A man becomes haunted by his past and is presented with a mysterious legacy that causes him to re-think his current situation in life.
I knew nothing at all about “The Sense of an Ending” before I attended the press screening. Sometimes, especially with independent features, I like to go in with no insight or knowledge on what to expect, I didn’t even watch the trailer. Not for some dramatic purpose that pertains to film reviewers and their methods, I simply wanted to be surprised. And I was. Sort of. In a roundabout sort of way. While the movie is very slow-moving, it keeps your interest piqued with its wonderful ensemble cast, including Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling, Harriet Walter, and Emily Mortimer, to name but a few.
Tony Webster (Jim Broadbent) lives a simple life. He owns a little camera shop in a small English town, he frequently has lunch with his ex-wife Margaret (Harriet Walter), and his only daughter, Susie (Michelle Dockery), is about to give birth any day. Tony is retired and his camera shop gives him a supplemental income. One day, he receives a letter in the mail, informing him that Sarah Ford (Emily Mortimer), the mother of Veronica (Freya Mavor), a girl he once dated in his youth, has passed away and left him some money and two documents in her will. When he contacts her attorneys’ office, wanting to know when he will receive the documents, they tell him that they are currently residing with Veronica, and that she is not ready to part with them just yet. This causes Tony to reminisce about his youth-filled days in school, where the whole story began.
While getting ready to leave a party one evening, Tony comes across Veronica, sitting outside and playing with her camera. They strike up a conversation and end up becoming an item but they never engage in sex. On one occasion, by the water, they try but Veronica states that she is not ready. Eventually, they break up and after graduation, Tony enrolls in Bristol University, while one of his closest friends Adrian, goes to Cambridge. Some time later, he receives a letter in the mail from Adrian letting him know that he and Veronica are now an item, hoping he won’t be too upset. Initially, he laughs it off but then gradually, his anger surfaces and he sends off a scathing letter to them, wishing them and any kids they may have, eternal damnation but a few months later, it is revealed that Adrian committed suicide.
We cut back and forth between the past and the present, getting small glimpses of Tony’s younger life and we then dissolve back to when he was still dating Veronica, and the first time he spent the weekend at her parents’ house out in the country. Immediately smitten with her mother Sarah, and she him, the two spend the entire weekend, while nobody is watching, exchanging knowing glances and smiles but apparently, nothing comes of it. Back in the present, Tony eventually persuades Veronica to meet with him and they have lunch together, where she passes off to him one of the documents he was pursuing, and much to his surprise, he quickly realizes it is the scornful, disparaging letter he sent to her many years ago. When he asks about the other document, Veronica tells him that it was a diary that belonged to his best friend Adrian, but that she has since burned it. She promptly leaves but unbeknownst to her, Tony follows, from a distance, wanting to know more about her.
We soon discover that Veronica has a special needs son, one she visits every day and Tony assumes that Adrian was the father, hence, his apparent suicide all those years ago, presumably at the unexpected news that she was pregnant but he soon comprehends that things are not what they seem and that Sarah’s correspondence with him from beyond the grave, will send him down a road filled with revelation, confusion, and, hopefully, compassion.
“The Sense of an Ending” needs to be watched from beginning to end, with no interruptions because every time we cut back to Tony’s past, even the most minute details matter when the film’s big reveal materializes at the end, allowing everything to fall into its rightful place and finally letting you see the whole picture, and not just the momentary glimpses we’ve witnessed thus far. While Tony has lived a good life, he never learned to stop and smell the roses along the way and get caught up in the moment. By the end of the movie, he realizes that his life is actually pretty amazing and the fact that he is still on good terms with his ex-wife Margaret, who cares greatly about him, and the fact that he has a beautiful, independent daughter who is about to make him a grandfather, means that he still has time left, time to make every moment matter.
The cast is uniformly excellent, led by the always dependable Jim Broadbent, in a starring role that would normally be given to a younger actor and he proves, even at 68, that he is more than capable of carrying a film. I feel that the story will appeal to older generations, myself included, as we have already lived a good portion of our lives and it forces you to look back over your own life, and even though we’ve all made mistakes, it is never too late to acknowledge them, and, if possible, apologize to those who we may have hurt. It’s been a long time since a movie had that effect on me and I would highly recommend it for that attribute alone.
In theaters Friday, March 17th