Film review: The Sense of an Ending
Consummate acting is in overflowing abundance in The Sense of an Ending. With deftness, Jim Broadbent plays Tony, a cantankerous retiree running a small shop that sells vintage cameras, while Charlotte Rampling is the self-assured Veronica, Tony’s first love from university, with whom he becomes reacquainted, decades after an ugly break-up by their former, immature selves. And the young actors portraying them — Billy Howle as the impetuous, book-hungry, sex-hungry Tony, and Freya Mavor, the alluring Veronica — hold their own, along with other performers in that 1960s sepia-photograph-toned milieu.
When Adrian (Joe Alwyn) joined his class at high school, Tony was at once impressed by the quiet boy’s deep and thoughtful intelligence, and quickly absorbed him into his clique. Later, the betrayal Tony felt upon realising the Cambridge-undergraduate friend he had so admired was now going out with his girl could only spill into a bilious tirade of written vitriol, the feeling made more intense by the lengths he believed he himself had to go, to have won Veronica — her body, if not her heart. An earlier bout of radical candour by the girl’s mother (Emily Mortimer) warning Tony about her child had clearly not registered.
The director, Ritesh Batra, in working with a screenplay by Nick Payne, based on Julian Barnes’ Booker-Prize winning novel, draws rich dynamics from unfolding revelations to bring closure to an unresolved pain. The idea of narrator unreliability — arguably, the essence of the book, which is summed up in its best quote, thus: History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation — although repeated on film is not satisfyingly borne out in the cascading drama, that shifts forth and back between present and past.
Batra is aided by cinematographer, Christopher Ross, who has a gift for both lucid, current-moment compositions, and memory-filtered wooziness. But, most of all, he is helped inestimably by his precious crop of cast who live out their characters as if they own the stories. Mortimer, notably, is captured in all her sensuous womanliness, like the faintest scent of rain in a haze of maybe-truths.
At the opening of the movie, Tony relates how he used to think of high school as a holding pen, where the cohort waited to be let out into university, not knowing, of course, that that too was a pen, into the world, itself again another, in much the same way the future flows out in ever-growing circles from events that have transpired, as we remember, or are able to put in words.