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The American East coast lends itself to chilling stories about chilled emotions in grim environments. People scuffling about with their jackets zipped up, ghastly wind ruffling hair, and a general feeling that being there is a survival task rather than a chance to experience warm feelings . When I started watching “Manchester by the Sea”, I immediately had this cold atmosphere thrust upon me, and it never left. The way Lee Chandler’s back story unfolds over the first half of the film does not provide comfort either, it is uncomfortable in a fundamental sense, but not in the way a thriller would do to finally unravel the secrets of its protagonist, rather in the way that makes me suffer with Lee despite not knowing what he experienced. I did not feel that I really needed to know, but when we learn about the reasons for him leaving his old home, it is still shattering. Very much so, actually: When we see the flashback, it is devastating in the way it plays out without artificial drama, allowing the course of events to destroy lives in more than one sense.

There are some brilliant moments in the screenplay that are worth remembering, especially everything that happens at a police station. How Lee falls into an abyss, and how this is made even worse by the authorities refusing to allocate blame. This suffering, and the lack of repercussion, feels real, and who better to play silent and intense suffering than Casey Affleck?

When Lee returns to Manchester, it is to take care of his brother’s affairs after he suffered a heart failure. How this forces him to deal with aspects of his life he never wanted to deal with again is cruel. While Michelle Williams’ presence in the film has been significantly overstated by poster and trailer, when she is on screen she delivers some moving touches. There is one scene when she meets him on the street and admits to her ex-husband some things he does not want to hear that I would watch over and over again, uncomfortable as it is, for the sheer brilliance and intensity of these two characters who have lost the ability to communicate with each other.

On the other hand, there is always a way forward, isn’t there? Hard is it seems to believe, they all carry on, and move the film to an actually rather uplifting finale. So don’t fear the grimness, watch it to celebrate what comes next.

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