The Sense of an Ending

THE SENSE OF AN ENDING. Directed by Ritesh Batra. Written by Nick Payne. Adapted from the novel by Julian Barnes. Starring: Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rmpling, Harriet Walter, Emily Mortimer, Michelle Dockery. Rating: M. Running time: 108 minutes.

The Sense of an Ending is a distinctive, thoughtful film based on the novel by Julian Barnes’ which won the Man Booker Prize in 2011. It’s a film about memory, how it can deceive and change our lives. It also raises interesting questions about the role played by selective memory and objectivity in both individuals and collective history.

Jim Broadbent (The Iron Lady, The Lady in the Van) plays Tony, in many ways a very ordinary middle-class man in his 60s living a conventional life, who is thrown back into the past when he receives a legacy consisting of a diary and letter which forces him to question his life so far, and the decisions he has made.

The Sense of an Ending also raises questions about the nature of time. In the novel The Go-Between, L P Hartley writes: ‘The past is another country’. The novelist William Faulkener once said: ‘The past is not dead; it’s not even past’. The theoretical physicist Lee Smolin argues in his book Time Reborn that only the present is real.

Boasting an impressive cast which includes the inimitable Charlotte Rampling, these questions and those pertaining to Tony’s past are explored, although not completely resolved, in a positive way that allows Tony to move forward in the river of time.

A BBC/US coproduction, The Sense of an Ending is directed by the Indian filmmaker Ratesh Batra, who wrote and directed The Lunchbox, an inspiring film about the role played by a lunchbox in bringing two lonely and unhappy people together (available for download on SBS On Demand).

Batra read Julian Barnes’ novel in 2011. He admits his filmic take is very different to the book in many ways, but Batra brings the book’s complex upper-middle-class characters to life with great empathy and psychological realism.

The film’s point of view is almost entirely that of the emotionally closed-off Tony, and we become aware of this from the story’s many lacunas, and way other characters in the film view him, in particular his daughter Susie (Michelle Dockery from Downton Abbey), ex-wife Margaret (Harriet Walter), and his passion from the past, Veronica (Rampling).

According to Ritesh, The Sense of an Ending is about growing up in old age. From the point of view of contemporary filmmaking however, it is another memorable example of how cinema is more than capable of holding its own in the new age of ‘Indie’ TV.