*Minor spoilers contained within*
How do you care for someone whose world is crumbling when yours is already (literal) ashes? Realistically, you don’t. It’s generally the world of fantasy which sees one person enter another’s life and wash away their worst aspects. For those who yearn for the human experience to be somewhat realistically portrayed on screen, Manchester by the Sea is one of the greatest gifts cinema can offer them.
Manchester’s expertise is in reiterating something we don’t like to admit- life is boring. Watching how boring life is exposed on screen is depressing. Of course, it doesn’t help when the subject matter is specifically crafted to be that way. However, watching Lee (Casey Affleck) perform his daily duties with monotonous tedium takes place before disaster strikes. We’re presented with a character who has nothing major going on and any change surely looks like it can only be for the better. And yet, this still manages to not be the case.
Lee finds himself the legal guardian of nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges), after the boy’s father falls victim to a heart condition. It’s a wise choice to leave the actual death as an off-screen event, allowing the film to focus on the emotion surrounding the event rather than a dramatised tragedy. The emotion is able to continue as a focal point as no character is thrust into exciting events, instead life continues with the same monotony as it would had nobody died. That’s another tragedy of death; it doesn’t change the world for everyone. Even within the context of the film, the death is small and people carry on.
Patrick and Lee are somewhat opposite to each other. Their experiences of tragedy are different. One saw his family disappear in an unexpected, preventable event. The other was prepared, aware that his dad would die. Patrick’s grief isn’t heightened, not all-consuming him until he becomes a dramatic shell of himself. He’s a teenager and emotions are hard. Instead, he stays fairly reserved, allowing his thoughts to build up and leave him open to an inevitable plunge into a breakdown. Much like in life, it is something seemingly insignificant to an un-traumatised mind which flicks the switch- in this case, a frozen chicken.
With little in the way of ‘action’, they apparently had more time to consider technical aspects. There’s consideration for the rule of thirds, with Casey Affleck often on the side of the screen- not even the centre of attention in his own life story. The performances are honest, raw and loyal to the subject they are adapting. At times, watching feels like an intrusion into someone’s real darkest moments. The lack of score adds to the purity of the moment, exposing emotion to ensure your discomfort as people struggle with living.
Manchester by the Sea is unapologetic in its goal, hence it was so adored at the time of theatrical release. As a society, we do not like to reflect on emotions and how they can crush us. Grief is inconvenient and we do not like being exposed to someone else’s. We watch films to be taken to a new world so it’s unsettling to observe a reality which feels all too real.
No, the DVD does not contain a gag reel for when you need a little pick-me-up.
Manchester by the Sea will be available on DVD from 15th May 2017.
Dir: Kenneth Lonergan
Scr: Kenneth Lonergan
Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges, C.J. Wilson
Prd: Declan Baldwin, Lauren Beck, Matt Damon, Josh Godfrey, John Krasinski, Bill Migliore, Chris Moore, Katie Pastore, Kimberly Steward, Ryan Stowell, Kevin J. Walsh
DOP: Jody Lee Lipes
Editing: Jennifer Lame
Music: Lesley Barber
Running time: 137 min