REVIEW by Siam Shah Khan
People unfamiliar with Kenneth Lonergan will have a hard time understanding the emotionally complex film Manchester By The Sea. The film does not have a confusing plot or any complex story structure, it’s a simple story about a tragedy that occurs in the family of the main protagonist Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) but it is the way that Kenneth Lonergan frames the film that allows it to transcend beyond being a mere exercise in misery porn.
Manchester By the Sea is a film about how the daily minutiae of life intervene even in the presence of grief or tragedy. Lee Chandler’s older brother played by Kyle Chandler suffers congestive heart failure and dies one day leaving Lee to take care of his seventeen year old nephew Patrick. Lee himself has suffered some personal tragedy and is a broken person, the fact that he is put in charge of caring for a vulnerable teenager gives this film its narrative hook.
The film stresses that the world does not stop turning for anyone, that after we are dead and gone there are bureaucratic messes left behind after us. Lee has to deal with funeral arrangements, lawyers, inheritances and the most important part of his older brother’s life, his son. Their prickly relationship grows as the film progresses as they slowly learn to live with each other, they learn to need each other as they have no one else left in the world.
Manchester By The Sea is not a particularly visual film nor is it directed in a different way from many other drama films like it. What sets it apart is its attention to detail and its superb script. There is a scene near the end of the film of a discussion between Lee and his ex-wife (Michelle Williams) which is so difficult to watch in terms of its emotionality that when I think of it, I have a visceral reaction. It’s a simple scene of Lee’s ex-wife asking him out for dinner yet the history between them and the acting from both these exceptional actors imbues the scene with power.
The death of a loved one can bring a sense of grief that can be all-encompassing but as anyone who has lost someone knows, the world doesn’t stop for anyone. Everyone moves on, some people faster than others. Manchester By The Sea is beautiful portrait of this fact of life.