Directed by Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea (2016) is a drama starring Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler and Lucas Hedges as Patrick Chandler.
This post includes a brief plot summary, an explanation about the ending of the film Manchester by the Sea (2016) and a relationship analysis between Lee Chandler and Patrick Chandler. Beware of spoilers.
Manchester by the Sea (2016) – Plot Summary
A man by the name of Lee Chandler resides in a small apartment in Quincy, Massachusetts. Lee is currently working as a janitor and he lives all by himself.
One day, Lee receives a call: his brother Joe has passed away. After hearing the devastating news, Lee drives back to his home town in Manchester-by-the-Sea to arrange his brother’s funeral and personally deliver the news to his nephew: Patrick Chandler.
Since the ground has become too hard in the cold winter, Lee has to wait until spring to bury his brother. During this period, Lee stays in Joe’s house and watches over Patrick.
During a meeting with Joe’s attorney, Lee learns that his brother has nominated him to become Patrick’s guardian. However, Lee strongly opposes to the idea and refuses to move back to Manchester-by-the-Sea.
Many years ago, Lee used to live in the same town as Joe. Back then, he had a wife (Randi) and three children. However, Lee’s life fell apart after he accidentally lit the house on fire while his wife and kids were still inside of it (sleeping).
During that fateful night, Lee invited a couple of friends to his house to socialize. His wife complained about the noise, so they went to party elsewhere. Before leaving his house, Lee lit the fireplace for his family, but the he forgot to put the safety guard in front of it. A chunk of burning wood rolls out, starting a massive fire.
Lee’s children did not survive but their mother Randi did. Unable to move on from the tragic incident, the couple decides to divorce and Lee moves to another town.
In order to look after Patrick, Lee plans to take his nephew with him to Boston. However, the teenager refuses and expresses his desire to stay in Manchester-by-the-Sea. Lee tries to respect Patrick’s wish and prolongs his stay so his nephew can finish high school.
Patrick writes to his estranged mother Elise to inform her about Joe’s death. The former drug addict is nowadays a devout Christian living with her fiancée Jeffrey. Mother and son have lunch together but Patrick finds himself unable to relate to his mother. The encounter leaves Elise quite distressed and Jeffrey steps in as intermediary for their future interactions.
Despite of the awkward lunch, Lee sees Elise’s sobriety as a good thing. However, Patrick misinterprets his uncle’s words and accuses Lee of trying to get rid of him. In order to reassure Patrick that he’s not trying to leave him, Lee tries to extend his stay further. During this period, Lee makes an effort to spend more time with his nephew.
One day, Lee runs into Randi. She has remarried and has just given birth to a healthy baby. During this encounter, the former couple gets very emotional about their past. Randi feels awful for all the spiteful words that she has said to Lee during their divorce.
As an apology, Randi invites Lee for lunch but he declines and leaves before getting breaking down. Unable to control his negative feelings, Lee goes to a bar and starts picking fights with random strangers.
George, a family friend picks up a knocked out Lee and brings back to his house. After waking up, Lee bursts into tears. Meanwhile, Patrick is finally grasping the effects of his uncle’s personal tragedy.
Later on, Lee tries to persuade George to adopt Patrick so the latter can stay longer in Manchester-by-the-Sea. Meanwhile, Lee plans to take a job in Boston.
When Patrick asks his uncle why can’t he just simply in Manchester, Lee says that he “cannot beat it”. During his brother’s funeral, Lee informs Patrick that he is looking for a house in Boston with an extra room. The film ends with Patrick and Lee fishing on Joe’s boat.
Manchester by the Sea (2016) – Ending Explained
So what’s the point of Manchester by the Sea? What’s the meaning behind that ending? It’s hard to move on from past trauma and Lee Chandler is one those people who couldn’t. As the man said himself, he “can’t beat it”.
Lee is not a heartless uncle who doesn’t want to take care of his nephew. The man doesn’t trust himself enough to do it. That is the harsh truth, but Patrick doesn’t realize the extent of his uncle’s trauma until the very end. However, things change after Patrick sees Lee all beat up after getting into a fist fight with a random stranger at the local bar.
After losing his children, Lee stopped living. Despite of looking like a regular individual, Lee is “dead” inside. There is a void in his heart. All those feelings of shame, guilt and self-hatred have eventually morphed into something else.
In order to escape from his personal tragedy, Lee moved to another town. Ever since then, Lee made a commitment to punish himself for what happened.
Of all the houses in the area, why did Lee choose to live in a tiny bedroom / basement? Also, of the all the jobs in the world why did Lee choose to become a janitor? Although, there is nothing wrong with the profession itself, was it the only option available for Lee? Probably not.
A lot of Lee’s lifestyle choices after his divorce reflect his intense guilt and self-hatred. It’s no coincidence, that Lee is still single. The man has options but he chooses to stay alone. In a way, Lee doesn’t believe that he deserves to be happy after that fateful night.
Unlike Lee, Randi was able to move on or at least she tried to. She has a new husband and a new baby. Although, Randi is just as hurt as Lee, she dealt with her pain differently. After the fire, Randi said a lot of spiteful things to Lee. However, time has proven that Randi still has a lot of love for her former husband.
Despite of no longer being together, Randi still wants Lee to live of a good life. However, Lee doesn’t think he deserves happiness. Even the simple of thought of having lunch with Randi makes him feel uneasy.
After his brother’s funeral, Lee Chandler decides to leave Manchester-by-the-Sea and move to Boston. Meanwhile, Patrick Chandler informs his uncle that he has no intentions of going to college, instead, he plans to take care of this father’s boat.
Lee Chandler does not object to his nephew not pursuing a higher education. At this point, Lee just wants to be a “crutch” for Patrick whenever (and if) he needs him.
When his wife left him, Lee just shutdown emotionally. However, after the passing of his brother, Lee is trying to change some aspects of himself by trying to reconnect with his nephew Patrick.
The man is still moving to Boston, because he cannot handle being in Manchester-by-the-Sea. However, this time, he’s trying to get an extra room in his apartment for Patrick, just in case, he comes to visit him. Although, it’s a small gesture, it signals that Lee is trying to change his old ways.
So, as the story progresses Lee goes from asocial and emotionally distant to someone who is willing to try. Does that mean that Lee is healed from his trauma? No, but he’s trying to not lose what is left of his family: Patrick.
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Lee Chandler and Patrick Chandler – Relationship Analysis
Throughout the film, Lee Chandler and Patrick Chandler fight a lot. However, those heated arguments do not come from a place of anger or hate, it’s just poor communication from both parts.
On one hand, there is an emotionally numb uncle who is still dealing with his own past trauma. Then, on the other hand, there is an “angry” teenager who is dealing with his father’s passing.
There are a lot of things about Lee that Patrick misreads and vice-versa.
Let’s start with Patrick and his feelings regarding his uncle. First of all, Patrick doesn’t understand why his uncle chooses to be miles away from Manchester-by-the-Sea, when he could be doing his current job (janitor) at his home town.
Second, Patrick feels that his uncle doesn’t love him enough to take care of him. In reality, it’s actually quite the opposite. After the tragic incident, Lee pushed everyone that he loved away, including: his wife, his brother and his nephew.
Lee being emotionally distant from his family does not mean that he doesn’t love them. Part of him believes that he does not deserve to be loved, hence, his insistence in keeping a distance from his loved ones.
Now, in what ways does Lee misinterpret Patrick? First of all, he believes that Patrick has everything that he wants and needs. The boy is popular at school, has two girlfriends and on top of that, he is in a band. So why would he need his uncle? However, after Joe’s passing, Patrick needs his uncle more than ever.
The “frozen chicken” scene is a great example of how Joe’s death is affecting Patrick. Despite of looking seemingly fine after his father’s death, Patrick is not okay. People that cry after seeing frozen chicken need help.
When uncle and nephew sit down and have dinner, that was indeed their most honest interaction. Patrick is confused and heartbroken, when he learns that his uncle will not stay in Manchester-by-the-Sea. However, this time, Patrick learns the difference between “not wanting” and “not being able to”.
Towards the end of the film, Patrick learns that his uncle wasn’t trying to reject him during this entire time. The truth is, Lee doesn’t trust himself enough to take care of his older brother’s child. The idea alone terrified him because it brings back memories of losing his children in the fire.
Despite of not being able to move on from his painful past, Lee actually tries hard to “be there” for his nephew. Before moving to Boston, Lee lets his nephew know that there will be an extra room for him in his new apartment. In other words, Patrick will be able to see and stay with his uncle whenever he so desires.
Manchester by the Sea will always hold a special place in my heart. Although, I watched it for the first time many years ago, I was never able to forget Lee Chandler’s story.
Despite of being a drama, Manchester by the Sea is a very enjoyable film to watch. The story is very simple but the characters are complex. I found the whole experience very rewarding even with that open ending.
Some people might dislike the ending because it leaves many questions without an answer. In a sense, the ending might not give the closure that the audience was looking for, but I actually prefer it that way. As I said before, Kenneth Lonergan wasn’t trying to please his viewers with a happy ending.
Watching uncle and nephew fishing on Joe’s boat and not knowing what happens next was indeed a more realistic ending. People like Lee don’t just move on from their past tragedies. Not because they don’t want to: they are not able to.
Both Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges were able to deliver strong and convincing performances as Lee Chandler and Patrick Chandler, respectively.
One of the aspects that I really liked about Manchester by the Sea was its fine balance between drama and comedy. So on hand, we have the tragedy coming from Lee’s background story and Joe’s death. But on the other hand, we also the hilarious moments coming from uncle and nephew interactions.
Having some comedy injected to the drama made it easier to watch, otherwise, it would’ve been too heavy. In addition, there is only so much drama that one take as a viewer.
Whenever a film becomes too “painful” to watch, the audience will usually also start to disengage and that’s not good. Fortunately for Manchester by the Sea, it does not reach that point.
Overall, I believe that Manchester by the Sea is a very noteworthy watch. It has everything that audience can ask for: good acting, a good story and some bits of comedy. Life itself is also composed by sad and happy moments and the film manages to capture that essence perfectly.