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There is a certain kind of charm in the reflections of an older person examining times gone by with an introspective eye and movies have made good use of the theme in a number of amusing and dramatic films. These stories are more than just tales of remembrance, but often ones of discovery, be it for the one in rumination or those in their family.
For The Sense of an Ending, the man drawn to his past is a colorful octogenarian named Tony Webster (Jim Broadbent), a shopkeeper who specializes in restoring and maintaining classic cameras. He’s a lone figure, bound to his patterns and routines, still friendly with his ex-wife Margaret (Harriet Walter) but clearly lonely and isolated. When he receives a certified letter one day, it teeters his habitual life into imbalance as it flings him back to times gone past, remembering a young woman named Veronica (Freya Mavor) he met while in university, but more so her mother Sarah (Emily Mortimer). He learns Sarah has died and has left him a diary in her will, something that now Veronica, whom he has seen in 50 years, refuses to hand over. As he considers what is next, he reflects on the relationships of his life and the impact it all has had.
Directed by Ritesh Batra, The Sense of an Ending is based on the novel of the same name by Julian Barnes and is like a pleasant read, a mostly conversationally-driven story of a man in a quiet quest to relive and set in proper place the context and meaning of his past with a girl whom he shared a brief romance and the tragic end to a fellow classmate he called a friend. The movie divides itself into two parts, sporadically broken between the present and flashbacks, of which a minor mystery unravels to how and why the possession of a diary is so important.
The film follows Tony as he is seen in his college years (played by Billy Howle), learning much about what it means to be a decent man and his growth with Veronica, through the filtered eyes of him as an older man, pondering their significance, something we only see in puzzle-like pieces as it slowly comes together. In the preset, he discusses his situation, now and then, with Margret, who is naturally embattled by the talks, but provides the film with much of its heart, the two still greatly bound to each other by their very pregnant daughter (Michelle Dockery).
Broadbent is as expected, supremely good as Tony, dignified and uneasy, slightly tortured and impacted by his past in ways his wife never knew. He brings great weight to the mostly level story that doesn’t manufacture excessive melodrama but rather playing it quiet and a little hazy, much like the memories that flood through Tony’s mind. Into this comes Charlotte Rampling as the older Veronica, drifting into the story in measured moments, her presence deeply endearing and yet one of genuine emotional wrought in the film’s most impactful scene.
The Sense of an Ending makes good use of all its British cast and Batra maintains a reserved composure to it all, keeping it tonally even though undeniably compelling. It’s a soft story pressed forward by its small mystery but more so by the humanity of what a life lived truly means to those effected by its past the impression it makes on the people moving into the future.
Movie description: The Sense of an Ending is a 2017 drama about a man who becomes haunted by his past and is presented with a mysterious legacy that causes him to re-think his current situation in life.
Director(s): Ritesh Batra
Actor(s): Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling, Harriet Walter, Emily Mortimer