'The Sense Of An Ending'
Director: Ritesh Batra
Cast: Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Hamilton, Harriet Walter
What's life, if not memories? And if memories are indeed subjective, even deceptive, isn't life then merely the stories we tell ourselves—about ourselves? That's precisely the point of this film. Or, for that matter, Julian Barnes's 2011 book by the same name that this film is based on.
Speaking of books and movies, they tend to share a fairly odd relationship. While both, on the face of it, deal with stories; there is absolutely no correlation between a critically acclaimed book, and its filmic adaptation. It can go either way. Some pulp-literature has resulted in the greatest movies—Mario Puzo's The Godfather, for instance; or Chetan Bhagat's Five Point Someone (3 Idiots), closer home.
Literary fiction, on the other hand, like Barnes's Booker winning slim volume, that is full of depth, tend to be more about thoughts and characters, rather than action and plot—making them reasonably hard to faithfully translate into film. The unwatchable movie version of Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness Of Being is a case in point. The Sense Of An Ending is a notable exception.
This is desi director Ritesh Batra's first film since his quintessentially Bombay debut, The Lunchbox (2013). The only similarity between the two is the gentleness and warmth of solitude and old age that Irrfan's character exuded in The Lunchbox that very much comes through in this movie, with Jim Broadbent's Tony Webster, a long-divorced, old man (looking a bit like Salman Rushdie), who runs an antique camera shop, leading a retired life in England, with little to hold on to, besides his pregnant daughter, and a whole lot of memories.
At the centre of the film is still a very compelling plot; and a mystery, behind a posthumously delivered letter. Given how old the jolly Brit gent Tony is, you'd expect that a dead woman who's left behind a diary for him might be an ex. She was actually his ex's mom! Tenderly unraveling the story behind that mysterious diary, the film travels back and forth in time as Tony mines his memories and his younger self—his relationships, his first girlfriend, his best-friend—from school/college, or as he calls it, a series of ever widening "holding pens", to eventually view his life anew.
Written with consummate skill, and love for language, this film is pure, no-frills drama, led by quiet, dignified performances, offering perspectives to ponder over, in the finest tradition of British filmmaking. One of the best movies I've seen in the genre, Mike Leigh's Another Year (2010), unsurprisingly, also starred Jim Broadbent.
Sure, the film makes you feel a tad uneasy about the old man, perhaps sorry for him even, and it makes you think about nostalgia, our actions, and old age, and what one does to the other. But chiefly it makes you think about people you've met, and known. How they view you. And how you inevitably perceive the same relationship so differently. Movies, like people, are also memories. This is, in every sense, a memorable one.
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