The Realistic Grief of ‘Manchester by the Sea’

How can a film depict the most painful of human emotions?
By  · Published on June 1st, 2017

How can a film depict the most painful of human emotions?

Perhaps no other film last year had audiences in as many tears as Manchester by the Sea, Kenneth Lonergan’s third film and by far his most devastating – which is saying something. But it’s also his funniest. How can such a solemn film walk the line between emotionally distressing and flat-out hilarious? Well, that might just be the point.

Lonergan’s films exist first and foremost to capture the emotional nuance and inconsistencies of the human experience. In his acclaimed debut You Can Count On Me, he followed the lives of siblings attempting to reconcile their tumultuous childhood with their adult responsibilities. In his much-maligned masterpiece Margaret, a teenage girl must come to terms with the irrevocable consequences her actions have on the world. And in Manchester by the Sea, a janitor hiding from his traumatic past must come to terms with his brother’s passing and his young nephew’s own grief.

The way Lonergan is able to make this small-scale tragedy so true to life is the subject of this excellent video essay, made by Thomas Flight. In it, he breaks down the performances and emotional rollercoaster of a screenplay that guide the film. It’s a well-worded and impactful analysis that gives us insight into the process of an incredibly gifted filmmaker.

21. Filmmaker. Writer for Film School Rejects. Featured on MTV, Indiewire & The A.V. Club.