Life is about loss.
It starts off all sunny and sweet, with your first grade teacher telling you you can become President, and then you wake up one day filled with grief, wondering what happened, soldiering on like a zombie, if you can put one foot in front of the other at all.
“You Can Count On Me” is my favorite film of the twenty first century. It’s hiding in plain sight, you can see it, but almost no one does, I haven’t heard anybody reference it in years.
And while you’re at it, looking up ancient gems, try 2011’s “A Separation,” which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, deservedly so, but Americans can’t like anything about Iran, never mind a movie with subtitles.
Film used to be art.
Now it’s a genre. Inhabited by superheroes. A place where you go to be abused. Today at the AMC they had thirty minutes of previews. Just because I’m a captive audience doesn’t mean you can insult me, especially after I’ve paid. But that’s the America we live in, where it’s so hard to garner eyeballs that we force you to pay attention, even if you don’t want to. Because the United States is about sales. Convincing people to buy what they do not need via subterfuge, so the purveyor can put food on the table, a roof over his head and…
Not everybody’s a winner.
I know that’s heresy, but it’s the truth. Not everybody is college material. Not everybody can be rich.
And “Manchester By The Sea” is about these people. It was written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, the same man who did “You Can Count On Me,” that’s why I went, never underestimate your credibility, while most are whoring themselves out to the highest bidder, believing the corporation is their daddy, there are some who are still seeking truth, who have an audience, however silent, bonded to them. And “Manchester By The Sea” will never gross a hundred million dollars, probably won’t win Best Picture, but for those hungry for a peek at real life, this is where you can get it.
Certain things happened in my life that I just can’t get over. I didn’t see them coming, and all I can do is push them down inside and march forward, but I feel like I’m the only one, when I know so many others are hurting too. I want to tell them they’re not alone, because loneliness kills, deadens you inside, you can work with others every day but still feel alienated, still feel unknown, still feel like if you disappeared right now…you wouldn’t be missed.
Lee Chandler made a mistake.
We all do. But the movers and shakers, those we look up to, deny it. How are you supposed to accept the fact that you screwed up?
You get into a car accident because you were fiddling with the radio, or looking at a girl or guy on the sidewalk… But no one says that, they blame another driver, a sunspot, but deep inside…they feel awful.
And sometimes your mistakes are so major there’s no coming back from them. A line is drawn.
Sometimes it’s something you say. I’ve been in relationships where my significant other has said something that I know there’s no turning back from, that we’ll be together a bit more but it’s all downhill from here, it’s just a matter of time before it’s over, because I can’t ever get past what they said.
Sometimes it’s something you do.
Lee did something. He’s admits it, he’s apologetic, but it’s not enough, he won’t be forgiven, by others or himself.
So he leaves.
But then more loss occurs and he’s forced to return to Manchester By The Sea, where his original mistake took place.
And the photography in this film is brilliant. If you’ve ever lived in New England, especially during the winter, you’ll marvel at the vibe, the snow, the cold… TV has taken the reins from film but it’s all about story, there’s no focus on atmosphere, which doesn’t work so well on the small screen anyway.
And when Lee returns he’s a marked man.
His mistake is as fresh as yesterday. And he just can’t cope with it.
And speaking of coping…
Gretchen Mol, the It Girl of yesterday, plays an alcoholic mother. We’re brought up to believe looks are the golden ticket, that if you’re beautiful life works out. But that’s not true. Some people are incapable of doing the right thing, Gretchen Mol’s Elise is one of them.
And then there’s the son, Patrick, who is surrounded by friends and has two girlfriends. Illustrating not only that people are everything, it’s all about community, but that high school truly is the peak of many people’s lives. Those who are ultimately left behind.
And live long enough and you find out doing the right thing is just not enough. It takes two to make a marriage work. You might not want a divorce, but she does. But does love ever fade?
When Lee gets a phone call from his ex it’s everything he wants and nothing that he can handle. We lie awake at night dreaming of things going right but then when the opportunity presents itself we realize there’s no turning back.
I’m not recommending “Manchester By The Sea.” Most people don’t want to see depressing movies about losers.
But I do.
And some others do too.
Because we know under the skin we’re all the same. That we win and we lose and half the time we’ve got no clue what’s really going on, we just get up every day and do what we’re supposed to and hope that the good times come.
Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t.
And then you realize so much time has passed that doors have closed. Not only will you never play for the Yankees, but you won’t have children, you won’t be rich, you’ll be lucky if you’ve got enough money to get you through, and enough laughs to accompany you on your journey.
It’s just a matter of time before things go bad.
I remember stumbling through the nineties being coddled by couples in the Palisades.
Now every one of those couples is divorced.
I remember being the first in my group to get the Big C, and now friends of mine have died.
I remember telling my story over and over again to people who didn’t want to hear it to the point I no longer tell it, but the truth is…
I’ve still got those feelings inside, the chapters of my life are written in stone and they still don’t make sense.
But when I see “Manchester By The Sea” I feel that someone else gets it too, has been there, knows how I feel, and this allows me to move forward, however gingerly, with so many fits and starts.
I don’t know how art became about winning, about sunniness, about anything but the human condition. It used to soothe me, now it bounces off of me.
But there are some people working who are still trying to get it right, trying to illuminate life so we all can relate.
Kenneth Lonergan did this in “Manchester By The Sea.”
And if you’re someone who feels misunderstood, who is more internal than external, who wonders how you got here, how life didn’t work out as planned…
This is the film for you.