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Delina Neguse

United States

Just a young writer who wants to be heard.

Manchester By The Sea: Kenneth Lonergan's Oscar Nominee

January 10, 2019

On December 16, 2016, K Period Media released Manchester By The Sea in theaters across the nation after the limited release on Amazon Prime just a month prior. The film was set in Lynn, Massachusetts and raised up to $47 million in the box office. Manchester By The Sea, which was both written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, starred Casey Affleck, Kyle Chandler, and Lucas Hedges; Affleck and Lonergan both receiving Academy Awards for their work. If the stellar ratings and six Oscar nominations do not speak for themself, I, personally, would highly recommend this movie to anyone who can either appreciate a captivating performance by Affleck or even possess the most minute form of human empathy.    

Lee Chandler (Affleck), a custodian of an apartment complex in Boston, returns to his hometown of Manchester, Massachusetts after hearing that his older brother, Joe, (Chandler) passed away due to going into cardiac arrest as a result of congestive heart failure. Chandler then brings it upon himself to stay in Manchester in attempt to get funeral arrangements sorted out but comes to find out that his brother requested in his will that Chandler be the sole guardian of his 16-year old son, Patrick (Hedges). As the film progresses, Chandler and Patrick not only mourn the death of a beloved family member but also (slowly) start to rekindle their relationship as Chandler’s past life and personal bonds in Manchester begin to unravel.

Manchester By The Sea, which is the third film directed by Lonergan, sings the same tune as his two previous films: You Can Count On Me and Margaret. In each of the three works, Lonergan tackles the grief and/or trauma that his characters face at some point within their lives, allowing for his movies to have an authentic, humanistic feel to them. In Manchester By The Sea, viewers are able to take a glimpse at the human experience from the eyes of someone who seems almost worn down, whether it be Chandler’s soft voice or his dispirited demeanor. Even early on in the film, Chandler appears to be stricken with both sadness and anger, which becomes blatantly obvious when he curses out a tenant for whom he works and gets into a drunken altercation at a local bar--all before his brother’s passing is revealed. However, Lonergan does not leave his viewers in the dust and opts to use flashbacks to tell us Chandler’s story and how it justifies the glares and judgement he receives throughout, why people call him “the Lee Chandler.”

The opening scene of the film shows Chandler on a boat with a young that is cruising along the ocean. With him, a young Patrick, engaging in fun banter as the waves crash lightly beneath them. Although it has yet to be revealed who each character is, this scene is crucial in two ways. One, it potentially gives off the impression that the film could be a touching story between father and son. Along with this, it depicts how symbolic the boat is during the course of the movie. Despite the dark and gloomy moments of the film, it seems as if every time Patrick and Chandler are on the boat, their problems seem to be in the back of their minds. Chandler, who clearly vocalized his disinterest in staying in Manchester with Patrick, never had a single bad memory while on his brother’s boat, the times he spent on it being the only sight of a smile on Chandler’s face.    

The most realistic aspect of Manchester By The Sea, as previously mentioned, is how it realistically, yet unlightly handles the (downfall of) the human experience; it simply contains no filter and that is heavily shown through the performances of Affleck and Hedges. Upon Chandler’s arrival in Manchester, it is clear that the two have a distanced relationship of sorts: they seem to merely tolerate one another at times and do not hold back from expressing their thoughts/emotions freely. For example, at one point in the film Chandler and Patrick argue about Chandler’s refusal to make small talk with the mother of Patrick’s girlfriend. Though brief, Patrick’s character in this scene is one of the very few humorous bits of the movie. “You can’t talk about boring bullsh*t for half an hour? ‘Hey, how about those interest rates?’ ‘Hey, I lost my Triple A card.’” (Manchester By The Sea 2016) Although this could initially seem hostile or counter-intuitive, the bluntness of both Chandler and Patrick plays a great role in their character development as well as how deep and where the viewer’s empathy for the pair roots from. Manchester By The Sea highlights the various ways in which grief can be handled and what it can result in. Throughout the movie, there are multiple occasions where Chandler is caught in a nightmare or even daydreaming of his past both alone and with his ex-wife and kids, one of which included Chandler putting a gun to his head. In another instance, we find Patrick in the kitchen sorting through meat in his freezer, anxiously shuffling and sorting them around in an attempt to get the freezer to completely close. One failed attempt after another, Patrick bursts into tears and defines the experience to Chandler as a panic attack, fueled by the fact that his own father’s body was currently being held in a freezer until a proper burial could be organized.    

Though the film received much praise from professional critics and commoners across the board, a relatively small bunch of reviewers were not hesitant to comment their own disapproval of the film. Naturally, every film has its flaws, I get that, but I suppose I am much more forgiving than Angelo Muredda of CinemaScope Online. In a quite brief review of Manchester By The Sea, he claims: “Lonergan seems to be straining for melodramatic notes that aren’t in his story’s range.” (Muredda 2016) I believe that Muredda has failed to see the depths that this film has reached as well as the goal it was trying to accomplish. Do I agree that the story was dramatic and depressing? Of course, but that is essentially what the grieving process is like. There is no “Get Out of Jail Free” card for the emotional toll that death has on us, and Lonergan takes that into consideration as he forms characters, Chandler specifically, that can physically and mentally portray how one unfortunate event after another slowly deteriorates our being. In Lee Chandler’s case, there’s a man who keeps to himself and does not allow himself to indulge or find happiness because he believes he deserves to suffer.    

Although this genre was not necessarily a new challenge for Lonergan, Manchester By The Sea incorporated its own unique twist on the mourning period. Through Affleck’s character, viewers like myself were not only able to identify the source behind Chandler’s reserved and somewhat-aggressive personality, but I also found myself empathizing for Chandler as if he were a personal friend of mine, solely because of how powerful Affleck’s performance had been. I was taken on a cinematic journey that felt authentic and fresh, and I would suggest this film to anyone who is open to movies of critical acclaim and emotional rollercoasters. 


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