Manchester by the Sea

Manchester by the Sea ★★★★½

Manchester by the Sea begins with a death, as does so many films.

Death springs up drama and intrigue, in what relation is this death tied to our lead characters? Why has this death occurred? What does it entail to our characters? A thriller kicks off with a death to up the stakes, add the enigma. A romantic film might show us the death early to trudge up tragedy and poignancy through the rest of the film.

But Manchester by the Sea doesn't start like this, it's a subdued phone call in the middle of work. Something inevitable has finally happened, and now day to day life has to work around it.

See the ugly truth that many films deceive themselves of, is that death itself is as meaningless as life. The credits don't roll, the mystery doesn't get to a front, there's no ten minutes of hardship and grief and suddenly everything gets cleared up by some rousing speech. Whatever was happening before continues, and other things happen after.

That's not to say Manchester by the Sea doesn't have an air of mystery to it, as old mistakes, regrets and stories unravel as reclusive caretaker Lee Chandler, played by Casey Affleck, returns to his home town and re-engages with his family and friends. But these things play out less a gradual hook on the audience, and more as a bandage being ripped off deep seeded misfortune.

It's most telling that the film's most poignant moment comes near the end, as Affleck bumps into his ex-wife, played by Michelle Williams, as she tries to apologise for the ill-behaviour she unleashed upon him for his fatal error. Both succumb to words, stumbling upon one another and misinterpreting what the other is going to say, both wishing the other to be punish them for their physical, tangible pain and unavoidable regret. Both simply unable to say what they want to say because simply what they want to say cannot be said. It's a honest and grandstanding moment many film's wouldn't even brave to attempt, to show to characters unable to say anything and to demonstrate it in such a way that it's interpretable to audiences.

I think that's conclusively the strength that lies at the centre of Manchester by the Sea, it's able to turn that pain of the grieving process, the disbelief and disregard of sense into something tangible, whilst also demonstrating that there are no pauses in life, no time put aside for reflection. It's surprisingly breezy for the most part, but it really strikes at the guy when you least expect it.

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