Film Review: Manchester by the Sea

There can be a wonderful film that is nonetheless hard for any one of us to see, and for me Manchester-by-the-Sea was that. This is a wonderful film, about the trailing wound of personal trauma, and the ending is satisfying and realistic but not happy. Casey Affleck turns in a marvelous performance as Lee Chandler, a wounded soul who does the decent thing by his nephew Patrick, played brilliantly by a young actor named Lucas Hedges. Michelle Williams has two appearances in the film, so brief as to be almost cameo, but they are central to the story and she plays them with depth and character. Kyle Chandler, playing older brother Joey to Lee and father to Patrick, is someone we wish to see more of — but that’s the point of death, is it not? We don’t get to see more.

There is hilarity in this emotionally wrenching film, in the character of perpetually horny 16 year old Patrick — managing two girlfriends whose intrusive mothers bang on the door at just the wrong time. I loved his response to Lee’s asking if he was actually having sex with both girls. “Just basement stuff” is a phrase that would send the anxiety level of parents of any adolescent skyrocketing.

Why was the film so hard for me to watch? I lost my father at 14, and for all the times I’ve circled back to “deal with it” at deeper and deeper levels, with therapy help and on my own, I find the theme of “adolescent losing father” something I don’t choose to revisit. I knew vaguely that was the theme of this film, but somehow minimized it. About halfway through, I said to myself, “hmmm…. not such a smart choice.”

Manchester-by-the-Sea is a really good film; don’t hold back from seeing it. The point of the film, that trauma creates a long trailing wound, is certainly true, as I can attest to from personal experience. I’ve done all the “dealing with it” I can probably do, and what’s residual is just there. Lee and Patrick and I get to move on, and that enticement of future happiness to surround and encapsulate the wound is what life offers.

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