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Friday, 3 February 2017

The Current Cinema - MANCHESTER BY THE SEA - Peter Hourigan responds to Max Berghouse and unties a few of the knots

Editor's Note: It seems  Manchester by the Sea will be the only serious contender against La La Land cleaning up on Oscar night. I've already posted one note on Manchester by Max Berghouse. That prompted this response posted on Facebook by another veteran cinephile Peter Hourigan. More welcome, send to filmalert101@gmail.com 


Casey Affleck as Lee
Peter writes: One major idea in Lonergan's work so far has been the impact of an event on a person, when that event brings with it a sense that that person is responsible for a tragedy for which there can be no remedy. In such circumstances do we know how we will respond? Certainly, if we expect a response like in a base-level drama, we'll probably underestimate the human potential. 

In MARGARET, the young girl sees herself as largely responsible for causing the death of a woman because she distracted the driver. She can only handle this, it seems, by trying to shift all culpability onto the driver, even though she is made aware of how this will compound damage to other people. 

In MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, Lee similarly has assumed responsibility (or guilt, to use a loaded term) for an appalling tragedy. In the way we judge such events, it's not a malicious or even illegal event. Because society will not 'punish' him, he seems to be seeking that punishment by debasing himself in the work he takes on, by making himself anti-social (such as provoking bar brawls where it's clear he'd be aware he's outnumbered), repelling people trying to make contact with him (his nephew's girlfriend's mother, his ex-wife). Here the stately first half is important and rich in detail, as we see how many people have a higher opinion of Lee than he would seem to deserve at the time we get to know him. Yes, he can be an arsehole - he's a person, after all, not a one-dimensional goody ficitional character. 


Lucas Hedges as Patrick
His brother's decision in choosing Lee as a guardian for Patrick is, for example, not just a pragmatic decision, but so significant. It is a sign of trust and, indeed, love for his brother. Joe made this decision fully aware of the point in his life that Lee was at, and still trusted him with his son. What greater love (and trust) than that? 

This is such a rich film that about fifteen minutes before I knew it should end, I could not believe it could wrap the film up in that time. But it does, in a deeply satisfying way that eschews the nice neat happy ending. There is, however, a glimmer of hope - both for Lee and for Patrick. When we consider the people affected by the situation, Patrick is one also. You could see him as a selfish prick, concerneed only about himself. Of course, that's understandable given that he's lost his father. But it's almost as though his father knew he'd need to be in the tough situation which Lee would represent if he (Patrick) was going to mature into the man his father would like him to be. I can only say that for me one viewing has been nowhere near enough.

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