There are three stories that I wish to share with each and every one of you as you read what I want to express after watching Manchester by the Sea. At only three feature films, Kenneth Lonergan has been able to create nothing but the most intimate portraits of flawed humans to have graced the screen within the 21st century and only this decade he has achieved the most power such seemingly simple studies of character could elicit – thus showing something only a director and screenwriter like Lonergan could have evoked within such a manner. And without further ado, said anecdotes will follow along as promised, in the order of chronological occurrence. While it may not be unfamiliar to see similar reactions coming out from Manchester by the Sea, there’s a shared gathering of emotion that I would nonetheless be happy to add to.
The first story that I wish to share comes in regards to my first experience with loss. I was only seven years old when I heard news come by that my uncle was in the hospital. My mom came by my side to talk about what was set to come on his last days and eventually, she took me to see him in his hospital room for one last time. It came to me at the most unexpected of times, but nevertheless, the days to which had followed afterwards were a dark time for my family. It was only fitting that the unexpected nature of such a tragedy started off Kenneth Lonergan’s picture of a troubled soul trying to cope up, and at the same time find a sense of connection once more – beginning a journey through trauma.
Casey Affleck is this troubled soul, and in a magnificently heartbreaking performance, exerting a sort of character that Kenneth Lonergan was always best at writing. It was evident enough from how Lonergan crafted a character like Lisa Cohen as played by Anna Paquin in Margaret, a character haunted by something so shocking that it defines what they have become as time went on. Affleck’s performance embodies how such memories can linger far too long to the point that a disconnect soon becomes prevalent. Yet where Margaret focuses on how it changes one crucial point in one’s life, Manchester by the Sea displays a different effect at hand: one which defines a lifestyle.
It would already be easy enough to praise what Kenneth Lonergan was aiming for in Manchester by the Sea because there’s something to his care for how he handles every last facet of the story he wishes to tell to a degree that his characters aren’t characters anymore as opposed to actual people. At times they are gentle, at times unsympathetic – akin to life. What they go through, and how they change upon being brought together by these big moments. This soon brings me to the second anecdote that I wish to pull up: what happened to me ever since the day my uncle had passed away, and his eventual burial. I didn’t attend school for a week. I was far too affected by what I had experienced even at such a early point of my own life, the following years it still has its own wounds upon me (last year marked the tenth anniversary of his passing). What more did I want to become as a result of this, especially knowing how important a part of my own life he was?
It was in this growth of my own self, quick cues back towards Manchester by the Sea had flashed. Lonergan’s steady-handed direction does not present his own characters as characters but rather instead as actual people as noted in the above paragraph, but even though it portrays an affecting moment of one’s life there’s still so much more about life itself that it captures all throughout: a sense of connection between other people and all the comedies and tragedies that come along. Everyone gets angry and takes it out on unsuspecting souls, one which Lonergan doesn’t move away from as shown within how Lee is trying to cope up with what else had happened inside of his own life. Lonergan’s goal is one that seems simple but in how it captures a sense of unity is where his greatest strengths have come about, as evidenced through even seemingly smaller parts as shown through the film’s supporting cast going from Michelle Williams to Gretchen Mol in brief appearances or a spotlight stealer in Lucas Hedges.
The third anecdote to which I finish this review with isn’t one that has to do with my late uncle. Instead, it’s one that I came to think about while I was on my trip to the Philippines. It was supposed to be a happy time for the family as my grandmother was celebrating her 90th birthday, but on New Year’s Eve, we received an announcement her brother had passed away. It was not something we wanted flooding our minds during the trip, but it still affected us anyhow, even when we tried to hide it. Yet at this moment, we seemed more connected than ever as family and friends have helped us along the way. When I watched Manchester by the Sea at this point of my life, I began to question how come it just takes this long for a sense of connection among ourselves to form perfectly. Why must it always be at these moments? What shall we do after finding them, for they break apart later onward. It’s something to which I’m still pondering about, I just know I need to see this movie again.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Amazon Studios.
Directed by Kenneth Lonergan
Screenplay by Kenneth Lonergan
Produced by Matt Damon, Kimberly Steward, Chris Moore, Kevin J. Walsh, Lauren Beck
Starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Gretchen Mol, Lucas Hedges
Release Year: 2016
Running Time: 137 minutes