Manchester by the Sea

Lonergan, Kenneth

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Annotated by:
Teagarden, J. Russell
  • Date of entry: Jan-09-2017
  • Last revised: Jan-09-2017


Lee Chandler is approaching middle age and working as a maintenance man for an apartment complex in Quincy, Massachusetts. We get a sense for his days as we watch him shovel snow from the walks, unclog toilets, fix leaks, and argue with tenants. We get a sense for his nights as we watch him at a bar drink himself into a fighting mood and then watch him fight. He returns to his sparse subterranean apartment that he shares with no one to sleep off the beer and the bruises. He’ll do it again the next day.  

Lee takes a call as he’s shoveling snow. His older brother Joe is in the hospital in Manchester. He would not get there before Joe dies. A few days later Lee finds out he’s now guardian to Joe’s teenage son Patrick. This is not a responsibility he knew about or welcomed, and one that anchors him to his hometown of Manchester. He doesn’t want to stay in Manchester. Through a series of flashbacks, we find out that it’s not the struggles that come with taking on the responsibility of a rambunctious teenager that makes him want to leave again, it’s the unspeakable tragedy he experienced there years before. He blames himself for this tragedy, as did his wife Randi, and many of the townspeople.  

Over the next few months, Lee is busy making burial arrangements for his brother, situating his nephew, and looking for work while being reminded regularly of what causes his profound suffering. He also experiences fresh assaults. One in particular is the reemergence of his now ex-wife Randi. She attends Joe’s funeral forcing him to bear the sight of her with a new husband and in the late stage of pregnancy. A little later he encounters her in town with her newborn child in a buggy. She wants to make amends for her contribution to his suffering. Lee’s response to Randi’s entreaties is gracious but lifeless, and explains how he gets through the days. He has no internal resource to muster responses to anything, good or bad. He’s hollowed out. “There’s nothin’ there,” he tells Randi.

We’re given no reason to expect there will ever be anything there again for the rest of Lee’s life through a conversation he has with Patrick. Lee has arranged for a family friend to adopt Patrick so that he could leave Manchester for a job in Boston. When Patrick pushes him to stay, Lee confesses: “I can’t do it. I can’t beat it. I can’t beat it.”


In the midst of profound suffering from unrelenting sadness and hopelessness, we often turn to novels, poems, movies, art, and music for catharsis and empathy, and also for insights on how to get to a happier state or at least attain some relief, There are times, however, when relief remains out of reach.  

Manchester by the Sea shows us what no way to a happier state can look like. Lee is suffering and knows he “can’t beat it.” However, while he says he can’t beat it, he can still see to some important obligations and responsibilities. He can put one foot before the other, even if each step is painful. The movie thus also reminds us that the indomitable human spirit can be at work under the bleakest of circumstances and darkest of times. 


Casey Affleck:  Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama, 2017 Golden Globes
4 Screen Actor Guild Award nominations
3 Critics' Choice Awards




Amazon Studios

Running Time (in minutes)