1 Star – Emptiness
It takes experienced actors under the direction of a clear vision to create the emptiness of soul and lives we experience in Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea. Similar to his acclaimed film You Can Count on Me, the film rests on the lives of broken people who have suffered deeply. But, the true sorrow is that it is a suffering without hope or community. It is a pain that has brought isolation, anger, sexual acting out and all punctuated by crude language avoiding real feeling in true communication. Set within the stark and beautiful coast of Maine, the setting and visual impact is a masterpiece in telling this tale, as winter empties the beauty from Manchester.
The central character of this tale is Lee Chandler (Casey Afflect). Hiding his life in a basement handyman world of broken toilets and plastic people, Lee is nursing a deep pain causing him to avoid all relationships, especially with women. But when he receives the call that his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has experienced a cardiac arrest after a long congestive heart failure, he drops everything and rushes to his side travelling from Boston to his hometown. Arriving too late he is faced not only with the loss of his brother but the responsibility for his nephew, Patrick (Ben O’Brien and Lucas Hedges). It is this relationship that drives not only the story but the beginning of a new but still damaged life.
Also within this complex tale is Lee’s former wife Randi (Michelle Williams). We won’t spoil the nature of her pain, but the love Lee and Randi share is authentic in both its depth and its sorrow. Patrick’s mother left him when he was young in a different form of heart failure and is battling alcoholism. This absence in both parenting and feminine love is one cause for Patrick’s sexual acting out with multiple girlfriends. But we also see the conscious avoidance of the girls' mothers and their moral guidance as well.
The impact of all of this is an authentic journey into sorrow, immorality and hopelessness. It is depressing to even view, but this sadness is increased when the story has only a fraction of hope and virtually no outside help. Although Lee explains to Patrick that they are Christians, there is no conversation with their priest to help them deal with these impossible situations, nor is there any pastoral assistance with the guilt, sorrow and isolation life brings. Without it the emptiness is not only physical and emotional, but spiritual.
- When we act in ways that causes deep pain to the people we love we need to own what we’ve done and ask forgiveness. What do you think might have happened if Lee had sought forgiveness for what happened? Would the love he and Randi shared have been able to weather such a tremendous loss?
- The breakdown of the marriage of Patrick’s family with his mother’s impairment and absence, seemed to leave Patrick in the abyss of trying to find a woman’s love. What would you say to him if you were responsible to guide him in his dating life?
- Using the “living water” and “soaring gulls” of Manchester seaside scenes is juxtaposed with the stark winter of the land and town. How did you experience this film visually?