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Our experiences are never addressed in linearity. We digest in the most curvaceous pathways. We all are not on the same methodology of travel or we might be and are able to perceive in differing ways. Nevertheless, through our own syllogisms, our paths appear divergent. Within the onset of Kenneth Lonergan’s highly anticipated film, Manchester by the Sea, it is quite easy to pinpoint the stability of the pathway for Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck). We clearly see and are able to ascertain that we are on this prolific and extenuated road with Lee; however, through masterful storytelling, we are given Lee’s story through his perception as if this is the road that is normally traveled. Lee Chandler is broken; however, in such refined pieces that he is able to be put together. After watching this film, you will also experience this feeling of insecurity. You will not be able to remove yourself from Manchester by the Sea without feeling numb to or partially accepting of Lee’s tragedies. Is that the mark of emotional growth? I am unable to categorize, but it is forward leaning.
Lee Chandler is a handyman in the south side of Boston. He lives in a one-room apartment at the apartment complex in which he services. Lee is proud of his independence, yet also ashamed by it – although he doesn’t seem to be of the materialistic type. His family is originally from a small town in New England about a couple hours north. We aren’t given much about his parents, but his brother, Joe, (Kyle Chandler) and his ex-wife (Michelle Williams) still live there. Lonergan does gift us with one memory of Lee’s whole immediate family in one setting: they are together in the hospital when Joe’s receives his diagnosis of congestive heart failure. While initially struck with a touch of sadness, the room quickly erupts into an argumentative tone that approaches with a comedic underbelly. To the naked eye, it is a brash response; however, it feels appropriate given the inputs.
Lee receives the call that his brother has passed away from his disease. He methodically proceeds to his hometown. It is a melancholy engagement. Being only two hours south, emotionally he appears so far away. He doesn’t make this trip often. His expectations are to handle the legalities for his brother and his estate. He is to remain professional about his venture. However, his brother has thought differently and appoints Lee as the guardian for his son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Joe provided him with the means to come back, at least temporarily, until Patrick can legally manage his finances. Lee is reluctant, but the fear is more ingrained than that of a bachelor not wanting to leave the life in the big city. He is unable to trust himself.
The subtleties behind Lee and Patrick’s interactions evoke the compounding of both emotional and anti-emotional behaviors. Patrick remains focused on his band and his multiple girlfriends. Lee solely devotes his attention to Patrick; although from a preverbal distance. Sadness rears its head in the most inopportune and the most unexpected places. The lack of an overt coping mechanism appears odd, yet their physicality is clearly tantamount to that of an individual stricken by tragedy.
Director, Kenneth Lonergan, is able to provide the breadth of the story through its character’s mannerisms, of which may be construed (or misconstrued) under the audience’s own light. Very little is provided in a linear fashion; however, we are given strands of emotion throughout the film where we are free to unravel at our own perceptions. The injections of additional characters and their own problematic schemes only further entangle and convolute our unraveling process.
Casey Affleck’s performance as Lee Chandler serves as one of the few pace cars. His characters’ insecurities always lie in the back of your mind. They are so subtle, yet almost painstakingly printed on their foreheads. His performance in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford as the misguided Robert Ford placed him on the industry’s radar; however, this performance will catalyze him to its pinnacle. It is so deserving that this role was embedded within a Lonergan film – the two speak, or mime, the same language. Both Casey’s and Kenneth’s recognition within this film is well deserved.
This film is difficult to digest and not all will. You will leave this film with a yearn for more; although not directly knowing what that is. You will remain catatonic and will quietly pack up your things. It will not be until many hours later that you will realize that your immediate perceptions only projected at the surface. That’s how life works – we constantly gather information to look for answers. We compute at various speeds, but it is not until we are able to step back from this process altogether that we realize the importance or the severity of a given interaction. We may misread and misconstrue, but we move forward. That is evident within this film.