory viewing

Oscars 2017: All three actors – Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges and Michelle Williams -- have got a much-deserved Oscar nomination. Casey Affleck has given a lifetime’s performance in this study of human grief and guilt.

Written by Dipti Sharma | New Delhi |
February 7, 2017 9:36:32 pm
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Manchester by the Sea is a deeply moving story of irreparable loss and pain. One can feel the weight of grief throughout the movie. How humans behave in the wake of a tragedy? How do you live with a painful memory? Is it possible to shake off the sadness originating from the guilt? Writer-Director Kenneth Lonergan tries to explore these questions in this masterfully crafted tale of human grief and smallness. The film has got multiple Oscar nominations.

Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) works as a janitor in different buildings in suburban Boston. His work involves repairing clogged toilets, plumbing, shovelling snow and throwing garbage. We see Lee doing his work with a certain indifference. He is short-tempered and can easily pick up fights in a bar. He lives in a small room in the basement of a building.

As these scenes unfold on screen, you want to know why Lee is like this. He gets a call from his hometown after his elder brother Joe dies of a heart failure. Lee is suddenly saddled with responsibilities that include meeting lawyers and arranging funeral service of his elder brother. Joe has made Lee the legal guardian of his 16-year-old son Patrick ( Lucas Hedges). It takes a huge effort for Lee to come to terms with this specific knowledge and has to find some way to work things out.

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As he relocates to Manchester, we see him struggling with bitter memories. He goes through mundane routines of filling forms and arranging the funeral with a remote distance and a sense of duty. He talks in a mechanical way and doesn’t express any emotion while meeting people. Meanwhile, we get flashbacks of Lee’s past life in Manchester. We see him as a caring, warm family person who loves his three children and wife. We eventually see the tragic incident that drove him out of his hometown. That incident leads to the separation of Lee and his wife Randy (played by Michelle Williams).

We never see Lee completely allowing an outlet for his suppressed grief. There are few scenes where he let go of himself and transcend his emotional grief into anger. But those are very few moments on screen. For the most part, Lee is trying to hold together his pent-up emotion under a calm, subdued manner. He tries hard to maintain that distant, numb look. How does he do that? Why is he doing that? Is there any way out of that grief?

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You also care for Lee’s character by seeing how his ex-wife Randy (who is now married to another man and has a child) has got back to normalcy with much more ease. One would expect awkwardness in the meetings of Lee and Randy, but Lee is far-removed from the world to care or feel. The movie isn’t trying to find hope and optimism in its characters and that’s where it finds its voice. It deals with reality and shows us characters that can’t be normal. For some, maybe, hope is not a way out.

Having said that, the movie isn’t a melodramatic portrait of life. What saves it from slipping into gloom is the underlying sense of humour and sarcasm attached to it. In that sense, a lot of credit goes to Casey and Lucas’s effortless on-screen bonding. From being awkward with each other at first to gradually grow an emotional intimacy, both bring a lot of conviction to their roles. Lucas is such a revelation as a wise, yet child-like 16-year old. There are many exchanges of humorous lines between Lee and Patrick that lend a light-hearted tone to the movie. For Lee, one feels that his conversation with Patrick is a sort of catharsis.

 (Claire Folger/Roadside Attractions and Amazon Studios via AP) (Claire Folger/Roadside Attractions and Amazon Studios via AP)

The film works at so many levels. It’s also about family ties and little things that matter in life. There is one scene in the film — in which Joe buys some furniture for Lee’s small room in Boston — to make it cosier. It’s such a powerful and poignant scene and reminds you of all the little things that your family does for you. It also makes you see how delicate life can be at times.

All three actors – Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges and Michelle Williams — have got a much-deserved Oscar nomination. Casey Affleck has given a lifetime’s performance in this study of human grief and guilt.

 (Claire Folger/Roadside Attractions and Amazon Studios via AP) (Claire Folger/Roadside Attractions and Amazon Studios via AP)

All the hype surrounding this movie winning applause in award circuits isn’t false. And if you are interested in watching cinema and what it can do to you, Manchester by the Sea is a fine example. This is why they make movies, to shock and surprise us. It’s honest, original and brilliant in what it does to you. It leaves you in an emotional turmoil that few movies can offer these days. It makes you see and feel life.

The film has got six Academy Awards nominations in following categories:

Best picture
Actor in a leading role (Casey Affleck)
Actor in a supporting role (Lucas Hedges)
Actress in a supporting role (Michelle Williams)
Original Screenplay (Kenneth Lonergan)
Directing (Kenneth Lonergan)

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