The Sense of an Ending Review
Memory is an oddity. I can remember strange details about my life from three years ago, but I cannot remember what I wore yesterday. Memory is something that is not absolute; it is a subjective thing, subject to change. Akira Kurosawa explored memory in Rashômon and created an entire way to explain how we remember events. Christopher Nolan explored it in Memento where fiction and reality blend into one. Julian Barnes explored it in his Man Booker Prize winning book The Sense of an Ending, and now director Ritesh Batra has adapted it into a film starring Jim Broadbent and Charlotte Rampling.
Tony Webster, a divorced retiree, runs a camera shop in London and seems to live a contented if sedentary life. However, one day he receives the news that the mother of a girlfriend he had at University has died and left him a diary. He tries to get that diary, but he is informed that his ex-girlfriend, Veronica, has it in her possession. Over the course of getting the diary, he is confronted with the consequences of actions that took place which he was a younger man and that, as an older one, he misremembers or has outright forgotten.
The Sense of an Ending is probably one of the hardest types of films for me to write about as a critic. It is not bad because a bad film is fun to write about, it is not good because it is easy to enthuse about a film that you have enjoyed. No, this film is hard to write about because it is okay, it’s fine, it’s average, it's a film that I watched and I don't feel strongly about it.
My thoughts on the film actually echo those of fellow TDF contributor Lewis Knight who is able to place the main cause for concern when it comes to The Sense of an Ending, a strange and incredibly damaging distance between audience and action. The cast should be excellent, Jim Broadbent should be an exquisite curmudgeon coming to terms with his past and how his actions have effected those around him. However, I never felt enough of a connection with him or liked him enough to care about anything he did. Broadbent is trying his damnedest, but there is surprisingly little material to work with. Charlotte Rampling is obviously attempting to give the emotionally charged speech of the film, but instead, it sounds tired, clichéd and a little irritating, while those in the flashback sections of the film are smug and wooden.
I think that another major problem with the film is the flashback sequences and the story in general. I never got the impression that there was some great character reveal during the realisation that Tony made a terrible mistake. We always knew he was a pompous prig, so when the twist reveals that he was also a whiny one when he was younger came as no surprise. And as Lewis says, if I didn't care about the characters in the past, why should I care about them in the present?
The story within film just leaves too many little questions unanswered. While I can see that it is important to leave some of them this way, like the nature of Adrian's suicide and the effects of the thing Tony did, but the knock on effect in the present makes all of older Tony and Veronica's decisions completely baffling. I had no idea what was going on until they almost spelt it out at the end, by which time I had passed the point of being involved in the story and really caring. Perhaps the story works better as a book, being held to an unreliable narrator is more effective in the written word, film is far too objective; we see everything from a position of privilege, able to see all, and unless you are particularly clever about framing or, in the way that Kurosawa does in Rashômon, plotting, the ambiguity of the situation is somewhat lost.
As I said before The Sense of an Ending isn't a bad movie, the film is shot well, and it is clear that the cast are trying their best, but something is just getting in the way of my enjoyment of the film. This is a shame because I am sure that this could have been a great and memorable drama. Instead, it just feels flat, boring and forgettable.
Nothing much changes in that regard on the Blu-ray release of the film, distributed by StudioCanal. It has a user-friendly interface, and a wide variety of audio and subtitle options including a 2.0 Stereo track, a 5.1 DTS version as well as audio description for those with vision impairment and legible subtitles. The disc itself has no errors and presents both the sound and the high definition video in a suitably uncorrupted fashion. In essence, it is a workable disc for a functional film.
The extras are similarly functional. With a brief featurette asking cast and crew what they would tell their 21-year-old self, and a two hour long set of interviews with the actors, the director and the author asking them about their experience making the film. The questions are the standard affair that could be found on any other disc and I am sure that if you are interested in these interviews then you will enjoy them. I, however, require a little more than just talking heads, maybe it's my attention span but I was hoping for something with a little more flair. As they are, these extras are nothing to write home about, and in essence, add nothing to the film itself other than anecdotal stories of times on set.
The Sense of an Ending is a forgettable film. There was some intangible force that kept me from fully engaging with the story and that spreads into the extras that feel a little rushed and stale. All in all the package provided by StudioCanal is perfectly serviceable and that is the highest praise that I can give this release.