The Sense of an Ending
THE SENSE OF AN ENDING, drama, rated PG-13, Violet Crown, 3 chiles
In a recent Op-Ed piece in The New York Times, Gloria Steinem meditated on the term “chick flick” (“more dialogue than car chases, more relationships than special effects”), and she proposed, as the male equivalent, the term “prick flick” (war, violence, naked women). To those, let us propose the addition of another category: the “geriatric flick” — movies that provide employment for older actors, intelligent plotlines for older viewers, and maybe a touch of nostalgia.
Ritesh Batra, the Indian director who had critical success a few years ago with The Lunchbox, makes his English-language debut with this deft adaptation (with a screenplay by Nick Payne) of Julian Barnes’ 2011 Man Booker Prize-winning novel. In it, an elderly man reflects on relationships and choices he made in his youth and how they have affected his life and the lives of others.
The cast is first rate. Jim Broadbent, sporting a grizzled beard and looking a bit like Gene Hackman, is Tony Webster (nicely played in youth by Billy Howle). Now in his seventies, Tony is a crusty old bachelor who runs a tiny vintage-camera shop in London. He’s divorced from Margaret (a superb Harriet Walter), with whom he maintains a close and dependent relationship, and he is also involved with his very pregnant lesbian daughter (Michelle Dockery, Downton Abbey’s Lady Mary).
When Tony gets a letter announcing a bequest of the diary of an old friend named Adrian ( Joe Alwyn of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk), it triggers a trip down memory lane. We revisit their university years, when Tony met the brilliant, charismatic Adrian, and the relationships that surrounded and informed their lives.
There are complications. The diary bequest is not from Adrian, who is long deceased, but from the recently departed Sarah (Emily Mortimer), the mother of Tony’s early girlfriend Veronica (Freya Mavor). It was Veronica who got Tony interested in cameras and gave him his first Leica. Tony and Veronica’s relationship did not last long, and he found himself replaced in her affections by Adrian. The flashbacks to that time a half century ago show us a lively, privileged, youthful lot, and that includes Sarah, whose flirtatious presence puts her firmly in the mix. Why did she leave Adrian’s diary to Tony? Why did she have it?
And how does Tony get hold of it? Sarah’s will leaves it to him, but the diary is in the possession of Veronica (played in the present by Charlotte Rampling), and she tells Tony she has burned it. Instead, when they meet after 50 years, she gives him a letter, one he wrote back at the time of their breakup. And it holds some clues — as to the kind of guy he was, and is, and the events that letter may have affected.
Time is the key to this probing, thoughtful story about the selectiveness and protectiveness of memory. It holds up well in the transfer from page to screen, losing some of the incisiveness of the former but gaining from the work of its talented veteran cast. — Jonathan Richards
Diary of a somebody: Charlotte Rampling and Jim Broadbent