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Manchester by the Sea: Movie About Grief



Manchester by the Sea is a 2016 American drama film written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan. It’s a movie about a depressive loner Lee Chandler who lost his children in a fire accident in Manchester and now moved to Boston and maintained very minimal contact with anyone from Manchester for all these years to not face those emotions and memories again which he has with that city. But now his brother had died and entrusted him to take care of his teen nephew who lives in Manchester.

This movie starts with Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) who is working as a handyman and living a desolate life in Boston until one morning when he hears that his beloved brother Joe Chandler is in serious condition but Joe dies before Lee can get to the hospital. Although his death was sad as Joe was a very cheerful person, this was not so unexpected as he had congestive heart failure for a long time but what is unexpected was that his brother entrusted him to be the guardian of Patrick (his nephew) and doing all the funeral arrangements for him.

While making arrangements, they learn Joe's body cannot be buried until spring when the ground thaws. So, Lee stays in Manchester, living in Joe’s house till the funeral.

This film’s primary focus is about grief, guilt, understanding each other, and also asks us if is it possible to heal from past trauma? Or now we have to simply live our whole life in guilt and wait for the end.

This movie shows us all these things through Lee’s life, how he always tried to distance himself from Quincy from his grief but somehow life put him and Manchester together and set off his memories forcing him to face his past, face his grief again because his grief was connected to Manchester.


It shows how different people have different impacts of grief and how they decide to move on.

This film shows us this by the conversation between Lee and his ex-wife when they come across each other. We see two people who have gone through the same tragedy who are both dealing with their grief in different ways and wants to reconnect but cannot because Lee forever feels like he doesn’t deserve a second chance at life and now he is in the penitence state whereas she wants a second chance for him but it is of no use because she cannot bring him out of his endless guilt state.

This movie also shows us that grief in real life doesn’t obey any rules. It doesn’t start and stop when it suits the condition. Grief can come at a very unexpected time and sometimes it’s not there when you feel it should be.

This film also shows us the same by not expressing guilt in the big moments like the funeral scene where a kid cries and make that moment funny and real as in real life also these annoyances, mistakes are a part of it. It doesn’t stop for anyone whether it's the funeral scene or anything else.

But it shows us guilt can come when it is least expected. Like it shows us through the fridge scene how Patrick had a breakdown after he was trying to close the door of the freezer. This simple scene shows us how he had not recovered from his father’s death and that the freezer was reminding him again and again that now he will never see or talk with his dad again.

It is the real essence of grief and this film perfectly portrays it by making the character's grief when it is least expected and making this movie very real.

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As simple as its story may sound Kenneth Lonergan does a stupendous job in writing and direction. This movie didn’t tell the story, rather it shows us the story. Like every other narrative film, this movie also depends on implication storytelling which keeps us actively engaged with the film and enjoying the experience of it.

This movie also shows us how social interaction is very tough for the person who has unspeakable sufferings they go through in life and how hard it is for them to emotionally connect with anyone after being through so much suffering because they always have that fear of losing someone dear once again like they did in the past and they don’t want to experience that immense pain again so instead they choose to live lonely.

I also liked how this movie shows Lee’s trauma in a very subtle way. He stood next to the microwave and watched it until it was done as he always had that guilt about how his carelessness led to house burning and the loss of three children.

Cinematography and Music are also very well done in this movie like how the serious scenes create a distance in slow motion, dialogues were inaudible with having string and piano music in the background which makes the movie feels more real. Like the scene where Lee comes to pick up Patrick from his sports training.


In the end, we are shown a pasta sauce scene where Lee fell asleep while waiting for the pasta to cook but the sauce started burning while setting off the alarm. And he had flashbacks about how his house was burnt and his kids were killed by the fire which started by his mistake. After this incident, he goes to George and convinces him and his wife to adopt Patrick. This was a coping mechanism for Lee from his pain, fear and self-hatred and also to protect the people he loves by making a distance from them.

After the funeral, there was a conversation between Lee and Patrick where he mentions he’s looking for one with an extra room, for a pull-out sofa. And when Patrick asked what for? He just goes silent for a few seconds while thinking, isn't it obv and then he says “So, you can come to visit sometime”. We can see how much the trauma affected him as he was a very chatty person before but now he chooses his words very wisely.

It ends with a boat scene where Lee and Patrick can do fishing once again and ends with a very hopeful note while acknowledging the fact that grief and guilt don’t vanish so easily. Lee doesn’t fill the void in his soul and returns to his older self but there is a hope that there might be good things waiting for him in life and nothing is permanent no pain, guilt or grief and whatever afflict us can be overcome.


It's a movie about the impact of grief on its characters' lives. This movie uses realism to frame the impact that grief has on characters with the non-linear storytelling, great camerawork and music which perfectly suits every scene and the blend of all this in a very perfect manner gives us “Manchester by the sea” which also teaches us that healing may not come from a funeral scene but can come from like the last boat scene.

© 2022 Shubham Bamnawat

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