Now and then a film comes along that lingers in the mind of the viewer long after it is over leaving a feeling or impression that just can’t be easily lost. In the case of movies like this, rarely is it a happy, feel-good movie. The stories that leave such lasting impressions touch us in an uncomfortable way and shake us deep down. It has been quite some time since I have had these feelings and emotions after leaving a theater but, Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By The Sea has left me with feelings and emotions that won’t soon be shaken.
Manchester By The Sea is the story of Lee Chandler who is a quiet handyman in the Quincy area of Boston who appears to be more or less just existing on a daily basis. Lee is informed that his brother Joe has died and Lee has to come back home to Manchester and settle things for his brother and be with his 16-year-old nephew. While making all the arraignments and settling the estate, Lee is informed that he is now the legal guardian of his nephew, Pat. Lee is completely unprepared to handle this responsibility and the more time Lee spends in Manchester, the more he is reminded of why he is ill equipped handle this responsibility. Lee is constantly haunted by past mistakes and a life he has tried so hard to forget and erase from his mind.
As I sit here trying to express my thoughts and views of Manchester, I find the right words incredibly hard to find. It is hard to put the depth of emotions that the film brings out, into words. Lonergan manages to capture humanity at its most difficult while proving that not everyone gains closure no matter how desperately they want and need it. His brilliant and articulate script are matched only by his visual way of telling Lee’s tragic and intense story. The mixture of flashbacks is used so expertly, that with every new scene we are made to understand Lee more and more. Casey Affleck’s performance is moving and captivating on a level that most actors only wish they had the ability to reach. With every word and glance and the gaze of his eyes, you can almost feel what he does in the pit of his stomach.
There is no doubt why this film is going to be on the tips of everyone’s tongue during the upcoming awards season. As for the film’s star, Casey Affleck, he has cemented himself amongst the greatest working actors and is poised to walk away with just about every award possible for him. This is the role that will define him as an actor, and he should be proud to have this as the feather in his cap.
This picture is not one of a tragedy that turns into hopefulness leaving us crying with joy and relief for the characters. This story is one that is real and raw and may make you look at someone and see things differently. Not everyone gets over tragedy. Not everyone heals and moves on; sometimes people just exist, and they are damaged and broken.
Manchester By The Sea may have you leave the theater asking why someone would choose to tell such a depressing and sad story. This would be a valid thought, but sometimes we need to experience sad and tragic art so that those producing the art and those viewing it can expunge the feelings we all have deep inside us.
Don’t look for Manchester By The Sea to give you a boost but don’t think that experiencing the depths of emotions not often tapped into can’t also make you feel alive.