Misery & self-loathing: Manchester by the Sea

manch2017.76: Manchester By the Sea (2016)

If nothing else, this film had me thinking of beginnings and endings, and how film-makers and writers decide what constitutes a beginning, and what an ending. In any story, it’s all very arbitrary- the real  beginning for anyone’s story is their birth, and the end is their death, and usually what a story is, is some bubble of time between. We witness such a bubble, or fragment of someone’s life, in Manchester by the Sea, in which that person  is a tortured soul full of self-loathing and regret and anger. We don’t initially understand why, and this is deliberate- we are coming into this story almost at its end, really. Flashbacks dotted through the film offer tantalising hints until a horrifying reveal unfolds the truth before us. It’s one of those films where the sudden dawn of realization is almost like a physical punch. Maybe others see it coming, but for me this was one film that didn’t telegraph things ahead as some do. I thought it was a very effective drama.

And does any other actor do quiet, seething anger quite like Casey Affleck?  It’s a remarkable performance that is, typically of Affleck, so understated, so quiet and devoid of the scene-chewing hysterics that many actors would bring to it. But that’s the film, too, really- surprisingly quiet and understated, a gentle study in melancholy and the cruelness of life and the world we are sometime lost in and destroyed by.

Not a perfect Christmas movie by a long shot, Manchester by the Sea is nonetheless something rather special.  So special that I’ve been careful to avoid plot details or spoilers, even for  film as ‘old’ as this when most people reading this will likely have already seen the film. It’s that kind of film- an experience best unspoiled.


6 thoughts on “Misery & self-loathing: Manchester by the Sea

  1. I remember someone describe this as a movie for people having a bad Christmas. I was fairly harsh on this when I saw it last year. But now sometimes when I’m feeling melancholy or frustrated with the cruelness of life, I remember this movie and suddenly appreciate it a lot more. Does that make sense?

    1. Oh yes, the best films, whatever their initial impact/impressions, tend to linger in your head, sometimes almost with a life of their own. Actually, theres a thought: films are a virus. Once you catch it, it rather infects you. In which case, I caught the Blade Runner virus back in 1982 and never shook it off. Thanks for the comment.

      And yes, maybe this film is a Christmas movie after all, at least for those suffering the blues. I hadn’t thought of that but it can be a depressing time of year.

      1. Well said. Reminds me of a quote I heard recently from The author of Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell. He said, to some effect, about the best films that they infiltrate you like a Trojan horse (by entertaining, and appealing to your emotions), opening the door for their deeper meaning to be absorbed.

        I do not think there is a cure for the Blade Runner Virus, sorry to say. But I can think of few better viruses to have! Haha.

        I caught the 2049 virus. I think it’s in remission but I don’t foresee it going away permanently.

  2. Matthew McKinnon

    Have you seen his previous film ‘Margaret’? It’s a masterpiece. Sprawling, but brilliant.
    I think it’s on Netflix or Amazon.

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