Catharsis: Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea

manchester-2

Some people argue that movies are supposed to provide entertainment or escape. That’s true of some movies. But film is first and foremost art, and the purpose of art is to illustrate (or demonstrate) what it is to be human. Pick any of the superhero movies – those are escape, because it’s human to fantasize what it would be like to be something other than boring old human. Then of course there’s the flip side, the movies that remind us what it is to be human. What it is to feel.

The film features an idea by Jon Krasinski and Matt Damon turned into a 137-minute meditation on grief by writer and director Kenneth Lonergan. It’s a story about a handyman living a banal life, who is summoned home to take care of his nephew following his brother’s death. He left his hometown Manchester-by-the-Sea to run away from something, which is revealed during the course of his story. After the movie, I characterize Casey Affleck’s character Lee Chandler as a man that’s unable to find his catharsis.

I picked the poster above for a reason. Michelle Williams, who plays Affleck’s ex-wife Randi, has a total screen time of maybe ten minutes but serves an important purpose. In a pivotal scene towards the end she becomes a mirror against which we can hold Lee up to. Some people can find their catharsis, move past traumatic events and continue to live life. Randi has, Lee has not.

I believe that this is the key element of the movie that the people who rate it highly appreciate. They see the humanity in the characters, particularly Lee, maybe Randi, and this reminds them of their own losses, their own grief and journeys towards catharsis. Perhaps viewing the film even serves as a moment of catharsis for some, which may explain the people who cry upon viewing the movie. Such is the power of art.

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