THE SENSE OF AN ENDING
Director: Ritesh Batra
Runtime: 108 minutes
If you’re looking for a 15 dollar nap to alleviate your insomnia, then by all means, you’re cordially invited to the Lincoln Plaza or the Landmark Sunshine in NYC where you can go, sit back, stare at the metronome of a story suspended before you, let the somnolence of this messy plot take you past the gates of Lethe. If you catch yourself snoring a litle, don’t despair — you won’t be alone. Just make sure you’re not in the middle of the theater, or close to the front. The Lincoln Plaza is basically the geriatric theater, and some of the older folk who attend movie screenings tend to be rather vocal at all times, commenting when they should be watching the film, so if your snore happens to catch their ears you can be sure they will let you know you are infringing on their viewing pleasure (as they themselves continue to yammer away at the tiniest scenes, or wonder who could that actress playing Jim Broadbent’s daughter be?).
Reader, what a colossal disappointment this movie is. After seeing the trailer on YouTube I went in, unsuspecting, hoping for a restrained drama that would eventually reveal its secrets after peeling back layers and layers of events half-mentioned, secrets half-disclosed, into some major revelation, something approaching catharsis. No. That never happens here. Nothing of consequence ever happens, and perhaps that is the point? That the effect we think we have on our friends and ex-college classmates wasn’t as important as we imagined it to be. Either/or, The Sense of an Ending, while it’s speckled with moments of curt humor between Jim Broadbent and Harriet Walker who play ex-spouses, or Broadbent and Michelle Dockery (as his lesbian daughter), the film’s backstory is merely filler treated in a way as to present a mystery that reveals more mysteries.
So, let’s get into the premise. Tony Webster (Broadbent) receives a notification that a woman he knew when he was in college, Sarah Ford (played in flashbacks by Emily Mortimer), the mother of a girl he awkwardly dated, has died and left him a diary for him to read. The conflict of the novel arises when the daughter (and former flame), Veronica (Charlotte Rampling) refuses to hand over the property. Conversations point to the fact that perhaps she isn’t willing to part just yet due to a personal attachment, which is entirely possible. All this looks like it should be some sort of romantic suspense story — will we learn the contents of the diary or not? — but Ritesh Batra holds off to this important plot point, preferring instead to go back in time to when Webster was in college, falling in love with Veronica, losing her to a close friend who it seems that he also held some affection (or is it attraction). It’s a problem because the entire movie hangs onto this One Thing, and when we finally get there, when Rampling finally enters the picture to deliver her Beatrice Straight scene (she essentially has one long scene with Broadbent, but is seen later in glimpses), it comes not as a revelation but a let-down.
This is why Sense of a an Ending is so disappointing. I don’t mind pictures that fail to disclose all of their secrets — if anything, sometimes that works to magnify a film’s allure — but when you have a story that is amplified up by bloat, and a main character who seems not to have grown over the years and reflected upon his own life and relation to others, you have a movie that is closer to dead on arrival.