The Sense of an Ending

THE SENSE OF AN ENDING. Starring: Jim Broadbent, Harriet Walter, Charlotte Rampling, Emily Mortimer, Freya Mavor, Michelle Dockery, and Andrew Buckley. Directed by Ritesh Batra. Rated M (Mature themes, sex scenes and coarse language). 108 min.

 This British-American drama is based on the Man Booker Prize-winning novel of the same name written by Julian Barnes in 2011. It tells the story of an elderly divorced man who receives a letter that returns him to events that happened decades before. The letter brings back vivid memories of relationships he once had. The movie makes heavy use of flashback.

 Tony Webster (Jim Broadbent) lives a lonely life as owner-manager of a camera shop in London. His first love, Veronica (Freya Mavor) is still living, and he is divorced from his wife, Margaret (Harriet Walter) with whom he has maintained contact. Margaret and he have a lesbian daughter, Susie (Michelle Dockery), who is pregnant.

 Tony is shaken by news of a death. The news comes in a registered legal letter, and his recollections start to haunt him. They push him to rethink and reassess where his life is at the moment, and what he has done in the past. The letter informs him that the mother of Veronica (Emily Mortimer) has died, and that she has willed something to him that her daughter Veronica, now a grown woman (Charlotte Rampling), is refusing to give him: it is the diary of his close school friend, Adrian (Andrew Buckley), that contains some very uncomfortable secrets.

 Looking for emotional support for his disturbing recollections, Tony shares his past with his ex-wife, Margaret, and he tells her secrets that deeply affected his relationship with Veronica and Adrian, which he thinks are related to the suicide of Adrian that occurred years before.

 The technology that surrounds delivery of the film's imagery is impressive. With the help of fluid flashback images, personalities and conversations from one period intriguingly interact and intersect with images from a different time, creating vivid memories that appear to be in the process of unfolding. The movie illustrates compellingly how human memories can be selective and edited conveniently to provide human comfort. Tony has a version of the past which does not reflect actual truth, and as viewers, we slowly come to realise that he is colouring our interpretation of what really happened. Unintentionally, Tony is embellishing his recollections, and remembers "only half the story".

 There is some similarity of this film with the 2015 movie, "45 Years", where a letter about the past was instrumental in causing the breakdown of a marriage. Charlotte Rampling was the wife in "45 Years" and plays Veronica, as an adult, in this film. Her acting, as well as the acting of Jim Broadbent and Harriet Walter is outstanding. Lingering tragedy for Jim, Veronica, and Margaret has resulted in a lifetime of misunderstanding and/or untold stories.

 This is a finely detailed, gently modulated film that penetratingly explores the fallibility of human memory. Its sub-themes canvass youth, ageing, and the complexities of human relationships under stress. The Direction of the film by Ritesh Batra is excellent, and the acting performances demonstrate intelligently how truth can lie hidden or distorted for a lifetime. The film effectively challenges the veracity of human recollections, and easy assumptions about where truth might lie.

 This is a movie that maintains a sense of unfolding mystery and richly deserves to be seen. It has plausible moments of melodrama, and the acting and direction of the movie hold one engrossed. In its ending, the Director is telling the viewer, that there is "The sense of an ending" in life that nearly always needs further reflection. Ritesh Batra's observation in that regard is both astute and correct.

 Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Roadshow Films

Released May 18, 2017


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