The Sense of an Ending (film)

Let me make it clear from the outset The Sense of an Ending isn’t a film you watch while munching popcorn. It is a very quiet movie and every sound is important. It is also not a film you watch with giggly friends (it is not a hangout movie). Of course the name is a dead giveaway. Spoilers ahead.

Ritesh Batra has done a commendable job on adapting The Sense of an Ending into such a lovely film. Philosophical and minimalist like the book but he has redeemed Tony Webster, the unlikable protagonist at the center of it. I love that it ends on a good note, quite unlike the book which ends with unrest (and a punch to the gut). Because Barnes does not believe in redemption. A crusty curmudgeon who sees the error of his ways late in his life but that he does is enough for the audience. The film ends with hope and you carry that into your life.

The film flits effortlessly between the past and the present like the book. Nothing is spelt out in the film too, and if you can believe me, it is more enigmatic than the book; you have to read between the lines and carefully observe what is unfolding on screen to get the complete picture.

Jim Broadbent (Prof. Slughorn!) plays the retired Tony Webster. He is given a profession here as a camera shop owner unlike the book. He does something constructive with his time other than ruminating on the past, and ruining his present by trying to imagine how different scenarios would have played out. It’s what we all do from time to time but allowing it to take over your life is foolishness. Is that what you want to do with your one precious life?

Tony was delusional, unable to see things as they are; he couldn’t see it when Veronica was his college girlfriend and even now when he is an old man. Like Tony, most of us just bumble along in life and try to do the best we can. When the truth finally dawns on him, he is shattered but picks up the pieces and endeavours to do the right thing in his own way. But one’s right is another’s wrong.

Charlotte Rampling who played the old Veronica was just like her character in the book, unapproachable, enigmatic, and curt. She makes her presence felt with barely a few sentences. Needless to say Jim Broadbent as Tony Webster, who is selfish and rude, is brilliant in this role.

Harriet Walter plays Tony’s wife who brings an earthy realness to her character. Her interactions with Tony remain friendly even after they have parted ways, like in the book. It only comes under a strain when Veronica’s mum leaves something to Tony but Veronica refuses to part with it. It is a mystery he wants to get to the bottom of and Veronica’s unwillingness only makes him more determined.

Emily Mortimer as Veronica’s mother gives an outstanding performance. I realized something which I didn’t find while reading the book recently (I have read it twice with five years in between both the readings). So I’m looking forward to a third reading, and sooner this time so I will see the signs.

Michelle Dockery knocks it out of the park as the lesbian daughter who has chosen to go through pregnancy without a partner. She is a barely mentioned in the book but here she is a fleshed out character.

Everyone lives separately. The mother and father divorced, and the offspring, an adult now, is having a baby on her own. By choice at the age of 36, no less. It is astonishing if you look at it from an Indian context, where familes are so connected that it is almost claustrophobic sometimes.

Mathew Goode, as Mr Hunt the teacher in the boys school, was a treat to watch even in a blink and miss role.

The fractured way we remember or rather mis-remember things is shown spectacularly well in the film, which is the central premise of the book. How you can’t trust your own memories. Turns out my college professor was right. You have to jot it all down because you can’t rely on your memory (or trust that time will be kind to you).

At the heart of The Sense of an Ending, is to know the unknowable. We humans are greatly fascinated by secrets, no? Very few people can keep a secret and even fewer don’t pry.

It is a quiet film that won’t appeal to everyone but one which has its heart in the book, and the fine performances make it a must watch. Barnes wasn’t betrayed by Batra, at least not to my knowledge. I want to know what someone who hasn’t read the book but seen the movie thinks about the adaptation. (I am not talking about a reviewer.)

The sounds and the quiet music added a touch of melancholy. For Barnes less is always more and so is the case with the movie.

Nick Payne has written the screenplay very well; it has stayed true to the soul of the book. I will be checking out more of his work.

Go see Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox if you haven’t seen it already.

Have you seen The Sense of an Ending?

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