Manchester by the Sea

My friend is going to see Manchester by the Sea with her husband tomorrow and wants to know what I thought of it.

To echo Casey Affleck on Saturday Night Live recently, it is very sad. Very, very sad.

And I would add that there is no coming back from it.

What is this? A movie coming out at the holidays is supposed to entertain: and that usually means cute cartoon characters saying outrageous things to make us laugh, buildings, cities, countries, heck, whole worlds being blown up only to be saved by the superhuman hero or heroine.

So what is this movie? On the surface, it is as cold as Manchester looks in the winter shots. On the surface, it’s got nothing to feel good about, except that we get to see relationships working out the way they do in real life, without the neat tie-up of a happy ending, where the main character finds the path to true happiness. This guy Lee, played impeccably by Casey Affleck, can no longer even suspect that there is anything like happiness to be had and maybe that is how it needs to be for him.

I wondered what I would say to my friend. I know she could appreciate the artistry in this movie, but I don’t think she would appreciate that feeling good about what it is to be human, sometimes means confronting the truth about our lives, and that doesn’t feel good at all, except at an elemental level.

I also wondered when I would stop thinking about this movie. About how slow it went, about how devastating Affleck’s performance was, only to be stopped cold by a scene with Michelle Williams, who topped Lee’s devastation with her character’s own. The movie is worth seeing for that scene alone.

But would my friend and her husband like the slowness and the time it takes unfolding, detail by detail, details brought to enrich the movie by the director, Kenneth Lonergan? It looks and feels beautiful and mesmerizing and devastating. I thought about it a lot, far into the night so that I’m not sure what was dreaming and what was thinking.

Is it the best movie I’ve ever seen? Did I even like it? That seems beside the point. It is its own world, its own art. It just is and it is an experience all to itself. When I woke up for real and had a cup of coffee, still thinking about it, I realized what was happening. It was something I read about, the collective unconscious from Jung. We unconsciously share in the human experience and we inherit those experiences unconsciously. It’s why we seem to be born, not cavemen any longer, but with more refined sensibilities brought about by generations of shared experiences. There is something elemental about what we see and feel in this movie, something that goes deeper the lighthearted feel-good stuff as in It’s a Wonderful Life. There is plenty that we can feel – if not good feelings that everything will be okay, then at least the reassurance that there is a resilience to the human experience that is passed down. We get Lee because he is a refinement of past human wreckage and desolation that we all have inherited.

I’m going to tell my friend, “If you need to see the usual lighthearted, feel-good holiday movie, don’t see Manchester by the Sea. It will haunt you.”

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What stops you from writing?

Things are coming along with the play. Right.

Usually, the “right” is sarcasm, my favorite kind of self-put-down and also the kind of put-down used by those who feel they have no power and have to use shame. But this time, things really are coming along.

  1. I learned a while ago that to write anything, do anything creative, I have to learn to sit still. Such as: sit in front of a blank Word document until I fill up x-number of lines. With something resembling sentences.
  2. Play Solitaire on the computer only when I get half-way finished with what I have outlined as today’s work.
  3. I learned a while ago that to write anything, do anything creative, I have to be alone and quiet at the same time every day.

So yesterday, my goal was to type the notes I took last weekend when I was visiting my niece in Savannah at SCAD. Sounds like a big bore, just typing, but what happened was I found myself starting to flesh out some of what I thought were mild meanderings about the play and where it takes place and even some character notes. A real surprise that there was more behind those notes.

If you are writing, or working on something creative, what nonsense comes up in your head that tries to sabotage you? How do you handle it?

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I’m writing a play

Again. I have three started. But other things (this blog, household chores, keeping up my end socially, just plain scared that I can’t do it, have kept me from completing them. True, I have written two, but, well, the less said about them the better. The one I picked up again to work on was inspired by August: Osage County. I had to see it. I had to see Meryl’s performance (phenomenal as usual) and why Julia Roberts got the part that everyone knows should have gone to the great Amy Morton, whose performance on Broadway bowled me over. In the movie, I got to hear Tracy Letts’ brilliant dialogue and plotting and as I left the theater, I wanted more than anything to do that, too.

So I picked up Sandy’s Swamp again. (BTW: I named my cat Sandy after the main character, a good old Cracker guy who used to play football for the University of Florida in The Swamp.)

Other things are at work, though, besides just finding the resolve to let this play come out and frolic in the sunlight. Other things that I don’t ask for. Like sarcasm. Remarks that sound encouraging but really mean that who are you to make art? Attempts to subtly and psychologically sabotage me. I swear, all you have to do is announce your intention to do something that revolves around art instead of something you can use in the house, and all this stuff comes out of the woodwork.

Yeah, people first give you That Look that begins with admiration and the murmuring of “I wish I could do that” but soon turns into “Sounds like a waste of time, to me. Why not take up a hobby? Like building an island out of used plastic bottles?”

But I have begun again. For real.

I can’t wait to see what happens next.


Let’s have some discussion. I’d love to hear from you if you are writing or have written a play, movie, teleplay, music, choreography, whatever.

Question 1: What was the reaction from people around you as you were writing it? (Positive or negative or both.)

Question 2: Would you write again? why?

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