The Sense of An Ending movie cast: Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling, Harriet Walter, Freya Mavor, Michelle Dockery
The Sense of An Ending movie director: by Ritesh Batra
The Sense of An Ending movie rating: 2.5 stars
It is easy to see why Ritesh Batra would be drawn to this film, based on Julian Barnes’s book by the same name. Like his much-feted Lunchbox, it has at its centre an older, lonely man seeking a connection. However, not all books lend them to films, and The Sense of an Ending — about inadequate memories and wilful forgetfulness that make up any life’s story — falls in that category.
On the contrary, the adaptions made to the book so as to transfer this story about the search for an ending — necessary even as these may be — chip away at the tenuous ties that bound its characters. In the book, they were all seekers of a closure that made sense. Here they are all content in their own little ways.
Except, that is, Veronica (brilliantly played by Freya Mavor in youth, and marvellously carried on by Rampling in old age). Many lives are intertwined around this enigmatic girl’s person, and it is easy to see why Veronica would resonate with all of them more than 40 years later.
Broadbent, essaying the central role of Tony Webster, comes across more dandy than in the book. Still, given the choices he makes and his self-obsession that drives the story, it is to Broadbent’s credit that he makes us like Tony.
Some four decades ago, Tony had a gang of best friends at school that included Adrian, a boy who debated suicide, and the pointlessness of history, when yet in his teens. In college, Tony meets Veronica, a girl different from others, and their relationship is characterised by her refusal to have sex and a weekend at her family home, where Tony comes away enchanted by her mother. Tony is now bald, retired, runs a camera shop (a crucial departure from the book), and spends most of his time around his pregnant daughter and his ex-wife, who is a busy lawyer. The ex-wife, Margaret (Walter, impressive) gets a larger role here than in the book, but her relationship with Tony no longer has the staleness of old habit. It was another rich detail, a contrast between Tony’s imagination and Tony’s reality, that the film doesn’t get.
What has brought Veronica hurtling back into Tony’s life is a will left by her mother, giving him $500 and Adrian’s diary. Only, Veronica, who has possession of the diary, won’t hand it over. This brings her and Tony face to face for the first time after he discovered that she had hitched up with Adrian after leaving him, leading to an acrimonious parting between the three. Their only last contact after that was news that Adrian had killed himself, leaving Tony with the feeling that his friend may at least have got that perfect end, of his choosing, that he wished for.
Nothing much happens, and nothing much is meant to. But while life usually ends up like that, a film must find ways to compensate with moments. The Sense of an Ending doesn’t.