Manchester by the Sea is one of the realest movies I have ever seen. Big budget watered down movies designed to sell products to the masses always fall into a easy to consume formula in which the good guy wins in the end, learns a valuable lesson, or ends in a somber place to set up a sequel.
Manchester by the Sea concerns itself with none of those things. There is no happy ending to this movie, just a unfinished journey of an uncle and a nephew clumsily dealing with a dark situation.
Produced by Amazon Studios (Amazon is quickly taking over the world) Manchester by the Sea was written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, a man with a long history in stage work. He wrote the screenplay for the Scorsese movie Gangs of New York (I hope the Carmen Diaz character was not his idea) which is the only work of his that I am familiar with. He was awarded the academy award for best original screenplay earlier this year for his work on Manchester by the Sea.
Casey Affleck (Out of the Furnace, Interstellar) won an academy award for best actor for his portrayal of Lee Chandler, Michelle Williams (Shutter Island) received a nomination for best supporting actress for her role as Randi the ex-wife of Lee, and Lucas Hedges (Moonrise Kingdom) received an nomination for best supporting actor for his role of Patrick Chandler, the nephew of Lee. Other supporting actors like Kyle Chandler (Super 8, Broken City, The Wolf of Wall Street) and Gretchen Mol (3:10 to Yuma) also filled their roles well.
When I plumped down on my now womped out second hand recliner and booted up my fire stick to watch this movie, I had high expectations due to the awards and attention it received. My expectations were exceeded as this is one of the more memorable emotionally heavy realistic movies I have knowledge of. Don’t read further if you haven’t watched Manchester by the Sea yet.
Manchester by the Sea
While eating a life shortening enormous burger at the local café with my friends, we discussed various movies which wet my never ending appetite to consume everything whether it is media or greasy food. I completed all of the streaming window shopping across the mall that is video on demand streaming apps and landed upon Manchester by the Sea. I am currently reading through The Perfect Storm, a book written by Sebastian Junger, which explores life on the New England coast and features many of the same coastal cities that are in Manchester by the Sea, a fairly cool coincidence.
The movie begins with Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) light heartedly joking with his young nephew Patrick Chandler on his brother’s boat in Manchester Bay. His brother Joe Chandler (Kyle Chandler) joins in on the fun while manning the helm. It then cuts to several years in the future and Lee is seen dealing with the rude tenants of the apartment buildings that he is the janitor and maintenance man for. His empty and no fucks given personality is quickly established when he calmly tells an angry women “I don’t give a fuck what you do” when she complains about a leaking shower.
Lee then drinks himself into a state where he is comfortable in getting into fights with strangers at a bar. He sleeps of the pain and hangover in his bleak one bedroom basement apartment and begins shoveling the snow outside his door when he receives a phone call. His brother Joe had died.
Lee drives the 1.5 hours it takes to get to Manchester from Boston to see his brother’s body and to break the news to his now 16 year old nephew Patrick. Both Lee and Patrick are strangely emotionless dealing with the situation, forcing their feelings inward. Lee doesn’t treat Patrick with comforting or fatherly compassion, instead he acts like a backup guardian just trying to get through the situation.
After learning that his brother Joe named Lee to be the legal guardian of Patrick, things became tense. Lee didn’t want the responsibility of taking care of his nephew as he was still battling his inner demons. Patrick didn’t want to get uprooted from his life and move back to Boston with Lee creating a hostile environment that only dampens slightly over the course of the movie.
Manchester by the sea is perfect in its revelation and characterization. Much of the characterization is told through flash backs which show a much happier family man version of Lee. He had a wife, three kids, and a large home with lots of friends. Something happened that resulted in him becoming an emotionless hardened single man that lives in a depressing basement apartment. Several characters were caught saying “the Lee Chandler?” when he was brought up in conversation alluding to a famous event involving him.
About halfway through the movie, a flashback reveals the events that transformed Lee. It has already been established that Lee has two daughters, a newborn, and a wife. The mid-point in the movie flashback shows Lee partying with a large group of friends in his home playing ping pong. The volume of their rowdiness woke his wife Randi who threatened them to be quiet as she didn’t want them to wake the kids at 2am. The fellas left the house and a drunk Lee walked to the convenient store which was 20 minutes away to get more beer and supplies. As he approached his home on his journey back he heard sirens and saw that his home was engulfed in flames.
His screaming wife was surrounded by first responders and on lookers. Based on the desperate screams of his wife he learned his kids were still inside the relentless and powerful inferno that consumed his home. At the police station Lee was questioned and told the truth about drinking and using cocaine. He said that he put a couple of logs on the fire before walking to the store to get more beer. He had forgot to put the screen in front of the fire which caused fire to enter the home. After learning he wasn’t going to be charged or arrested, he stole a gun from an unsuspecting cop in front of him and tried to shoot himself.
Holy fuck was this a heavy scene.
An even heavier scene came at the end of the movie. The viewers knew that Lee’s wife left him and married another man with which she was pregnant with during Joe’s funeral. They both seemed to be on decent terms but Lee did show some rare emotion when he learned that she was pregnant. Towards the end of the movie Lee was walking around town when his ex-wife and her friend were walking with her new born.
Lee awkwardly said hello and met the baby. Randi’s friend then left to go pick up the car leaving the two alone in what then felt like a planned meeting by Randi. She asked Lee how he was doing and invited him to lunch sometime in the future. It was obvious that he was in pain and declined the invitation. Randi then began sobbing and apologized for the awful things she said to him (which can be assumed were said after the fire). She admitted that she still loved him and hated seeing him in his broken state of mind that she helped cause. Lee developed tears and said “I am sorry, there is nothing there” and walked away. I lost it during this conversation. One of the greatest compliments I can give a movie, a show, or a video game is that it made me cry.
Every scene in the movie before this conversation was strategically designed to make that conversation the climactic scene and as powerful as possible. Everything led to the conversation between Lee and Randi and it resulted in an unforgettable scene.
The relationship between Lee and Patrick
The complicated relationship between Lee and Patrick is the driving force of this movie. Patrick is a mature 16 year old who is in the vulnerable state between childhood and adulthood. Two scenes involving the two which solidified their bond are particularly well done.
Lee and Patrick have an obviously contentious relationship but they still care for each other. In the latter half of the movie Patrick went upstairs into Lee’s room looking for him. As he left the bedroom he saw three pictures on his dresser and stared at them for a few seconds. The pictures are never shown but it can be assumed that they are pictures of his three kids which perished the fire that he caused.
Later in the movie at the dinner table, Lee bluntly tells Patrick his plan of transferring guardianship to a family friend so he can stay in Manchester. Lee received another maintenance job and would move out in the summer. A clearly hurt Patrick asks why Lee just can’t stay living with him in his deceased father’s home. Lee pauses and emotionally says “I can’t beat it.” Lee can’t beat the depression that came as a result of that fiery night.
In that moment Patrick knew how hard of a life Lee lives and accepted the plan to stay in Manchester. Walking home from Joe’s service Lee tells Patrick that he is looking for an apartment with a spare bedroom so Patrick can come visit at any time. This might sound like nothing, but that spare bedroom meant the two had a relationship that will never be broken. The two bounced a ball as they walked home in their black suits fully content with each other.
Manchester by the Sea ended how it began, an uncle fishing with his nephew.