I think I went to Manchester Massachusetts once, but there again, it wasn’t by the sea, so maybe not. Anyway, I would have remembered this Manchester because it’s very easy on the eye, even in the frozen depths of winter – the perfect upstate fishing town, a jumble of clapperboard houses on the hill and boats in the harbour, where folks generally look out for each other as they wait patiently for the thaw. It is a beautiful film to watch and to listen to – the soundtrack wraps itself around the scenery without overwhelming it so you dip in and out of awareness of it, without being distracted by it.
This film is about death and grief, both in the present, and in the past. The present bereavement is sudden, but not entirely unexpected; the past a shocking horrific loss that everyone in the vicinity continues to remember with awe and desperation. In the present we see day to day reality of wrapping your head around the hole left by the person who has died. The banality of details, funerals, lawyers, administration, all the stuff you think you might get a free pass from given the enormity of what you are experiencing, but which actually presses down on you even harder in this new unknown. But, there is room for laughter as well; in the ways in which life goes on routinely, because, well, it has to, and sometimes this new life is so weird it’s just downright odd and laughing makes it better. And then there is the tidal flow of grief, the wave crashing down on the shore of your being, just when you weren’t expecting it, and it bowls you over and leaves you floundering.
The past grief is the backdrop to the film, we are aware of it before we know about it, and this grief is what prevents the happy ending, because this is insurmountable. When someone dies we have to find a way to make the world work again without them, and in this film, the best the people left behind can do is to find a way to get through life. The veneer of happiness over this is brittle and thin.
Manchester By The Sea isn’t sentimental, I didn’t cry; rather I recognised, and understood. I feel like I could have stepped into the film with a casserole, that’s how real it felt to me. Beautiful.