Manchester by the Lion or maybe A Long Way to Manchester by the Sea

Last night I saw two movies because the first left me so broken I needed a pick-me-up. Manchester by the Sea was the third great movie I’ve seen in a row, but it was also the third movie in a row where everything is sad and a little too real for my heart that longs for escapism.

I went into Manchester knowing it would be sad. Clearly Casey Affleck is tortured and struggling in the trailers and I know something horrible happened in his hometown of Manchester, causing his desire to take his nephew away instead of move back. In the words of my best friend, “I sobbed no less than six times. God.”

Casey plays Lee, a janitor for a company that rents apartments. He isn’t particularly personable, but you learn why later. He receives the call his brother has died, and returns home to take care of his nephew. Through flashbacks, we see the relationship between the brothers, Lee and his wife as well what led to the downfall of them all. We see them as Lee is tortured in different moments, presented with truths and struggling with the demons of his past. It’s quite compelling. Essentially, it is a story about how weird and deep love can be (also the words of my best friend) and the lasting effects of a truly broken heart.

Because my heart was broken, I wanted to end the evening on a brighter note. The theater was showing Manchester by the Sea, Jackie and Lion. I think I made the right choice with movie number two.

Lion (aka A Long Way Home) also explores the relationships that define us and our need to find out who we are and where we come from. Saroo, played by Dev Patel, is lost as a young boy in India and after months of surviving on his own is taken to a home for lost children and eventually adopted by a lovely couple in Australia. His life seems full and nice, but while taking a hospitality course in Melbourne, he suddenly remembers details of his life and is presented with a method to trace his way back home.

This one gave me major Slumdog vibes, and that’s not a bad thing. The young Saroo, played by the delightful Sunny Pawar, is so cute, even when he’s filthy and begging for food. Though we see him with his family for only a short time, the relationships established seem so real and touching that you feel his heartbreak at being lost. Also, Dev Patel is a total babe. I loved him in Slumdog, and I like him better with a little more meat on his bones and that luscious mane of hair. Before we get to the point that explains the name ‘Lion,’ I was convinced it was because of his hair.

Both movies are excellent and total awards bait. We see a tragic backstory and tortured present and a long lost boy tracing his roots back to his poverty-stricken village in India. What more can you ask for? I recommend both, but with the understanding that if you’re emotional, you should probably see Manchester and then do something cheery or have someone with you to hug.

Okay enough of this

Time for the real show and spoilers


I figured Lee had done something horrible that led to his self-imposed exile and separation from Michelle Williams. I picked that up from the trailers alone. I assumed, based on his alcohol consumption, he was in a terrible car accident while drunk and maybe someone died.

And then we meet his children in a flashback.

There is no indication he has children in the trailers. I was thrown. He had three, to be exact. Two girls and a baby boy. When they slowly revealed all of them and their happy little life, I panicked. This was not good. He lives in a one-room apartment in Boston now. Best case is he isn’t allowed to see his children because of what happened? Maybe he got drunk and was abusive? I don’t know, there isn’t a best case scenario.

Turns out, it was worst case scenario. All of the comments about his drinking were going to catch up to the story. That’s why I thought car accident. I wished for a car accident. Basically he was partying one night with all his friends at home like he frequently does, drinking and doing drugs, and decided to watch some TV after they left around 2 a.m. He lit a fire because it was cold and decided to go to the store for a few things, including diapers which we sadly see in the top of his bag. We learn he thought about if he put the screen up before he left, but decided it was fine and continued his walk. When he returned less than an hour later, the house was in flames.

He sees his wife screaming her kids are inside, but it’s too late. She was on the first floor and they pulled her out before the furnace blew, trapping the three children upstairs. Lee breaks down as they pull the body bags out of the wreckage and again we see the diapers in the bag, never to be used. His brother is right there with him, holding him up.

This was terrible, but I think the worst part was later at the police station where he’s telling the story, admitting to the horrible mistake he had made that killed his children. Because it was an accident, he’s free to go, and understandably this doesn’t sit well with him. Casey did such a great job conveying all these emotions while not over-selling it. You could tell he wanted to put away. He wanted punishment for what he had done. As he left the interview room, he pulls a gun out of a police officer’s holster and tries to shoot himself in the head before he is thwarted by the officers and his brother.

You can see the anguish in his eyes and perfectly understand his feelings. Watching his performance as he processed everything made you think yeah, that is what you would do. Also tragic: he has to see his ex-wife really pregnant with her new husband and they hug and all I could think was how sad was it for him to feel her belly and remember everything and see everything he lost.

One of my favorite details from the movie was the three photos Lee took from his apartment in Boston and brought to Manchester. We never see them outright, but it’s clear they’re his children, his only external reminder of the love and joy he once knew.

The ending was unsatisfying for me because Lee realizes he can’t stay because he can’t beat this and he doesn’t want to take his nephew, Patrick, away. Always the optimist, I wanted Lee to confront his demons and become a guardian again with Patrick and begin to heal. Instead we get a real look at the brutal honesty of love and heartbreak and making the hard choices you know are right.

This drama packed its humorous moments as well, particularly in most of the character interactions. They were all very stereotypical Massachusetts residents, throwing the ‘f’ word around and yelling over each other constantly. It added levity to a very heavy movie.  

Okay so now Lion or A Long Way Home, depending on who you ask. I like that this story was told chronologically, not through flashbacks. I think flashbacks can be effective, but sometimes it’s nice to watch the story unfold in a linear way. This movie was well-acted all around, and filled with the word ‘mate’ because it was very Australian.

Both Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman are nominated, and I think one of those makes sense. Dev is engaging and you can see his slow decline to madness and how haunted he is by his desire to let his family know he’s fine. Nicole, who plays his adoptive mother, is great, but I wasn’t like wow this performance is award-worthy. If she wins, she did a good job, so I won’t complain.

What else can I say about this movie? It was very touching and sad and again reminded me of some of the horrible things that go on around the world. The worst part, I think, was learning his beloved brother Guduu had died before he made it back. In fact, he died the night Saroo got lost. He was hit by a train after he left his brother to find work and was never going to return. In a way, getting lost eventually saved Saroo, even though it was a long journey home.

See what I did there?

Quick thoughts

  • Didn’t Michelle Williams get burned up with her family in Shutter Island? Her affinity for tragic fires is like Rachel McAdams’ for time traveling husbands
  • Casey Affleck, let me save you.
  • Everyone always looks so cold in this movie. Never moving to New England.
  • This movie is trying to break my heart. It’s official.
  • Why are Christians always portrayed so weirdly in movies? We don’t all wear our Sunday best to dinners. We are normal people. I don’t care if you say Amen after we pray for our food.
  • I feel like Patty’s storyline with his mom wasn’t fleshed out enough. We clearly learn it isn’t a good fit for him, and that he fiancé is crazy, but we see a glimmer of her current unstableness. Did she go to the kitchen for a drink? I NEED ANSWERS
  • How did Patrick balance both those girls, and why did he bother with Sylvie in the first place? She seemed like the worst and Sandy seemed great because she wasn’t trying to protect his feelings.
  • Do Australians really say ‘mate’ this much or is it simply something we Americans assume they do? Kind of like shrimp on the Barbie? I don’t know, but I like Australians
  • Dev Patel has nicer hair than me. I would kill for his hair.
  • I’ve never wanted to go surfing but seeing him in that surf suit makes me want to try
  • I’m focusing a lot on Dev’s appearance so yeah his acting is great too


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