“We may never know the truth.”
It was on a trip to Dublin that I had a profound, albeit alcohol-infused, conversation with a close friend over the nature of relationships. It was about the much-longed for concept of closure and that fact it doesn’t actually exist. When we bemoan the ending of relationships, be it romantic or platonic, with our friends Ben & Jerry we proclaim that the only thing that will fix things, the only thing we need to move on, is closure. Surely getting closure would fix everything?!? That’s the thing though, we cannot rely on other people to provide closure because it is founded on impossible notions. How can we provide another person with understanding of our thoughts and motivations when we often cannot work it out ourselves? Whether we act from the heart or the head we cannot always understand our rationale, so how can we then relay it to someone else to appease their own desperate desire to understand?
That’s the very heart of ‘The Sense of an Ending’ When Tony Webster (Broadbent) receives a letter from the recently deceased mother of his first love he is forced to contemplate and reassess his past. Did he truly understand everything that happened the first time around? He’s forced to look at his present and reflect on the decisions that led him there. Though the exact situation may not be universal, the thought process itself is. Who hasn’t looked at their life and, to quote The Talking Heads, and asked ‘How did I get here?!?’
If comparisons had to be drawn it would be to ‘The Go-Between’ and ‘Spies’ – recount texts told by an unreliable, and somewhat unlikeable, narrator. In Tony’s case it’s a very unlikeable narrator – he is a man who has little time or care for social niceties, whose brusque tone would give Scrooge a run for his money. It’s not that he doesn’t care, his ferrying his pregnant daughter Susie (Dockery) is evidence for the defense, it’s that he can’t quite seem to connect with anyone. Tony is one man who is an island, but he wasn’t always this way.
The film takes a non-linear approach to exploring his past decisions. This lends the film to feeling like a more realistic exploration of the past, I doubt many of us recount our lives in chronological order. Instead, we, like the film, flicker between various events. Events that are connected in ways we don’t always comprehend and that we don’t always remember to their fullest. We see Tony at school with his intellectually snobbish quartet, various moments with Veronica, his first love (played first by Mavor then Rampling), including an awkward weekend away at her parents home. Time removes smaller details, makes them more in our favour and retells them to suit the purpose we want them to fill. It makes us the hero in our own story, even when we may have been the villain.
The film never truly makes it clear how much we should trust Tony’s version of events, like the memories he is exploring, they are left down to interpretation. In fact a vital chunk of the film is left to interpretation, we get to make the final call into what actually happened. Tony either doesn’t want to or doesn’t need to. After all, closure doesn’t actually exist. It’s up to us to find a way to feel satisfied with the past.
‘The Sense of an Ending’ opens in UK cinemas on April 7th.
Year: 2017 Runtime: 141 minutes Dir: Tom McGrath