Manchester by the Sea is a story that revolves around unimaginable tragedy, devastating grief and hope for possible healing. Casey Affleck plays Lee Chandler who receives a call that his brother Joe has died (not unexpectedly) and goes back to his hometown to help out. Besides handling Joe’s affairs, an issue arises as to the guardianship of Joe’s 16-year-old son (Lee’s nephew), Patrick, played by Lucas Hedges and whether Lee is willing or able to take on this responsibility.
As the story unfolds, we learn that Lee has previously experienced a horrendous tragedy along with his wife, Randy, played by Michelle Williams. It is here that Affleck reveals his outstanding talent for his credible portrayal of a man who is attempting to move himself forward despite his nearly paralyzing grief and self-blame. Williams gives a predictably excellent performance and even though her appearance in the movie is relatively short, her presence is felt throughout the movie especially after the tragedy experienced by both Lee and Randy is revealed. Hedges also gives an excellent performance and the remaining actors do a very good job as well.
In light of this background, the dialogue continues with the ongoing interactions between Lee and his nephew, and the challenges they both face given the circumstances in which they find themselves. While the interchange is at times funny and even sarcastic, the use of humor is merely a defense mechanism as the movie tries to divert its viewers from the very difficult events and themes that have arisen and loom in the characters.
The tragedy’s severe impact on Lee has no doubt changed him forever. He becomes a loner, shut down and isolated. However, Lee’s interactions with his nephew fosters the viewer with hope, yet who is left wondering whether this could be an opportunity for Lee to be able to find meaning in his life once again. Unfortunately, Lee’s devastation and loss are so vast, one cannot help but question whether he ever will be able to actually move forward at all.
The movie, written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, while very well done and beautifully filmed, has a chronology that can be a bit difficult to follow at times. But overall, it is an excellent film and well worth seeing. It is one of those films that stays with you for days afterwards, pondering its themes and reliving its highly memorable yet disturbing moments while holding onto the hope that people like Lee who have had they worlds turned upside down and badly shaken, can somehow find their way back to a life that has meaning, love and renewal.