Manchester By the Sea

Casey Affleck, Casey Affleck and more Casey Affleck, is what I say!

He carries this haunting tale of a cataclysmic mistake on his shoulders, through the entire saga. The movie took me back into the days when I studied William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway and Theodore Dreiser. The tone is like a piece of music – with adagios and allegros all mixed up. It’s like cinematic opera, or like a Renaissance tragedy filled with realism.

It moves in a series of flashbacks and present time scenes. There is a buildup of Casey’s character. His eyes speak volumes, blue and surreal. He’s a Catholic boy who works as a janitor and as the story unfolds we understand the reason for his withdrawn and inhibited existence. I don’t see him smile a single time throughout the movie. And in the scenes, where I think he may be smiling, are all shot in long shots, so you can’t really make that out.

I cannot dwell enough on what a powerhouse performance he has acted out here. His character has this mayhem within and except for one major outburst at a police station, we see quiet ruptures of self harm, in an otherwise calm and even polite demeanor that covers this tension. There is this need to be better when faced with his nephew’s guardianship, but there is the ultimate realisation that things don’t truly get better. He usurps each frame where he is present – one cannot see anything else.

I was wondering what Michelle Williams was doing in the movie, I even mentioned it in an aside to fellow watchers of the movie – until the one scene where she blows your mind away. Both Affleck and she have this one scene where they both meet after years and they both are so tortured and so stark and so naked before each other, the scene melts away any doubts as to why she was nominated for an Academy Award. The way her voice breaks, the way the demons in him claw to get out and overtake his being, the entire scene is so filled with abject pathos that you cannot help but weep along with both.

The other actor that has done a brilliant job in this film is Lucas Hedges. His performance is what brings the ripples in an otherwise dark, dangerous and deep waters.

The entire film is shot in the cold of winter. The imagery is harsh and barren and the cold outside is more than just a metaphor in the movie. It is a take on how nature can be horribly cruel and unyielding, if the ground is unforgiving and hard for a dead body to be buried in, the opposite of the cold: fire, is the thing that can destroy lives.

Kenneth Lonergan’s direction is crisp, and yet lifelike. He knows his art and more than concentrating on camera angles and effects, and colours, he uses his actors to give meaning to the themes of grief, trauma, heart break and loss. There is a redemption for Lee, but he chooses not to take it – and the director allows him to make that choice.

This deserves the Best Picture Award, Best Director Award, Best Actor Award!

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