The turning tides of Manchester by the Sea
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
Kenneth Lonergan’s muted tale of loss ripped out my heart and stomped all over it. There’s a profound sadness in Manchester by the Sea that lingers and never quite leaves. Efforts to quash its lasting effect have been futile like the very nature of grief. It can be overcome, ignored and even silenced. It can be worn down by the weight of time, swallowed by the shifting sands of the mind but never be vanquished entirely. The demon of heartbreak occasionally rears its prickly head as a quaint reminder or unleashes a towering flood of unfathomable emotion. Lonergan’s superb script is filled with a terse humour that offers seldom respite from its melancholic tone. Casey Affleck’s astonishingly understated turn as Lee Chandler is able to encompass myriad of emotions, it’s a colossal, career-defining achievement.
Lee Chandler appears to be a moody loner working as a handyman in a Boston apartment block. There’s an irritable edge to his demeanour. Cordial and polite with his clients but with a fiery rumbling beneath the surface. All does not seem quite right, he has that weary look of a man who has seen the world and been roughened up by it. A fateful phone call informing him of the untimely death of his brother summons him back to his hometown where he finds he’s been named guardian to his teenage nephew, Patrick (the excellent Lucas Hedges). Dealing with the loss of a sibling while needing to become a father figure in the same breath raises the expected challenges. Or does it?
Manchester by the Sea is a quaint town where Chandler has somewhat of a reputation. Anxious glances are drawn his way and whispers quickly begin upon his arrival among the locals. He walks around like a ghost as he haunts his old hangouts and revisits many forgotten faces. With a troubled aura surrounding his interactions with ex-wife, Randi (Michelle Williams), a heart-stopping tragedy is unveiled that urgently alters the perspective.
It’s a revelation that torches the mind to a blazing inferno, nothing quite seems the same after it and never will. Lee is able to foster and reluctantly be present for Patrick in a time of need, even allowing him to reconnect with his neurotic mother. The longing and weariness come to a head in a troubling encounter with Randi who attempts to resurrect and add some form of closure on their past life. She has since moved on with another man yet Lee is floating in limbo. It chronicles the unrelenting nature of life. It will move on even if you’re not ready to. Returning to Manchester forces this reality to the one who doesn’t need telling. Things can feel often frozen in time or change so fundamentally that you don’t recognise the essence of the place you used to know. Faces, places, names all blending into a swirling abyss.
Manchester by the Sea is often unforgiving but there is humility in its closure that speaks volumes of Lonergan’s tremendous film. A willingness to accept defeat can also be the ultimate liberation.
n.b. I do not own any of the copyright of the photos above