Sunday, June 25, 2017

Mercy at the Movies

I watched “Manchester by the Sea” again last night and so should you, especially if you’re one of those people who thought it was too depressing, a downer, saaaaad.

I couldn’t disagree more. “Manchester by the Sea” is not only the best picture I’ve seen in the past twelve months (“Moonlight”? Best Picture? Seriously?). It’s also the most Catholic.

I don’t mean that the characters are Catholic, which they are. Lee (“Best Actor” Casey Affleck) reminds his nephew of this fact, adding that, by the way, Catholics are Christians. It’s not only that the plot effectively centers on a Catholic funeral and a Catholic burial.

What makes the film Catholic is its portrayal of mercy. “Manchester by the Sea” was released in the jubilee Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis.

In today’s Gospel reading from Matthew 10, Jesus says, “Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed.” That’s Lee’s problem in the movie, of course.

The central episode in the movie, and in Lee’s heart forever, is a tragedy set to the music of Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor, of which not even “Gallipoli” made better use. It is a tragedy for which Lee feels and, OK, is responsible. Unless you excuse him as an alcoholic, I suppose, one who has a “disease” and is not at fault morally. But I don’t excuse him and, most importantly, neither does he.

Sidebar: One of the striking things about “Manchester by the Sea” is that it is a film about alcoholism that doesn’t advertise the fact.

But so then—like you and me, in ways large and small, pedestrian and tragic, depending—Lee has done things for which he feels guilt, shame, and remorse; and he stays away from his hometown (far away: Quincy) because everyone in Manchester recognizes him and, he thinks, blames him for the events scored with the help of Albinoni.

But what struck me in the last ten or fifteen minutes of the film was the flood of mercy that pours over Lee as he struggles to help his nephew in the wake of his brother’s death. Everyone forgives him. Everyone that matters, anyway: his nephew, his brother, and in the movie’s most heart-breaking scene, his ex-wife.

Fishing frames the movie. In the first scene, Lee fishes with his nephew as a little boy; in the last, the nephew is grown. I wonder if it’s any coincidence that these Catholics are fishermen.

Or that the score includes not only the heavenly Albinoni adagio but also music from Handel’s “Messiah,” “I’m Beginning to See the Light” by Duke Ellington (sung by Ella Fitzgerald and the Ink Spots), and at the end, a heavenly aria from “Cherubin” (Angels) by Jules Massenet.

If your heart isn’t cracked open by this point—well, see the movie again, is my point.

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