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Film / Manchester by the Sea

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Manchester by the Sea is a 2016 drama film written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, and Gretchen Mol.

It's about Lee Chandler (Affleck), a lonely, grief-stricken man who discovers he has been made the guardian of his teenaged nephew (Lucas Hedges) after his brother passes away, forcing Lee to return to his hometown and the painful memories that come with it.

For the 89th Academy Awards, the film received six nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Affleck), Best Supporting Actor (Hedges), Best Supporting Actress (Williams), and Best Original Screenplay — winning for Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor. It also won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor and was nominated in four more categories.

Tropes in this work include:

  • The Alcoholic:
    • Lee drinks a lot and goes to bars to start fights. The flashbacks show that he used to be worse, much to the ire of Randi, and his eventual horror when he accidentally burns the house down while drunk and high.
    • Elise is a recovering alcoholic, and it's established in flashbacks that her addiction was partly a reason for her estrangement from Joe. And yet it's extremely heavily implied that she hasn't changed at all or struggling with regression when Patrick goes to have lunch with her. She leaves the room for a couple of minutes, and the clinking of glasses is heard. Even her body language reads that she's drunk when Patrick shows up and her Fiancee is trying to internalize it. Patrick is understandably tight-lipped upon all future mentions of his mother. It's also implied Lee's discomfort around her reminds him of his own demons.
  • Ambiguous Situation: Did Lee's party in the backstory actually feature marijuana and cocaine, or did he just throw that in because he wanted the police to arrest him?
  • Anachronic Order: Lee's backstory is sprinkled throughout, but both storylines move forward in parallel and are easy to follow.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: An atypical example with Randi, who tearfully tells Lee that she still loves him, even though she has a new spouse and child.
  • Bar Brawl: Twice we see Lee picking fights in a pub for no reason other than self-loathing.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Joe was protective and supportive of Lee in flashbacks. He physically supports Lee in the aftermath of the house fire, waits for him at the police station, keeps an eye on him in case of another suicidal episode, and helps him spruce up his spartan room.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Lee acknowledges that he can't defeat his demons and can't stay in Manchester, and defers guardianship to George. However, he makes a connection with Patrick, is moving out of his prison-like apartment he lived in as punishment for himself, and plans on getting an extra room for Patrick to stay whenever he visits, and the film ends with the two fishing as they did when Patrick was a boy.
  • Book Ends: The first and last scene show Lee and Patrick on a boat trip, once when Patrick was still a young boy and later when he is adolescent.
  • Broken Bird: In the flashbacks before the accident, Lee is shown to be an outgoing and good-natured guy with a lot of friends. In the present day, he's just a shell of a man.
  • Bungled Suicide: Almost immediately after being told by the police that he's free to go home following the deaths of his kids, Lee grabs a gun from a nearby officer and attempts to shoot himself in the head. However, he can't fully pull the trigger because the safety is still on, and several more officers end up tackling him to the ground before he can successfully remove it.
  • Celibate Hero: Multiple women are interested in Lee throughout the film, but he has no interest in even a casual relationship.
  • Commitment Issues: One girl just isn't enough for Patrick.
  • Cringe Comedy: Much of the humor comes from clearly uncomfortable characters doing the worst possible thing to help each other relax. Patrick's dinner with his mother and her fiance in particular is so uncomfortable it's laughable, as they both repeatedly make him uncomfortable with how over-the-top they're trying to make him comfortable.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Deliberately invoked with Lee, who makes sure to pick drunken fights only with men who have friends around so that he has no chance of winning and will get badly beaten — all as a form of self-punishment.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Patrick. He gets it from his dad, who made jokes with the doctor as he was diagnosed with a congestive heart condition.
  • Death of a Child: Besides his two young daughters, Lee also has an infant son who perished in the fire. Given that we only see two body-bags, it's possible that the child was completely immolated due to the lower bone density that babies have.
  • Death Seeker: Downplayed. Lee frequently gets into drunken fights, hoping to get injured, as he never received the punishment for the deaths of his children that he insists he deserves.
  • Despair Event Horizon: For obvious reasons, Lee seems to have never recovered from the deaths of his children, which he inadvertently caused.
  • Deus ex Machina: After repeated assertions that the boat's motor couldn't be fixed, Lee discovers an expensive collection of guns that were never mentioned or seen before, and sells them to pay for a new motor so that Patrick can keep the boat. Word of God states that the guns were supposed to be included in another flashback that ended up getting cut, and he defended his choice with the assertion that not everything requires Foreshadowing (though the option does come off as unusually convenient).
  • Dumbass Teenage Son: Patrick has shades of this.
  • Flashback Nightmare: Lee sees his little girls as he dozes off. His lack of surprise during it indicates that this isn't the first time he's had it.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The first time we see one of Lee's children, she's sitting right next to the active fireplace.
    • When Pat insists that his mother is "not an alcoholic anymore", it's painfully clear that he doesn't understand the situation and that his meeting with her is not going to end well. Anyone who understand addiction recovery understands that it's a lifelong condition. Someone may be sober, but they'll always be an alcoholic.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: Everybody has some form of decency and even though Lee and Patrick can be jerkasses to some degree, they both have a sympathetic backstory.
  • Grief-Induced Split: While drunk one night, Lee forgot to put the guard in front of the fireplace, causing a house fire that claimed the lives of his three young children. He and his wife Randi divorced, then he moved out of town.
  • Hard Truth Aesop: Sometimes, grief is something that one has to learn to live with, rather than completely recover from. Even then, that is often much easier said than done. In fact, this is the reason why the film was created in the first place.
  • Hates Small Talk: Lee pretty much stays silent when put up to it by Patrick. Sandy's mom is put out.
  • Hollywood New England: Thick Massachusetts accents for everyone.
  • Hope Spot:
    • Lee seems to be getting mildly better as he interacts with Patrick, and he even finds some fancy and rare guns to sell so that Patrick can get a new motor for Joe's boat. Then he runs into Randi who tries to reconnect and apologize. Lee does not take it well and immediately gets himself into a bar fight, has a horrible nightmare, and nearly causes a fire.
    • Shortly afterwards, Patrick sees Lee's pictures and starts actually empathizing with Lee's trauma and deteriorating mental state, but by that point, Lee's decided that it's just too painful for him to keep living in Manchester.
  • Hormone-Addled Teenager: Patrick, who's going out with two girls behind each others' backs and keeps trying to come up with ways to have sex with them. His girlfriends also count.
  • It's All About Me: Played realistically with Patrick, who's a typical teenager thinking of himself. He refuses to move away from his life in Manchester seemingly without realizing the awful memories Lee may have about the town. In the end, he sees the pictures of Lee's deceased children that Lee keeps on his dresser and understands where he's coming from more.
  • Jerkass: Despite the fact that Lee has a sympathetic backstory, he still frequently comes across as very abrasive and unlikable, having a tendency towards starting fights.
  • Loser Protagonist: Lee's a janitor, and some of the people of Manchester look down on him due to the downward spiral his life took.
  • Malicious Slander: At the hockey rink, Patrick's friends tell the coach that the stories about Lee are "all bullshit." It's heavily implied through the looks of the townspeople who look down on Lee that some may believe that Lee intentionally started the fire as revenge for Randi kicking his friends out of the house.
  • Meaningful Background Event: The viewer can see Lee's house on fire as he walks home from the store for a few seconds before he reacts to it.
  • Missing Mom: By the time of his father's death, Patrick's mother has long disappeared. It turns out she's reached out and he's in contact with her. Unfortunately, he dramatically overestimates the extent to which she's changed.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Patrick is a quite attractive hockey player, who gets shown in various states of undress. Lee is a subversion; while he's classically handsome and gets lots of female attention his Empty Shell personality makes him hard to relate to.
  • My Greatest Failure: Lee feels this regarding the death of his kids, as his drunken carelessness is what caused the fire that eventually took their lives. Even when Randi tearfully expresses remorse for the way she treated him following the incident, willing to reestablish a connection between them, Lee essentially replies that the time since the accident has left him little more than a hollow shell, likely because of his guilt.
  • Nice Guy: Joe Chandler, who in flashbacks is a constant supportive presence in Lee's life and to everyone around him, and George, who supports and takes care of Lee throughout the film and mentors Patrick, and eventually accepts guardianship for him. Notably, when Lee starts a barfight in Manchester and everyone there is more than ready to seemingly beat him halfway to death, George has some success defusing the situation by trying to remind everyone that, whatever they think of him, he's "Joey Chandler's brother."
  • No Antagonist: The closest thing the film has to an antagonist is Lee's demons. Patrick is a bit of a Jerkass but everybody seems like a normal decent person.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Lee's father has to watch his son attempt suicide in front of him, mere hours after losing three quarters of his grandchildren in a horrible fire.
  • The Place: Manchester by the Sea, Massachusetts.
  • Pushover Parents: Kind of. Patrick was allowed to have his girlfriend over, and Sandy's mom lets Patrick be alone with her daughter, in Sandy's bedroom, although he complains that she regularly interrupts them before they can have sex.
  • Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic: Averted. Characters are constantly talking at the same time, pausing, restarting, interrupting, grasping for the right word, and generally sounding realistically inarticulate. It helps to contribute to a sense of awkwardness and difficulty connecting that plagues Lee's life. Lee and Randi's brief reunion is an excellent example of how an aversion can really add to a scene.
  • Running Gag: People having a hard time pronouncing Minnetonka, Minnesota.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Both Lee and Patrick. It's Boston.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Leaning a bit more on the cynical end of the scale, however many of the characters are still very human and relatable.
  • Sliding Scale of Realistic vs. Fantastic: The film is noted for being very realistic.
  • There Are No Therapists: Lee needs some kind of therapy, along with a few other characters, but it's clear it won't happen.
  • Trauma Button: Patrick is troubled by the thought of his dad's corpse having to be put in a freezer until the ground thaws enough to bury him, and breaks down into a panic attack after looking at the contents of his freezer.
  • Troubled Backstory Flashback: Lee's Dark and Troubled Past is explored via flashbacks throughout the film.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Because Randi's migraines are exacerbated by the house's heating, Lee lights the fireplace during cold weather instead. Just once, he's not sure if he puts the grate up or not, and doesn't turn back when it comes to mind on his way to the store.
  • Voiceover Letter: The email from the husband of Patrick's mother is voiced by that character.