BY ROGER THOMAS
Most of us want things to work out well. We like tidy conclusions where everyone is satisfied and all questions are answered. Unfortunately, life does not always work that way. I could make a countless list of conversations I would like to have, or things I would like to do, before the ending. My guess is most of us do, if we are honest.
Based on a novel by Julian Barnes, “The Sense of an Ending” is a film about a man, Tony, who is reflecting on his life. His marriage ended years before. His daughter is about to give birth to Tony’s first grandchild. He is retired but still works running a camera shop. He tries to fill his days, but he spends much of his time reflecting on the life that has been lived.
Then one day, he is contacted because he has been mentioned in someone’s “last will.” In fact, a diary has been left to him by someone he knew many years before. The thought of receiving such a personal inheritance, sparks many memories for Tony as he waits to receive the item.
The film is structured as a mystery. There is no murder or theft but there are deaths and revelations. As far as mysteries go, this is a fine one. It certainly kept my attention throughout.
The film is filled with flashbacks that offer clues of what might be happening in the present. There are two sets of actors playing the same roles, those in the present and those in the past. The cast is the greatest strength of the film.
Oscar-winning actor Jim Broadbent plays Tony Webster the principal character of the film. His younger self is played by a lesser known actor, Billy Howle. Charlotte Rampling, who was nominated as Best Actress in the film “45 Years” in 2015, is the female lead Veronica. Freya Mavor plays the younger version of Veronica. The seasoned actors are grand, but the younger characters should not be slighted; their work drives the film forward and ultimately reveals most of the story. Memories are discussed, flashbacks reveal truths, and the past becomes clearer.
The film is directed by Ritesh Batra who also directed a great little film, “The Lunchbox” in 2013. I will be looking forward to his next endeavor.
I had no expectations for “The Sense of an Ending.” The only thought that ran through my mind was it had an “curious” title. After seeing the film, I still like the title, perhaps even more now. All of us experience “a sense of an ending” throughout our lives. In the film, Tony has faced many endings, conclusions, and moments of clarity. Most of us, at least those who have seen more than four decades, we understand about “endings” and situations that just seem to continue with “no sense of an ending.” Both are a part of life.
This film may not be one of the great films of 2017, but there is enough here to entertainment and provoke thoughts. As I always say, the best films are the ones that make us think.
Here are some thoughts about life spoken by the character Tony Webster toward the end of the film. I find them to be accurate and profound, “How often do we tell our life story? And do we adjust, embellish, make slight cuts, and create a new reality? And when everything is coming up foils, how are we to know our lives are entangled forever?”
Do not allow the title to discourage you. Seek out “The Sense of an Ending.” It might inspire your thoughts as it did mine.
Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.