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Movie Review

Sometimes we think we're done with the past, it's been said, but the past isn't done with us.

And so it is with Tony Webster.

Tony owns a vintage camera shop in London. He gets up every day at the same time. He goes to the shop on schedule. He goes to bed at night. And then he does it again.

Apart from occasional polite conversations with his ex-wife, Margaret, and their pregnant adult daughter, Susie, Tony's life is a solitary one. It theoretically offers opportunity for reflection, for contemplation on Tony's sixty-odd years. But he's not the reflective, contemplative type. For Tony, the past—what with all its attendant pains and disappointments and disillusionments—is best left where it is: in the past.

And so it might have been, with Tony living out his remaining quiet, lonely, mildly disappointing days, were it not for the letter he gets. A letter from a lawyer. A letter from the mother of the young woman Tony gave his heart to in college, some 40 or so years before.

The letter is part of the mother's will. She's bequeathed him a bit of money as well as a … diary. Written by Adrian Finn, the young man who'd once been Tony's best friend and who eventually ended up with the love of Tony's life, Veronica.

Right before Adrian committed suicide.

If that all sounds complicated, it is. And as the story of Tony's life unfolds, both in the present and in flashbacks to his relationships with Veronica and Adrian in college, it becomes oh so clear why Tony might want to leave his past in the past.

Because Tony's past is a mess. And it's not done with him yet.

Positive Elements

The Sense of an Ending is both a quiet cautionary tale and a narrative about an aging man trying to deal with his unfinished emotional business. It shows how events that took place decades before may still be exerting significant influence, even if the person they're influencing has been largely unaware of it.

Tony, we slowly see, never really got over the betrayal he experienced when Veronica chose to be with Adrian instead of him. Tony has minimized the romantic damage she did to him, and it's clear that he's never really comprehended the role that this broken relationship played in undermining his marriage to Margaret.

In order to get the diary that Sarah (Veronica's mother) left to him, he has to reconnect with Veronica herself. As Tony tries to reestablish relationship with her, it becomes more and more evident that he's never really dealt with the damage she did to him all those years before.

And, as it turns out, he hasn't dealt with the massive damage he inflicted upon her, either—which leads to the cautionary tale aspect of this story.

[Spoiler Warning] We eventually learn that Tony sent Veronica and Adrian a scathing, bitter letter wishing them hardship for their betrayal of him. The letter apparently played a role in Adrian's affair with Veronica's mother (which is why Sarah had his diary, it's presumed), during which Sarah got pregnant, which in turn seems to have been the catalyst for Adrian's suicide. (Sarah's baby, Adrian Junior, is developmentally disabled, and Veronica has been one of her younger brother's caretakers for decades.) Little of that, obviously, is good. In fact, it's almost all terrible. But Tony eventually reckons with enormous pain that his choice to write and send the letter inflicted upon the woman he once loved.

Tony goes to birth classes with his daughter, Susie, and is there for her C-section delivery as well. Near the end of the movie, a chastened, humbled Tony seems finally freed from the burdens of the past to be newly present to Susie and his ex-wife, Margaret. "You and Susie are the most important people in my life," he tells Margaret. And the film ends with a sense that Tony might finally be able to be the man he should have been in relationship with them all along.

Spiritual Content

Someone quips, "How the devil are you?" Philosophy major Adrian quotes Camus, who reportedly said that suicide is the only "true" philosophical question.

Sexual Content

There are two love scenes involving Tony and Veronica. The first includes passionate kissing in the backseat of a car, but Veronica stops him (grabbing his hand at one point) from going any further than that. A second scene shows them undressing (we see her from behind in a bra and pants). In bed, there are sexual movements and sounds, and we see the couple (from the shoulders up) consummating their relationship.

Veronica's mother flirts somewhat playfully and suggestively with Tony when he comes to spend a weekend with the family. She also has a penchant for tight-fitting tops. When we later learn of her affair with Adrian, we're not surprised given the way she related to Tony. Elsewhere that weekend, Veronica's other brother, Jack, suggests he, too, is attracted to Tony. (There's a double entendre involving "rare meat").

Another scene implies that Tony is masturbating. We see movements of his shoulders from behind. Susie tells Tony that most of the other women in her birth class are lesbians who've been artificially inseminated. It's never completely clear whether Susie herself is gay, as she's never shown with a romantic partner of either gender.

There's a lingering camera shot of Adrian's bare upper torso in the bath before he commits suicide. We hear that Tony once leered at the au pair who took care of his and Margaret's daughter when she was an infant.

Violent Content

We see Adrian, dead, in a bathtub filled with water and blood. In a separate conversation among Tony's friends, they talk about how he used a razor to kill himself. There's also a conversation about another young person's suicide.

Crude or Profane Language

One f-word and one use of its abbreviated stand in, "f'in'." Three s-words. God's name is misused four times, and Jesus' name is abused four. One or two uses each of "b--ch," "b--tard" and "a--."

Drug and Alcohol Content

Characters drink alcoholic beverages throughout the film. While telling a part of his story to Margaret at her house one night, Tony gets too inebriated (by his own verbal assessment) to drive, and spends the night on her couch.

We repeatedly see a flashback to the college party where Tony first met Veronica. Students are shown drinking and smoking. Characters elsewhere smoke too.

Other Negative Elements

Even as he tries to tell his ex-wife the story of his relationship with Veronica, Tony still lies about some details (namely, the fact that the pair did have sex, which he flatly denies). Tony essentially stalks Veronica, discovering details about her life (including her relationship with Adrian Junior, whom he initially, mistakenly believes is Veronica's son).

Conclusion

Life is hard. We make mistakes. Sometimes, we minimize or block out our mistakes, even those that have enormous consequences. Yet, somehow, most of us manage to muddle through. And perhaps in the end, we get some perspective that enables us to move beyond the hurts that have subtly but surely hobbled us all of our lives.

That's essentially the message in The Sense of an Ending. Is it a hopeful one? A depressing one?

Maybe it's both, this film seems to suggest. Tony Webster's life has a been a quiet, anonymous tragedy. But trying to make things right—even in little ways, even though there's not much time left—is better than doing nothing at all.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults

Credits

Rating

PG-13

Readability Age Range

Genre

Drama

Author

Cast

Jim Broadbent as Tony Webster; Billy Howle as Young Tony; Charlotte Rampling as Veronica Ford; Freya Mavor as Young Veronica; Harriet Walter as Margaret Webster; Michelle Dockery as Susie Webster; Emily Mortimer as Sarah Ford; James Wilby as David Ford; Edward Holcroft as Jack Ford; Joe Alwyn as Adrian Finn; Peter Wight as Colin Simpson; Jack Loxton as Young Colin Simpson; Hilton McRae as Alex Stuart; Timothy Innes as Young Alex Stuart; Andrew Buckle as Adrian Junior

Director

Ritesh Batra ( The Lunchbox)

Distributor

CBS Films

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

March 10, 2017

On Video

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Adam R. Holz

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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