Thursday, February 02, 2017

Manchester by the Sea


John Chandler’s (Kyle Chandler) last act, posthumously, was to call for a handyman, his own brother Lee (Casey Affleck).  He wrote in his last will and testament that Lee is to be his son Patrick’s (Lucas Hedges) legal guardian when he dies.  It was a wish meticulously thought of and prepared for. John even set money aside to make sure his brother comes back to Manchester from that handyman job out of town and perform his charge.

As a handyman Lee lived almost an invisible life.  The tenants of the building he keeps together almost never see him, which looks intentional on his part and sometimes that’s what tenants normally do anyway.  Sure he goes around fixing whatever needs to but he’s impersonal.  What I don’t get is the psychology of it all because being seen, and more so having the possibility of connection, hurts him.

Going home, death notwithstanding, is a positive because, well, its home.  It’s where the family is.  It’s finding the roots that started everything. Going home especially with Lee’s situation, coming from out of town with death in the family, is also an act of picking up the pieces. It’s not a vacation when he can be a casual observer.  Death means he picks up the pieces of the life that ended and moves it forward. Hence some hope of rejuvenation.

My expectations of the story stopped with Patrick. After that first time knowing his father died and not being able to bring himself to see his body at the morgue, he was too business as usual after that. As he said, he has hockey team, a band, and two girlfriends to think of.  Patrick was distraught only once at the sight of cold cuts which was understandable. This son of a single parent for many years was so casual that I can’t help feeling I am missing a punch line.

Uncle and nephew together is a study in contrasts.  Patrick has a life and Lee has an emotional Great Wall.  To fully appreciate Manchester by the Sea is to know why there is wall. The attempt at explanation is having two storylines that by design is intended to meet up somewhere near the end.  I kept the word ‘attempt’ because I was never sure where it converged.  Good guess would be when Lee spoke to his ex-wife for the last time.

I am not sure because there was no exposition. Not that’s a required form but I’m looking for that line that goes something like: I am hurt because – then character explains. Neither husband nor ex-wife explicitly revealed what the ultimate breaking point was or what was hurting them all this time.  That in turn denied opening on what could be a solution.

Good guesses aside here are the holes I can’t fill up.  In the hockey training scene, uncle and nephew are off camera in what should be the first time Patrick new his father is dead. The camera was on the coach and two players who were closest to Patrick.  Coach said, “that’s THE Lee Chandler?” The two players replied, “you know the story’s bullshit.”  What story?  What is the lie told to the police or the attempted suicide by cop?  But the emphasis on the, feels like fame more than infamy; or is it?

And then Lee’s ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams) in their last conversation said, “I should burn in hell for what I said…I just wanna tell you I was wrong.”  What did she say? Where did she go wrong?

Plot holes aside, I was enchanted by the small sea side town.  I know the feeling of going home where it truly all began.  It evokes memory.  The movie is good enough that I was along for the ride trying to understand who is Lee and understanding why. For better or worse the movie ended in a way that is true to Lee.


I am reminded of a quote from Frodo Baggins in Return of the King.  He said, "How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart, you begin to understand, there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep… that have taken hold."