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Manchester by the Sea Review

Manchester by the Sea

Manchester by the Sea is a 2016 American drama film written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan and starring Casey AffleckMichelle WilliamsKyle Chandler, and Lucas Hedges.


At the very beginning we are introduced to the central character of Lee chandler, a handyman (played by Casey Affleck) who goes about living a solitary life in a single room basement doing electrical work, plumbing, taking out the garbage and an array of other mundane tasks for the grumpy tenants of the building he works at. His older brother Joe (played by Kyle Chandler) lives in Manchester, a seaside town an hour up the coast, with his son, Patrick (played by Lucas Hedges). News of joe’s death sends Lee back to Manchester, the site of a loss so terrible that none dare to mention it. He is not just Lee Chandler here but ‘the Lee Chandler’.

Lee and Joe

Back in his hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea while staying in Joe’s home and arranging Joe’s funeral, Lee is shocked to learn that Joe has named him as Patrick’s guardian. Reluctant to commit to the guardianship and unwilling to move back to Manchester, but opposed to returning Patrick to his estranged alcoholic mother, Lee makes plans for Patrick to move back to Boston with him. Patrick, deeply rooted in the Manchester community, objects to the idea.

The Oddball Relationships

Lee’s shrewd face pulses with anger as he tries to understand this unexpected burden of responsibility that he definitely did not bargain for. With clenched teeth and the most subtle pursed lips he goes to bars, ignores attractive women coming on to him and instead finds men to fight. A sociopath withdrawn from the world, who ignores any and every display of affection suddenly finds himself as the legal guardian of a 16-year-old, who in his own words “have two girlfriends and is in a band”. Patrick, in stark contrast to Lee, is a mixture of vulnerable, clueless and precociously worldly; and in many ways much better at masking his own grief than his uncle, until it finally pours out when a freezer spillage sparks a panic attack.

Lee and Patrick

This odd couple relationship between lee and his nephew is what dominates the bulk of the movie and that is definitely not a bad thing but it does divert from some of the other interesting characters. Randi (played by Michelle Williams) gets particularly sidelined diminishing the complexity of her character as most of her is explored through flashbacks of the past and a particularly heart-wrenching scene when Lee and Randi attempt to mend their relationship in an alleyway but ultimately fail.

Lee and Randi


Kenneth Lonergan, writer and director, previously co-wrote “Sopranos” a lite comedy and “Analyse this (1999)”; and made his directorial debut with “You Can Count On Me (200)” and later In 2005, filming took place for his second film as writer/director, MargaretThe film spent over five years in post-production, with Lonergan, the producers and various editors unable to agree on its final cut, resulting in multiple legal disputes. It was finally released in 2011 to critical acclaim. He earned an Academy Award for Best Director nomination for Manchester by the Sea, and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for You Can Count on Me.

Lonergan’s precision with his actors, the way he invokes a sense of place and the level of control of tone is strikingly visible throughout the film. The way he methodically strives to avoid false notes is masterful work. It might not have the risk and sprawl of his 2011 masterpiece ‘Margaret’; even so it does not follow predetermined story arcs and sob stories of loss and eventual healing and harmony we may be expecting.

Lonergan breaks the monotonous, mundane proceedings of the present by interspersing it with trickling increments of past events as carefully placed critical scenes, each provoked by current circumstances or thoughts of the characters. An exchange with a doctor in a hospital lift brings us back to the moment when Joe was first diagnosed, before Lee pays his last respects in the mortuary room.


Life as it is lived

Manchester by the Sea, is an honest portrayal of life as it is lived in the real world. Life with no narrative closure. Emptiness is hard to portray and is too often represented by blank stares and vacant glances. Manchester by the Sea, avoids those oversights with its superbly complementing location and its two contrasting timelines with performances that bring into service the full range of its outstanding cast.

Lonergan’s film unapologetically suggests that life simply carries on; at some point, a decision is made and the courage found to keep up with it. As “Margaret” Lonergan’s films have always been more like works-in-progress rather than perfectly finished artefacts and it left me wanting more. With an outstanding set and poignant performances, the winner of the Academy Awards for best original script and best actor is a definite must-see.

Everything will be alright in the end

Chapter I

James Morris sits in front of this laptop, slightly rocking side to side, resting his head by the temple on a clenched fist at a desk in, what is presumably, his room. The desk, part metal and part white distressed wood which is probably intentionally distressed and not naturally aged, wobbles as one of its feet taps the floor rhythmically.
He lives in a quaint little house in St Austell, Cornwall. Sticky and empty, tiny bottles of alcohol form a crumbling pile in the corner of the room where the paint on the walls seems to have chemically reacted with the vapouring alcohol creating a pestilential motif .
The second-knuckles on his other hand are tapping, in sync and out of sync with the tapping of the foot of the desk, next to a small bottle of sleeping pills along with another container of pain meds, and a picture in a metal frame. The picture in the frame seems to be of a family vacation. Three people are clearly in frame on a busy beach, a man, a woman and a young girl; all three of them are smiling looking back at James who is staring back at them not quite focusing on either of their faces. James inscrutably stares at the picture as his hands slowly move in a typing position over the keys of his laptop. His eyes then move towards the screen at once and focusing his eyes at the cursor he starts typing

—28th February, 2017
We were walking by the sandy beaches of Watergate Bay. My wife, Anna, had been asking for this vacation for a long time and we were finally here. The sky was turning red and the clouds made rippling waves similar to that of the sea. The mushy sand squished between our toes and the air smelled salty. The only sounds heard were that of the waves, crashing onto the shore, and washing over the sand.

Anna leaned over my shoulder grabbing my arm with both her hands : “This is nice” she said staring at the horizon “I wish we didn’t have to go back, could do this forever. Just us.” She pulled the words right out of my mouth. Things were getting a bit tense back home because work was getting increasingly hard to find and layoffs were becoming quite regular at the office. I must admit that I was a bit skeptical with the whole vacation thing, especially at this time. But none of that seemed to matter as long as we were here “This is paradise” i said as i leaned in and rested my head on Anna’s over my shoulder.

“Daddy… right here…”

I hear a faint voice coming from my far left, inwards the beach. I look in the direction the voice was coming from and see the most beautiful little girl waving at us “Look what I made, it’s our house” she yelled from a distance. She was wearing a bright white dress with a print of assorted flower petals and she had hair like sunshine tightly bound in a pony tail. Olivia, my little girl, had made a surprisingly exact replica of our house in the sand. Anna and i looked at each other with a hint of pride as we walked towards her. Even before we had reached her she started circling the sand castle in excitement, we couldn’t even hear what she was saying yet.

“…This right here is the front garden and this is the back yard. This is where Max lives and I used this shell for the roof” she paused briefly to take a quick shallow breath and continued “and this…this right here is the…. the….the chichan (Kitchen)” she said. She does have difficulty with some words which is quite normal, she is only seven. And anyways it just makes her even more hilarious. As she continued explaining to us pointing at different parts of the sand castle, Anna and i pretended to be intrigued as we controlled ourselves from bursting into laughter. Just shaking our heads smiling, and pursing our lips.

Anna pointing at a different part of the castle and said “and what is *cough* this right here *cough* what is that?” Her hand was trembling and I could see that she was trying to put on a brave face. She was fighting something back. I placed my arm around her, grabbed her shoulder and gently pulled her towards me. Leaning in to get a clearer look at her face i asked if she was alright. She shut her eyes tight and covering her mouth with her hand, in a muffled voice, she said: “I don’t know *cough* I probably caught cold or something *cough*”

Olivia was still in the middle of describing her castle. we spoke softly and in her excitement she did not hear us. She grabbed my hand and pulled me towards the other side and was describing to me other bits and pieces of her work that I didn’t really hear. Instinctively, I looked up towards Anna who was now opposite to us on the other side. She was staring at her hand which was trembling more than before and her head was now shaking as well, as if in terror. I noticed she wasn’t blinking and all the colour in her skin had drained away at once. As she looked up slowly, stared at me in silence and made a trembling fist and that is when i saw streams of red flow from between her fingers down her knuckles. She said nothing but just continued to stare at me with wide eyes that i knew, were screaming for help. But before i could even process what was happening, she had fallen to the ground.

I pulled myself up and leapt towards her stepping over and destroying Olivia’s sand castle. I could hear her scream at me but it did not stop me. I grabbed Anna in my arms and tried desperately to wake her up but failed. “Anna !! What’s wrong?…hey, open your eyes….Anna…?”

Over my confusion I failed to realise that Olivia’s screams had grew fainter and fainter. I didn’t realise it until i could not hear her any longer. All i could hear was the waves. I start to scan around me in a frenzy, hopelessly looking for her but i could not see her. All the while Anna was in my arms as i desperately tried to wake her up but her eyes remain shut and her body cold, and limp. My heart sank. Not a single word left my lips but my breath left me.


I look towards the sea and see something floating deep beyond the reef. It was far away and I could not make up what it was. Then it dawned on me. It was Olivia. But how? How did she get there? I screamed as loudly as i could.

“Help!…Someone!” I screamed so loud that i almost lost my voice “HELP!”

And just as i pulled myself up and ran towards her into the sea, a huge towering wave hit me like a million bricks. I felt every bone in my body break into pieces. I had never felt pain like this.

The very next moment, gasping for air, I open my eyes and find myself sitting upright on the bed in my house with my legs spread forward and grabbing the sheets as if holding on for my life. Breathing loudly and heavily I turn my head to the left and see my bedroom window. The sun was shining bright and i could feel it had warmed up the sheets. I heard a car reverse out the neighbour’s driveway and i knew what had happened.

“A dream… a f***ing nightmare”

I turned my head to the other side and saw myself in the mirror staring back at me. My body moved with every breath I took, every inch of it was covered in sweat and my shirt was clinging to me like a wet suit. I look up at the ceiling fan which was barely working and wiping my sweaty face with my hand i mumbled to myself :

“Need to fix that bloody fan.”

I have had the same nightmare ever since Anna left us and I always wake up at the exact same point. But for the past few weeks it has become a recurring thing almost every night. It has been so many times now that i have lost count. Last night i took a sleeping pill for the first time in my life hoping that it would probably solve this thing. Meditation, pills, nothing seems to work. It has gone to the point where i am now drinking myself to sleep every night, i am no longer keeping track of what day it is either. Jason, one of my friends who is also my therapist says that it is quite normal to have recurring dreams like this after suffering a loss like i have. But every time he talks to me all i hear is pity, he wasn’t like this before Anna died. On top of everything else, it doesn’t really help that Olivia’s health keeps getting worse with each passing day. So, i thought writing about it might help. I need to be my best and get this thing sorted before Olivia gets back. I couldn’t possibly be in the condition i am now when she is home. I wont let her see me like this, she has no one else except me, and I her. —

…..Continued on the next page