Release: 14th August 2017
Format: BR / DVD / DGTL
Tony Webster, divorced and retired, leads a reclusive and relatively quiet life. One day, he learns that the mother of his university girlfriend, Veronica , left in her will a diary kept by his best friend who dated Veronica after she and Tony parted ways. Tony’s quest to recover the diary, now in the possession of an older but equally as mysterious Veronica, forces him to revisit his flawed recollections of his friends and of his younger self.
The Sense of an Ending reminded me a little of Alexander Payne’s grouchy masterpiece About Schmidt. It is a story of a man, in his twilight years, realising that he has slept through his own life; and enters in to a journey of self discovery in the hope to scratch the itch of lost time. But unlike Jack Nicholson’s Warren Schmidt, Jim Broadbent’s Tony Webster takes a metaphysical journey in to his own memory rather than a cross-country trip. And unlike Payne’s peppery observational comedy, The Sense of an Ending is out and out a pretty downbeat affair.
What is most surprising about this sleepy drama, directed by Ritesh Batra, is that it purports itself to be a rather impish riddle about a man bored and alone driven to near madness by a mysterious bequeathing; but morphs in to a surreptitiously tragic tale about the regrets old men. Having not read Julian Barnes’ novel, it is hard to gage whether this is true to the narrative or just a shortcoming of the adaptation, but it is probably the biggest obstacle that the film faces in that it has to hide truth in order to generate engaging fiction; memory becomes the Deus Ex The Sense of an Ending relies upon. Which is, frankly, a bit of a bloody cheat.
From a more objective perspective, there is plenty to like about the film. The central cast are mysterious yet affable. Batra plays a lovely bit of ballet with audience perceptions of Tony; yet Jim Broadbent gives him a consistent presence that plays to both ends. The film’s gradual revelations play out as agonisingly messy and incomplete, which is ever-so British; one scene in particular involving a bookshop, two lesbians and an unbearable botched apology, is near poetry. But there is also a heavy dose of familiarity and convenient ‘conclusions’ that apologetically try to keep true to the film’s title. The one-two combo of Freya Mavor and Charlotte Rampling as both young and old Veronica creates an enigmatic and frosty puzzle that you long for Tony to solve, yet the whole Mrs. Robinson thing with Emily Mortimer feels like something we have seen before a 1000 times (although, to her defense, Mortimer is utterly lovely as Sarah Ford).
Meanwhile, Christopher Ross’ cinematography offers a hazy lens with which to view the film; as though looking through the damaged and cataract-ridden eyes of the elderly; while Batra’s direction and Max Richter’s score give the film a regality and elegance fit for the refined demeanor with which Tony presents himself. It is a conflict of sound and vision that, like Tony’s memory, tells two different stories. The Sense of an Ending is a sexually frustrated beast that swims with stolen glances, brushes of the skin and whispered lust. It is the time capsule of a moment in Tony’s life where everything he was, gave way to everything he has become. And in spite of its measly symbolism (food), and half explored themes (time), Batra still manages to tease out something meaningful, and in the end, surprisingly overwhelming.
Film Grade: C+
A lame EPK titled What Would You Tell You 21 Year Old Self? is less than insightful. While near on 2 hours of Interviews will reward the patient. Stephen King take note, Julian Barnes explains why authors should be willing to give over their books.
Special Features Grade: C-
A sense of a better film, with a sense of some decent special features, makes for a sense of something worth exploring.
Overall Grade: C