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Sunday, December 18, 2016

1000s of years of guilt...

Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester by the Sea is a catholic movie. It's a character-study of Lee (Casey Affleck), who ekes out a living in building maintenance around Quincy Massachusetts, having fled his hometown after drunkenly causing a housefire that killed his three children some ten years earlier. Lee returns to Manchester MA on learning of his older brother's death, to deal with that fact and with his nephew, 16-year-old Patrick (Lucas Hedges). His ex Randi (Michelle Williams) still lives there too, now re-married and with another child. Lonergan's theme is the ways in which we are confined by our beliefs. The pivotal scene, in the center of the film, takes place in the police station after the fire. Lee describes his leaving the fireplace without a screen to go out for beer, walking to the convenience store because he's too drunk to drive, and returning to find his home in flames, his wife rescued but his children burned alive. When he's finished the officers explain that it's not a crime to have made such a mistake. "You mean I can just go?" Lee says. But he can't go. He can and does flee, even if only to Boston. But now he has to punish himself, living meagerly, permanently closed and inarticulate, treasuring photos of his dead children, starting bar fights in order to get beaten up by strangers. A Jesus-figure. I mean, damaged as he is, Lee absorbs the grief and rage and blame that's all around him, that constitutes the lives of his family and former friends and suspicious neighbors. Michelle Williams delivers a wrenching performance in a tearful scene, apologizing to Lee for her blame and rejection after the accident. Lee can't hear it. Lucas Hedges' Patrick amazes Lee: the kid is popular, athletic, and enviably attractive. But Patrick is destined to lead a life as just like those of the adults around him: confined to the round of work, ritual celebration, regular reproduction, gossip, resentment, and blame. Everybody feels guilty most of the time. The only times that feel like fun are when you're all drunk...