Sometimes the tragic hero isn’t a hero, but a regular person who can’t become the hero we want them to be.
From the previews, you think you could peg Manchester By the Sea as a familiar movie. One in which the protagonist, in this case Casey Affleck’s Lee, is carrying a past demon around with him and is thrust out of his comfortability and back into a world which he was glad to leave behind for his own reasons. The movie teases us as to why he left and it isn’t until well into the latter part of the film that we discover what the demon actually is. Manchester is an intriguing look into how much pain a person can take and still keep living a life with some resemblance of meaning. Lee is that person in pain and in a glimmer of hope through the tragedy of his brother’s passing he ends up becoming the guardian of his nephew, Patrick. Typically, you would imagine this would be the one thing that could help change his life for the better and from there you can pretty much predict how their story would end; Patrick would help snap Lee out of his funk and get him to move past his guilt in order to start life anew, but this isn’t that type of story and the audience isn’t treated to that form of closure. I can fully admit that it took me some time well after the credits rolled to sit and think about this because it is so atypical of these family dramas that we are used to seeing and finally experiencing something so far from the norm was slightly jarring but in a good way.
As I stated at the beginning, the glimpse of Lee’s life we get to see is not one of the hero, but in truth, it is a moment in time that shows that he could one day be one. This is perfectly summed up in a dinner scene with Patrick and Lee where he is explaining how he’s provided for Patrick to stay in Manchester with his school and all of his friends. Patrick is confused by this but grateful and doesn’t have to say anything, but conveys it through a small look of confusion to which Lee sees and sadly replies, “I just can’t beat it. I just can’t.”
It guts you.
Because you know exactly what he’s referring to and deep down you know that he’s never going to move past that moment in time that has him prisoner no matter how badly he wants to. It’s crushing, but very very real.
Manchester By the Sea does an incredible job of showing ordinary people having very real conversations to the point where it almost feels as if you’re getting to peek into these real people’s everyday lives even just for a moment and because this is so perfectly done you are left understanding very clearly what they are feeling and going through because you immediately can recall someone in your own life that has been there (if not you). The pacing at times can feel slow, but it’s on purpose as director Kenneth Lonergan allows for the moments of awkward silence and spaces between words to be carried out on camera and it works almost to the point where you want to butt into the conversations at times just to kill the awkward silences.
Another major standout was the score for this movie. Boasting credits from the London Philharmonic Orchestra to the Bavarian Opera, Manchester uses music to move along scenes carefully and with great precision as well as to help accent key moments in the movie. The only small gripe I have with it was when the audience is finally shown what has been haunting Lee the use of music is almost too loud for the actual moment to where it distracts from the emotion, but not enough to fully be ripped from the experience. It was just a fleeting thought during the actual scene and I remembered to mention it in this piece.
I can say with confidence that Manchester By the Sea was one of the best films I’ve seen this year. It’s sad. It’s real. And it’s a story that is meant to be experienced. It challenges the notion of just what is “closure” and forces you to understand that not everyone is a hero. Some people can get challenged by life and not rise to the occasion, but in the end their stories need to be told just as much as the other ones.
Manchester By the Sea – 5 GARYS