PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Once all the tumblers have clicked into place and you’ve made sense of the ending of The Sense of an Ending, you’ll appreciate more fully the way that this thoughtful, sensitive drama has gone about its business of managing a tricky balancing act.
The Sense of an Ending is a British drama about a man who becomes obsessed with getting the unvarnished, detailed truth about a period in his past that he has spent a lot of time over the years not thinking about.
Now, at an advanced age, he is not only thinking about it but wondering just how his life turned out the way it did.
Jim Broadbent plays Tony Webster, a divorced dad who manages a tiny vintage camera shop, a modest career that he turned to when years ago he gave up his dream of being a poet.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but his pregnant daughter, played by Michelle Dockery, has nicknamed him Mudge as in curmudgeon.
When he receives the odd news that the late mother of the girlfriend he broke up with way back when has bequeathed him a diary, he struggles to get hold of it, hoping it might contain the answer to what is in some ways the central mystery of his guilt-stricken life.
Back in the day, he dashed off a very cruel letter addressed to that girlfriend and his best friend, whom he was sure at the time were romantically involved in some way.
Now, years later, not having spoken to either of them for many years, he wonders just what effect his letter had on their lives – and his.
And when Tony gets considerable resistance to his attempts to procure the diery, which he feels is rightfully his, he decides that he will do whatever it takes to get it, even if it means behavior that can only be described as stalking.
As for the riddle at the center of Tony’s life – and gracefully embedded in the film’s premise – it pertains to a tragedy that occurred to someone in Tony’s past whom Tony’s willy-nilly mind games have helped him to avoid. But it will not be solved so easily.
This is the second feature – and the first English-language film — from Indian director Ritesh Batra, who debuted with the marvelous The Lunchbox, and works this time from playwright Nick Payne’s screenplay, which is an adaptation of the 2011 novel by Julian Barnes.
Batra uses a time-juggling structure that effectively hides the film’s secrets until they’re to be shared.
And the film’s sophisticated premise is articulated at one point when someone says,”History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.”
In other words, to put it simply, when we’re taking stock and really trying to remember the past late in life, we’re pretty much wrong about everything.
Tony certainly is.
This low-key film about the treachery of memory lane unfolds without a lot of fuss but, just in case it needs a slight blood transfusion after the first two acts, the great Charlotte Rampling turns up as Veronica, the older version of Tony’s long-ago girlfriend, for a reunion that’s anything but comfortable.
So we’ll reunite with 3 stars out of 4 for the smartly written and well acted The Sense of an Ending, a memorable drama about the inevitable distortions of memory.