How Manchester by the Sea gives us an understanding on grief in the perspective of men

Spoiler alert. Oh, wait.

It is indeed way too late to write a review on a film when the film itself has been released several months ago — November 2016 to be exact. But I’m not trying to be punctual either since my means to satisfy my curiosity about the movie industry is limited.

My view on Manchester by the Sea is nothing different from that of the others. It is a really good movie. It is a movie about loss and grief. A movie about family too. Mind you, the performance of the cast only makes the film like it couldn't be any better. However, apart from all the tremendous factors which make the film distinguished and award-worthy, the story of it is also anything but dull nor minimal for you can find many beautiful meanings through many perspectives.

As for me, the movie does not just visualize pain and grief. It offers us an understanding on how it is like to deal with them from men’s perspective. Yes, there’s a gender-based sentiment in this movie and the subtlety of it is what makes the movie even more touching.

At glance, one might think that Lee’s character can be found in anybody, regardless of their genders. He’s a man in a state of depression who’s been barely coping, or he might not even try to. Such character is not extraordinary and to which there has been a resemblance of the leading female character, which was profoundly portrayed by Jennifer Aniston, in a 2014 film called Cake. But as you pay more attention to the film, you’d realize that the grief itself, which is the main theme of the film, is not centered only to the Lee’s character. Another male character which also provided us an insight to explore his grief is that of Patrick, which happens to be Lee’s nephew.

Men have long been subject to emotional repression. They have this tendency to hide their feelings and prevent themselves from becoming emotional. It’s not hard to tell the reason why. Our precedent norms and values have constructed them to exhibit some features that we call now ‘stereotypes’. And for men, those stereotypes are what tell them to appear brave and strong which necessarily shape their characters into ‘emotionless’ state, because emotions are falsely thought to be linked to weakness.

And from the film, we can clearly see how these stereotypes affect their coping processes and social lives. By the beginning of the film, we’re introduced to Lee’s character who’s lonely and hostile, and turns out, his behaviors are due to a long-time accident that killed his children and ended his marriage for which he can’t stop blaming himself. Soon after, news of the death of his brother, Joe, forces him to go back to his hometown and take care of his brother’s only son, Patrick.

By the time Lee comes to his nephew’s hockey practice to inform him about his father’s death, the scene perfectly depicts that situation of emotional repression that these men endure. Neither Lee nor Patrick sheds a tear. Moreover, Patrick’s coach and friends who are all men are also seen not trying to execute the warmest form of sympathy they could do to him. They all just pat his shoulder and give him a brief firm hug.

Both Lee and Patrick may handle their grief differently. While Lee keeps his somber-being towards every one and refuses to encounter any kind of conversation, Patrick, on the other hand, seems like he deals with it without much concern. He’s still being social, hanging out with his friends, and continuing his sex live with both of his girlfriends. Yet there is actually one thing in common between the two, and it is the fact that they both don’t share their grief with anybody, not even with one another. Although it isn't until they are having a breakdown separately — with Patrick having it at the middle of a night when he randomly checks on a freezer while Lee also has it right after he gains consciousness from running into a bar fight and being saved by his brother’s friend — there isn't any substantial talks regarding their grief during that time which means they still don’t cope as they’re supposed to. In my view, those situations exactly imply how limited the means of catharsis the men have just to channel their emotions. And this limitation is finally what makes them not having many choices and eventually only ending up in repressing their feelings even more.

The stark comparison of how two genders manage their grief differently is also pictured through the scene where Lee and his ex-wife, Randi, encounter by chance. Randi, initiating the talk that she feels like she need to, apologizes to Lee for all the bad things she had said to him after the unfortunate accident, while Lee chooses to avoid the confrontation and refuses to discuss it. Lee, once again, can be seen trying to hold back his tears and emotions despite Randi’s outburst of tears. Moreover, one can also notice from Randi’s post-incident situation where she is remarried and 9-month pregnant, which contradicts to that of Lee, and this indicates that she is already through her own grief and she has managed to move on.

Without forgetting Kenneth Lonergan’s beautiful direction and screenplay, also Cassey Affleck’s and Michelle Williams’ emotional performances, this movie reminds us that stigmas, stereotypes, and peer pressures, are affecting us all. Such things can either be visible or untouched. The film yet has sent the message, whether it’s intended or not.