Adapted from the book by Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending sees Jim Broadbent leading a cast of exceptional performances in what is a thought provoking and fascinating drama. Broadbent plays Tony Webster, an elderly divorcee and retiree who is often called a curmudgeon by his ex-wife and pregnant daughter. But in spite of his retirement, Webster still owns a camera shop; a detail that is important from a narrative perspective, as we later find out truths that may explain why he may have chosen to sell cameras, and also from a thematic perspective, as the film’s central theme deals with memory.
There’s a scene around about half hour into the film, in which a younger Webster and his best friend, Adrian, discuss the idea of history during their English literature class. After discovering a fellow student has committed suicide, Adrian talks of how it’s difficult to contextualise history without cold, hard evidence, and how without such, our lives are open to interpretation.
It’s a wonderfully written piece of dialogue, key to unlocking some of the film’s secrets. For when Tony is informed that the mother of a former ex-girlfriend has left him a diary in her will, one which said ex feels he has no moral right to see, he finds himself looking back on a relationship that he seems to remember differently from how events actually played out.
Directed by Ritesh Batra (The Lunchbox) this idea of romanticising the past, or of our mind protecting us from previous traumas by remembering events in different ways, is perfectly brought to the screen through some beautiful creative choices. As Tony continues to investigate the diary further, the past and present start to intertwine with characters from both eras appearing in places they shouldn’t be.
Something as simple as Broadbent’s older Webster reliving the first time he meets the mysterious girlfriend at a party, or the moment he drives away from the girlfriend’s home, glancing back to see her mother one last time, are cleverly constructed moments that perfectly capture that transportative feeling that certain memories can bring. But more than that, they help in reflecting the differences in the story that are revealed as it goes on.
The way in which these changes to Webster’s intital recounting of his relationship are handled perfectly, with certain scenes playing out twice over but from different perspectives, and the mystery at the film’s centre is one that I found myself completely engrossed with.
Unfortunately, the film doesn’t provide its audience with all of the answers, but then that is in keeping with its message that in life we don’t necessarily get all the answers we want. Regardless, The Sense of an Ending is such a layered story, exploring the complexities of the human condition, that I found myself not quite ready to leave the cinema once the credits started rolling.
Much like Webster, I found myself reflecting on my own life, the good memories, the bad memories, my loves and my losses; and it’s not often that a film has such a profound effect. I can pay it no higher compliment than that.
Image credit to http://www.impawards.com