The Daily Gamecock

“Manchester by the Sea” captures feeling of loss without dwelling on it

Kyle Chandler and Casey Affleck in the film "Manchester by the Sea." (Claire Folger/Sundance Institute)
Kyle Chandler and Casey Affleck in the film "Manchester by the Sea." (Claire Folger/Sundance Institute)

Movie: "Manchester By The Sea" 

Written and Directed by: Kenneth Lonergan

Runtime: 2 hours 17 minutes

Release Date: Dec. 16 

Grade: A

I first remember the name Kenneth Lonergan from when I read “This Is Our Youth” for Theater 170 my freshman year. The play took place in an apartment in upper West Side New York, with two friends at the center trying to figure out their role in the world. It was as much of a coming of age story as can be.

However, what I remember most from “This Is Our Youth” is what my professor taught about character using that play as an example. He told our class that a story, is a collection of characters going through life-changing events, whether it be the best day of their lives or the worst. If the character comes out different from when the story began, you have a character arc. A strong character arc is what separates a simple story, from a great work of fiction.

"Manchester By The Sea" is a great work of fiction because of this. Lee Chandler, masterfully played by Casey Affleck, is thrust into taking care of his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges) after the passing of his father, Lee’s brother. This is not something Lee has prepared for, as he has become very detached from the world around him. From then on there are many gut wrenching flashbacks which reveal more about Lee’s damaged past. The flashbacks parallel what is happening in the story and add greater significance to Lee’s decisions.

This is a character driven film. The characters in this film drive the story, not the other way around. Lonergan is comfortable in telling a story this way because he is an experienced playwright and has written compelling characters before. The movie is very well cast with great performances coming from all around. Michelle Williams plays Randi, Lee’s ex-wife. A theme of the film is how the past can still affect the present, much like an ex-wife dropping by for an unplanned visit.

Another great performance comes from Lucas Hedges. Of all the characters in the film, he was the most ‘real’ to watch. Hedges portrayal of a seventeen-year old dealing with the loss of a father was very believable. Which is something very hard to do for a young actor.

Of course, the performance to watch is Casey Affleck’s. Affleck takes the tragic role of Lee Chandler in full stride. This is one of the best performances I have seen all year. Affleck has played many tragic characters before, from Robert Ford to Patrick Kenzie. This role is his best work yet. The subtlety and depth Affleck provides as Lee humanizes such a depressing character. His subdued agony in almost every scene makes for a performance I will remember for a long time.

An endearing part of his performance is his interaction with his co-star Lucas Hedges. Throughout the film the audience gets to see the two of them play out their relationship as they both struggle with loss. Affleck and Hedges have great on-screen chemistry. Every scene with just those two actors was a pleasure to watch. A good amount of their interactions are very humorous. Many laughs in the audience came from side remarks muttered by Patrick, or a look Lee shoots at Patrick every so often. Everything they say, or more often than not, do not say to each other, transforms the raw emotion of “Manchester by the Sea”, into a beautiful study in character growth. More importantly, Lee and Patrick’s relationship shows just how funny sadness can sometimes be.


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