The Joy of Fighting Back
Part 3: A Song of Innocence and Experience
The other day I saw the movie Manchester by the Sea. Having visited the very singular harbor town of Gloucester, MA, where much of it is filmed, I was completely engrossed. This town has always deserved a great movie. Disregarding my brief summer visit to Gloucester, though, I left the theater morally fortified. (This is not a sensation Anthony Lane is likely to tell you about, fellow New Yorker readers.)
Director Kenneth Lonergan has cut through all the overhyped shit in our political discourse right now about "working-class whites" and "coastal elites" to give moviegoers a beautiful, maturely told story about youth, growing up, love, sex, and mortality. And all to a soundtrack of Albinoni (THE FULL ADAGIO) and Handel. (Baroque music might finally outgrow its kiss-of-death status in Hollywood, after the film's receipts are totaled.)
I mentioned five things the movie is about, but that barely begins to describe what it tells us. In my view (colored as it is by a schoolboy crush on Casey Affleck's character), it urges the spectator to fight back. Not blindly lash out at ill-defined forces like "globalism" and "multiculturalism," but fight back with native determination against people who don't know what the fuck they're doing -- yes, sometimes those people are our loved ones. Lonergan reminds us, gently and wisely, that even the world of a left-behind fishing town is full of people who can be relied upon in any crisis; he portrays religion as a positive social force without sentimentalizing it; and all his characters live in the lively space between true bigotry and complete "open-mindedness."
Not to wax too poetic about cinematography, but the film also takes a reverent, awe-inducing perspective on nature, celestial and terrestrial, and the changing seasons. Spring has rarely seemed so liberating on screen: it cured my Wisconsin cabin fever for at least 48 hours, no small feat.