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As life continues on and the realities of life set in, it is easy to catch yourself pondering whether you have had on impact on the world and others lives. The Sense of an Ending looks into the life of Tony Webster (Jim Broadbent) who is at a stage in life where he has to come to terms with the decisions he has made in his life. Based on an award-winning novel by Julian Barnes and brought to screens by up-and-coming director Ritesh Batra (The Lunchbox), they tackle the philosophical effect that each person has on others and how the ripples of each decision wash over people’s lives.
Tony Webster’s life seems to be a series of patterns that have turned into redundant habits. Yet, through the narration of his story, there are hints of regrets and a desire to escape the curmudgeonly of his life. He walks through life carrying regrets and the evidence that most of his decisions tie back to his younger days. It is one of these past decisions that eventually shocks him out of the provincial lifestyle he has chosen. He receives a letter from the estate of Sarah Ford (Emily Mortimer) who has left him a diary of one his best high school friends, Adrian Fin (Joe Alwyn). The challenge is that the journal is in the possession of Veronica Ford (Charlotte Rampling) who is his former girlfriend who had left Tony for a life with Adrian. In an attempt to retrieve the diary of his friend, Tony unearths some of the darker elements of his past. He must come to terms with his past and what impact it has on his current life and his family.
Julian Barnes’ story touches on some of the biggest questions in life, does my life matter and how do I affect others? These are questions that can be considered at any age, but it is more pronounced throughout the latter stages of life. Tony Webster’s story will be familiar to many and the answers may not be as comforting as one may hope. This is the knife’s edge of the narrative when the adventures of his youth are more compelling than where the journey has brought him to in life. Jim Broadbent is almost too convincing in his role as the curmudgeon and barely exudes any appealing characteristics. His performance produces an underlying vicious nature and overall negativity that takes this character to the limits of being repulsive. It is difficult to believe that the strong and fascinating women he has in the various stages of life would have found him worth considering. Harriet Walther (The Crown) continues to prove that she is the queen of beautiful understatement as Tony’s ex-wife and Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey) manages to play to her strengths as the spurned pregnant daughter. They made for a depressing but convincing family triangle, but Charlotte Rampling (45 years) proves to be the under-utilised talent in the film. Her character is central to the story, but she seems to be an afterthought in the script.
Broadbent’s performance and character are salvaged by the flashback elements of his biographical sketch. This is where the heart of the drama lies and the young acting troupe that provides the love triangle that gives the audience hope that there is redemption to be had in this man’s life. The Sense of an Ending is compelling but exceptionally dispiriting. There are a few glimmers of light humor that enter into this dark journey, but it was hard to enjoy. A well-told story, but was it one that anyone will care to experience?