The Sense of an Ending, Ritesh Batra’s adaptation of Julian Barnes’ Man Booker Prize-winning novel, will make you cry if you see it on an airplane. It’s slow and a little boring, but it captures a wonderful balance between polite British domestic drama, Classic Tale of an Old Person Trying Out Being a Good Person (It’s Not Too Late!), and a portrait of a nontraditional family who are dysfunctional but not unhappy. It’s hard to spend any real time around that kind of nuance and care without getting all verklempt. (Full disclosure: These are my favorite genres—especially the Old Person Trying to Do Better narrative, a motif mastered by movies like The Royal Tenenbaums.)
In this case, our old curmudgeon looking warily back on his life is Tony Webster (played by everyone’s polite English grandpa, Jim Broadbent). Though he’s had disappointments in his life—he’s about as amicably divorced as you can be—he gets along pretty well with his ex-wife (Harriet Walter), and his 36-year-old daughter (
LADY MARY! Michelle Dockery) is about to become a single mother by choice. So OF COURSE a dark secret from Tony’s past is about to reemerge, forcing him to reckon with his youthful indiscretions and pent-up rage over the loss of his first girlfriend. That’s pretty much all that happens, though. There’s one major plot twist, but otherwise, The Sense of an Ending is an affable, even life-affirming portrait of a man coming to terms with the fact that he isn’t young anymore, but also realizing that his life isn’t empty and sad. What I loved about The Sense of an Ending is that there’s so much feeling in it, but no schmaltz. The moments of tenderness between the characters feel very real, and they’re made all the more so by their complexity. Some movies are performative in their depictions of sorrow. This one is quieter and more affecting.