I am in the middle of a blog series chronicling my top ten moments from 2016 and I will be saving my 2016 movie blogs for January right before the 2017 Oscars. However, the other night Kelsey and I saw a movie that was so deeply cathartic for me, I'm sitting here and I need to write about it. The movie is Manchester by the Sea, and be warned: This is the most accurate depiction of figuring out how to live in the wake of the death of a loved one I have ever seen.
There was a scene in the movie that had me tearing up so copiously that I almost had to leave the theatre, and I wasn’t even certain why I was crying so much. The scene takes place on the evening 16 year old Patrick Chandler (played with unnerving believability by Lucas Hedges) finds about his loving father’s death. He is sitting in his family room with three of his friends. The three friends talk sympathetically about the moments with Patrick’s that were meaningful to them. Then one of them makes a joke about Star Trek, and soon Patrick joins in, and then laughter ensues. No one is crying, no one is spewing a monologue, but the scene is categorically not robbed of its gravity; it’s just four friends goofing around. Four friends who don’t know how to make sense of the sudden and vicious shift in Patrick’s ground of being.
I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t able to stop myself from crying. Then it hit me, and memories flooded my mind like a dam bursting. On the evening of May 11th, 2012 I was thrown into the most forceful and tragic life change I have ever experienced, it was the night I heard of my mother’s passing. The circumstances surrounding her death were grim and awful. I think quite literally by the grace of God my best friend Jordan was with me. Jordan was quick to rally the troops, and it wasn’t long before six or seven friends came to sit with me in my shock and confusion; most of whom were awoken from deep sleeps with the terrible news. They came and cried and hugged me. They modeled solidarity and promised their support. At around 2 or 3 AM I didn’t really feel like sitting around my house anymore, so we all went to Shari’s. What I remember about our time at Shari’s was laughing, and telling stories, and teasing each other.
The weight of the moment had not settled in yet. I wasn’t grieving because the burden of the loss had not established itself. There was no way to know what the right thing to do was, so we resorted to doing what we already knew we loved: We ate, we laughed and we teased. Perhaps nobody captures this enigmatic period directly following the loss of a loved one because it’s next to impossible to do without your art appearing sociopathic. For myself, for Patrick in the movie, and I imagine for plenty of others, there is a sojourning period before anguish sets in. Between the news of tragedy and the reality of your position there lies an internal pilgrimage to grief. It is a surreal and nuanced period I had never seen captured in a movie before Manchester by the Sea… and it hit me where I lived closer than a movie has in recent memory.
Moments like this are what makes Manchester by the Sea such an important movie. From the beginning to the end, there is nothing Hollywood about. It bleeds with authenticity as we watch the people who loved this man try to make sense of his passing. Movies like this validate an intrinsic dignity within humanity by demonstrating that our stories are valid and our experiences are real; and we don’t need sweeping music or showy actors and actresses to make it impactful. Manchester by the Sea brought up a lot of emotions within me that I had not sifted through in a long time, but it all felt entirely healthy, like a solid counseling session.
The movie is also aesthetically flawless. People have been heralding Casey Affleck as the front runner to win Best Lead Actor at the Oscars this year since before the films release; and to be perfectly honest if he doesn’t win I will riot. Donald Trump becoming my president wasn’t enough to push me to that point, but Casey Affleck losing this Oscar just might. Michelle Williams here only reinforces my belief that she is the best actress of her generation and Lucas Hedges brings such charm and realism to his excellent depiction of a teenaged boy on the verge of grief. Writer/Director Kenneth Lonergan has crafted a sharp and genuine picture with a steady grip on the content and a freakishly well written script. While watching this movie, I felt that my process of dealing with my mother’s death was honored, and I don’t know that it is possible for me to give it higher praise than that.