Manchester by the Sea (2016)Sunday, May 14th, 2017
I loved Manchester by the Sea and can understand why many critics hailed it as the movie of 2016. The characters are wonderfully drawn and brilliantly acted, and the movie is beautifully shot. It’s about past and present, blame and forgiveness, condemnation and redemption.
Crucially, this film doesn’t preach the usual sermon that love conquers all and everything will be just fine. It’s harsher and more real than that, which is why some people find it ‘depressing’. Many also find it hard to care about Lee Chandler, the grief-stricken janitor played by Casey Affleck. They don’t like the way he responds to his brother’s death or his resulting responsibilities. They find the simmering rage that occasionally boils over in times of stress or stupor rather distasteful. But the character’s anti-social behaviour is born out of trauma and guilt. These are painful psychological states that should engender more not less sympathy. Manchester by the Sea is a sad movie, and you should pick your moment to watch it, but to dismiss it out of hand as ‘too depressing’ is to lack compassion.
Did Casey Affleck Deserve his Oscar for Best Actor?
Absolutely. It’s hard to recall a more powerful portrayal of pain and withdrawal. Affleck doesn’t just stare blankly and get angry now and again. You can see him absorb any negativity that’s going on around him, then reluctantly spit it back out because there’s little else left inside. You can still sense that somewhere deep down there’s a spark of his former self, but that it would have no idea how to find its way back to the surface, even if it wanted to. I didn’t wonder why he couldn’t just behave more reasonably. I struggled to see how he could ever break free from the constraints of his living nightmare.
Many people didn’t want Affleck to win because of the allegations concerning his off-screen conduct. I appreciate that this isn’t a clear-cut issue, but I lean towards separating art from the artist. A good movie is a good movie regardless of who made it, just as a guilty man is a guilty man regardless of how many good movies he has made.
Will it come to Netflix?
Netflix will never show Manchester by the Sea because arch-rival Amazon distributes it. It also happens to be the first movie distributed by any streaming service to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. Some people worry that if this is the future, then film makers will stop making films for the big screen. I don’t see the market allowing that to happen. More large screens in the homes of those who can afford them, along with the wider appeal of multiplexes, will maintain demand for the cinematic experience for a long time to come. Even Manchester by the Sea, while it works well on the small screen, is even better on the big screen.