Grief doesn’t behave.
Perhaps counter-intuitively, it feels cathartic to watch a film about grief without resolution or closure. Character arcs, story threads, overlapping dialogue, shot compositions – nothing is really resolved, or at least not neatly, much the way incalculable grief and guilt may never be over. Flashbacks are sudden, jarring, disorienting; they interrupt the present, and refuse to follow rules – just the way they do in reality.
In Manchester by the Sea, writer/director Kenneth Lonegran expresses grief not through the common vernacular of movies but through the very language of film, particularly in the editing and performances, and even finds humour in the mundanity of it all. Those moments of humour are crucial, both in interrupting what might otherwise be relentless, masochistic viewing experience, and in the yang to the realism of grief Manchester… seeks to portray: because nothing around grief follows rules either.
With so much, and so many things, up in the air, the process of making this film must have at times felt uncertain or risky as hell. Fortunately, for a film which hinges so much on its nuances and performances, everyone in this is so good.
Michelle Williams brings universes to her few, devastating minutes of screen time.
I wish i could separate what we now know about Casey Affleck from his performance. In this film, he’s doing some truly extraordinary things – and yet, his portrayal of Lee’s depression plays as simmering fury, ready to boil over into physical violence at any moment, and i’m not sure how much of that is in the text (as opposed to, well, the headlines). It makes his moments of tenderness as a father and uncle feel like a complication rather than a trait. By comparison, Kyle Chandler, who plays his brother Joe, and oozes brooding-while-loving father, might have made more sense (or been more typecast) in this role – or simply felt less… problematic to watch.
Thomas Flight breaks down Lonegran’s film-making techniques in Showing Realistic Grief – Manchester By The Sea:
“Unlike many other movies may attempt to depict, Lee doesn’t overcome his traumas.” The Grubb Cut notes the refreshing lack of “those Hollywood moments” in Manchester by the Sea | The Art of Realism: