As I walked into the screening room with a bunch of seasoned reviewers and critics, to watch Manchester by the Sea - I have to confess, I had seen the poster in the tube station and heard that Casey Affleck had just won a Golden Globe for it but I didn't know what the movie was about or what to expect, except at the end of it I was expected to write a blog on it! So with my pen and paper ready to make notes....
We meet Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) shovelling snow, putting out the rubbish and dealing with people's plumbing problems, and then he is suddenly called to Manchester (in the US not UK). His brother has died and he finds himself as the guardian of his nephew, Patrick. And as we watch them navigating their way through loss and grief, it engages you because at some point in our lives we all face loss and grief. The movie is honest and heart-wrenching, and at no point does it become sentimental.
As the movie cuts back and forth between past and present, we notice that the residents of Manchester view Lee with distrust, and we begin to wonder who is Lee Chandler and what has he done? As we discover what it is... the movie still doesn't descend into becoming soppy. In fact, humour and sarcasm weaves in and out of the gloom.
When Lee arrives at the hospital in Manchester and finds out that his brother Joe has died, Joe's best friend is openly crying, whereas Lee has a hard time showing his emotions. Though there are outbursts of anger and destructive behaviour, there's also a lack of sensitivity at the way he handles the new responsibility of being a guardian to his nephew. Even though he is rough and gruff, and his emotional landscape comes across as bleak as the cold, snowy winter landscape around him, there are moments when we see his heart and soul.
Copyright image: StudioCanal
There's no right or wrong way to the grieving process, its individual and each loss in unique. And everyone copes with grief differently. Though it's recommended that we express our emotions during grief, many of us like Lee, are unable to articulate or express how we feel. Often we can't articulate our feelings because we don't actually know what and how we're feeling.
One way to get in touch with your feelings is by getting creative. Simply give shape and colour to your feelings. Paint, draw, scribble, sketch... or write. Write a sentence, a paragraph, a page.... or write a letter to the person you've lost. This may uncover how you really feel and highlight the things that are really troubling you.
Find constructive ways to understand and process your loss, and release your emotions safely. If you can, then reach out to get support and share your grief. This can be really healthy and comforting. Find someone you trust, or find a therapist or a counsellor, or a specialist bereavement support group.
Another useful tool you can use is, meditation. The process of meditation untangles you from your emotions, so that you can observe your thoughts and emotions, without being judgemental. This not only increases your self awareness but it also allows you to slowly access and experience positive emotions such as peace, love and acceptance.
The main thing I walked away with, from Manchester by the Sea, is that it's not about getting over grief but getting through it. And the key to moving on from loss and engaging positively with the world is acceptance - acceptance of how you feel, acceptance of what's happened and how this changes your reality.