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The Sense of An Ending: My take on the movie starring Jim Broadbent #book2movies #review

I’m fascinated with time, aging, memory. Because I write a bit of memoir I’m constantly looking back at my life and battling my own beliefs about the way it was. I’m aware that there are periods from my past that I’ve swept under the rug, incidents that I’ve whitewashed, memories that I’ve transformed, albeit unintentionally, into more digestible pieces of personal history. I think we all do that from time to time, otherwise how could we live with ourselves and our bad decisions and poor choices? Was that break-up your fault or his? What did you do that tipped the scale? Was quitting that job, leaving that part of your life behind ultimately for the best or was it the worst decision you ever made? Who have you hurt? Who left you dealing with a damaged heart?

That’s the landscape Jim Broadbent’s character travels in The Sense of an Ending, the just released film based on the Man Booker prize winning book. 

About the movie

“A man becomes haunted by his past and is presented with a mysterious legacy that causes him to re-think his current situation in life.”

Broadbent plays Tony Webster, a divorced man in his sixties who has to deal with his past in a way that brings the reality of his behavior, rather than his own faded memory of his actions, to the forefront. He’s genuinely shocked at the young man he’s revealed to have been. Billy Howle is that young man. Sweet, smart, virginal, somewhat awkward.

Charlotte Rampling plays the present day Veronica, the aged version of the beautiful, flirtatious girl (Freya Movar) he knew during his college days. The film travels back and forth between the present, where Tony becomes newly obsessed with Veronica and the past where we see what happened, how their personal history unraveled. Tony’s friend, Adrian (Joe Alwyn) has something to do with that unraveling. It’s Tony’s reaction to what he sees as a betrayal that’s at the crux of the film.

It may be that I enjoyed the movie so much simply because of my preoccupation with my own past. It certainly has a lot to do with my age. At sixty-three I enjoy more slowly paced films and this one is very, very slow. Having read the book I was interested in the way the screenwriter Nick Payne unpacked the tale and director Ritesh Batra indulged in it. They’ve made old Tony the owner of a tiny camera shop, having picked up a love of photography from the young Veronica. A neat trick, absent in the book, to illuminate how we might bump up against and impact the people that pass through our lives.

It is Broadbent’s film and he’s mesmerizing with his expressive eyes and quivering lip under his bristly grey beard. Charlotte Rampling in a smaller but key role still oozes charisma with her dignified bearing and enigmatic smile. I have the feeling though that one has to be closer in age to Broadbent and Rampling—as I am—than to Billy Howle (who we’ll be seeing in On Chesil Beach) and Freya Mavor to be as deeply moved by the film as I was. I think you have to have a few mistakes under your belt, to know how it feels to look back with regret and remorse to truly appreciate the story.

The excellent cast includes Emily Mortimer and Harriet Walter along with Matthew Goode and Michelle Dockery. While Dockery as Tony’s pregnant daughter and Goode as an influential teacher from Tony’s past don’t appear onscreen together, as a Downton Abbey fan, I find myself hoping they’ll have a cinematic reunion sooner rather than later.

As slowly as the film started I confess that when it ended I had to take a few moments to compose myself as the credits rolled. If you like films like The Remains of the Day while set in a completely different time period, I think you’ll like The Sense of an Ending. I enjoyed it so much I’m looking forward to seeing director Ritesh Batra’s next project, the screen adaptation of Kent Haruf’s Our Souls at Night starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. It’s another story about older men and women. He has a gift for it.