Manchester by the Sea written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan (Affleck/Middleton Project, B Story, Big Indie Pictures, R, 137 min)

Starring Casey Affleck, Kyle Chandler, Michelle Williams, Gretchen Mol, and Lucas Hedges.

Armchair Psychology

Putting on my armchair psychologist bow tie, I’ll make an unfounded proclamation: we link emotional resonance to physical location.

For example, we develop deep, nostalgic feelings for locations around the campus of our alma mater. Personally, my wedding location conjures feelings of love and joy.

The sights, sounds, and smells of an area lodge deep in our souls.

While watching the acclaimed Manchester by the Sea, I kept thinking about this phenomenon.

New England Meets the Atlantic

Set in New England, Manchester by the Sea depicts the complicated emotions and relationships when a brother returns to his hometown to put the affairs of his deceased brother in order.

Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) holds a dead-end job as a janitor. His rough façade keeps everyone at arm’s length. Any advances from women fall on deaf ears. Any emotion pushed deeper internally through pints at the local dive bar.

Upon hearing word of his brother John’s (Kyle Chandler) death, Lee returns to Manchester. With stark realism, the camera follows Lee as he moves from station to station organizing the next steps.

Part of the will includes the transfer of legal guardianship of John’s son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges). While Lee and Patrick are close, Lee has no desire to raise his nephew in Manchester for the few years before he turns 18.

Therein lies a quandary, since Patrick is rooted in Manchester. He plays on the hockey team. He has started a rock band. He has 2 girlfriends.

Either Lee convinces Patrick to move back to Boston, or Lee has to face the trauma that has soured him on this idyllic small town.

Editing and Acting: Making a Movie

Manchester by the Sea masterfully cuts flash backs throughout the film to develop these characters and to define the relationships that operate as the bedrock of the narrative.

Additionally, the actors and director focus on realism at every moment. Perhaps most poignantly, during a gut-wrenching scene, a character gets loaded into an ambulance. During the process, the paramedics struggle to contract the stretcher legs to load the patient. While the scene illustrates the emergency at hand, the frustrating banalities of life get in the way.

Beautifully shot, Manchester by the Sea places a high level of detail on the pristine setting juxtaposed against the emotional struggles of its characters.

The formative places in our lives shape us and continue to shape us. When we return to those places, a flood of memories envelope us like a deluge. Manchester by the Sea places a sharp focus on this phenomenon. While the film might be slow for some, it’s well worth it’s acclaim.

Verdict: 4.5 out of 5

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