‘Manchester by the Sea:’ a moving masterpiece

Emilia Diaz-Magaloni, Author

Lee (Casey Affleck) stands on the port of his hometown looking out into the water. Photo: Manchester by the sea website

“Manchester by the Sea” is a heartbreaking tale of loss, love and mistakes that leave wounds ingrained so deep that try as we might, they will never truly heal. This film is not Hollywood, or heartwarming, or sunny skies and perfect endings. Instead, it is meant to be ingested slowly, as it pulls you in gently like a gasp of cold winter air, until it leaves you breathless.

The film follows Lee (Casey Affleck), a janitor from Boston whose apathy is a mask for the inextinguishable rage he feels towards the world and himself. After the death of his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler), Lee returns to his hometown astonished to find that he is now the legal guardian of his brother’s teenage son (Lucas Hedges). 

“Manchester by the Sea” has managed to pull back the curtain. It tells the story of life lived in the real world, full of loose ends, unlearned lessons and pains that will never leave you. To watch it is like witnessing a conversation through a window, or maybe the lack of conversation — mundane interchanges saturated in all things left unsaid, that will never be said.

The movie is masterfully set in Manchester-by-the-sea, Massachusetts. Jazz interludes play throughout scenes of water rippling docked boats and snow gently layering on rooftops, serving to orchestrate a beautiful portrait of this port town during the passing of seasons. However, as the movie progresses we begin to feel the stagnation, the feeling of time being stopped, paralleling perfectly with Lee’s emotions.

The Massachusetts hometown of the title looms oppressively over Lee, and it is slowly drowning him. Lee, we begin to understand, bears the burden of a terrible tragedy, which caused his exile not only from his hometown but from life. To return to Manchester is to reopen a wound that Lee never healed, because he couldn’t.

The music in the film is calm and playful, seeming to reflect the town’s peaceful exterior but in stark contrast to the raging emotions that Lee hides behind closed expressions. The climax of the movie is paralleled with a stunning crescendo of strings and woodwinds that play deafeningly throughout an entire scene without dialogue, revealing the unbearable truth in Lee’s past.

Affleck’s expressions are pulsing with compressed rage, emotions so tightly wound that throughout the first half of the movie you want to scream at him. His performance is raw and harrowing, and through a series of flashbacks that jab at Lee’s mind we finally understand that underneath his rage there is a deep and consuming sadness.

Hedges as Patrick, Lee’s teenage nephew, is perfectly vulnerable, angry and compassionate. The bond that forms between the two main characters through humorous and tentative exchanges is beautiful, heartbreaking and frustrating as it layered in things that can never be really dealt with or spoken out loud.

The film is heartbreaking and sorrowful. It paints a portrait of life as it really is, where things are often left broken. It is masterfully subtle and delicate, yet at the same time harrowingly deafening.

“Manchester by the Sea” is nominated for 6 Oscars including Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role, Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role, Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Achievement in Directing, and Best Writing Original Screenplay.  The film previously won a Golden Globes for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture as well as several other awards

“Manchester by the Sea”

2 hours, 17 minutes

Rated R for some language

Directed by Kenneth Lonergan

Starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges

Oscar Nominations: Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Casey Affleck), Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Michelle Williams), Best Achievement in Directing, and Best Writing Original Screenplay.