“Manchester By The Sea”, A Sad Film Surrounding The Inability To Forgive Oneself

There are some movies I see from time to time that truly depress me, not because they are poorly done, but because they inherently explore a subject that remind me of something very painful from my dysfunctional past. “Manchester By The Sea”, a film written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, is one of those that definitely falls into this territory.

Mostly set in the sleepy Massachusetts coastal town of the same name as the title, the movie revolves around the life of Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck). As the film opens, we learn Lee no longer lives in Manchester and actually resides south of Boston in the town of Quincy, which is a good hour and a half drive away. There, his job entails the janitorial maintenance of several housing complexes and it’s quite apparent how miserable and unhappy he is with both it and his life, but we aren’t initially told why. After having a strong verbal confrontation with one of the tenants and sharing some extremely frustrated words with his boss thereafter, he receives a phone call where he learns his brother Joe (played by Kyle Chandler, who ironically keeps the same last name in the film) has died. Immediately upon hearing the tragic news, Lee heads back to his hometown where we begin to see flashbacks of his once happy life there. While most of the movie surrounds the mystery of what torments Lee so much about Manchester, there is also a second plot that involves Joe’s son Patrick (Lucas Hedges), someone he once had an incredibly close connection to. Unbeknownst to Lee until his brother’s will is read, he learns he’s to be given full custody of Patrick. Sadly, he profusely refuses to take on the responsibility, except we aren’t told why. But without spoiling the most major plot point of the film, Lee’s resistance to taking on Patrick’s guardianship and overall anguish in life both revolve around the same thing. There is something so painful from his past that he was responsible for, which he refuses to forgive himself over and wants nothing to do with his former life in Manchester because of it.

The angst that Lee goes through throughout this entire film really spoke to me, not so much due to what he specifically did in his past that haunted him all the way to his present, but for the fact that he just couldn’t come to a place of forgiving himself for it. Why that spoke to me is simply because I did the very same thing when it came to my father’s suicide.

The final conversation I had with my father prior to his death was during the last week of his life where he was locked up in a psychiatric ward. There, he called me to say hello, looking for support, except I was so wrapped up in my own selfishness that I proceeded to go into all my own drama, not once asking him how he was. When he interrupted me and said he couldn’t handle talking about any of what I was going through, but that he did love me, I was somewhat less than cordial. A few days later he was released and shortly after that his body was found in a dingy motel in Atlantic City alongside a suicide note. I blamed myself for his death for three straight years after that, telling myself I could have done more to prevent it. In turn, my health deteriorated quite a bit, I became dependent on medications and therapy for survival, and developed a number of medical conditions as well because of it. By the end of that three-year period, I was ready to die and pretty much thought about killing myself every single day, but thankfully, by the grace of God, I discovered a men’s spiritual organization called The ManKind Project that said they could help. Mostly out of desperation and being sick and tired of not knowing how to forgive myself or my father for that matter, I agreed to go on their initial retreat called The New Warrior Training. There I found forgiveness for both and the freedom that came from it was incredible.

But watching Lee Chandler in Manchester By the Sea refuse to forgive himself throughout its entire 2 hour and 17-minute running time was a little too hard to swallow. As I sat there and partook in every bit of self-torture that he went through with violence, rage, addiction, and more, I was reminded all too well of the similar path I took when I couldn’t forgive myself for my father’s suicide. And it was for those reasons which ultimately depressed me, even long after the film ended.

While Manchester By The Sea is definitely a well written and directed movie, it’s subject matter is not one for the light of heart, especially when the viewer has struggled with forgiving them self for something painful they did in their past. I’m just grateful that I’ve learned how important self-forgiveness is because without it, I was left with hopelessness, despair, and constant thoughts of suicide.

Nonetheless, Manchester By The Sea was a great movie, albeit a very depressing one. In light of that, I still expect it will garner a number of Oscar nominations this year in several different categories and most likely will earn a number of other awards as well. I give this film four out of five stars and recommend it to those who truly are fans of strong cinematic and art-based fare.

Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson

Author: Andrew Arthur Dawson

A teacher of meditation, a motivational speaker, a reader of numerology, and a writer by trade, Andrew Arthur Dawson is a spiritual man devoted to serving his Higher Power and bringing a lot more light and love into this world. This blog, www.thetwelfthstep.com is just one of those ways...

2 thoughts on ““Manchester By The Sea”, A Sad Film Surrounding The Inability To Forgive Oneself”

  1. Well said Andrew. Self-forgiveness is hard to find. You’ve found something that can’t be given out, but found. You’ll never have all the answers or the answer, but those you find help you find others. I hope we all continue searching and growing.

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