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The Sense of an Ending

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The Sense of an Ending is, in many respects, very similar to a lot of other films. It’s a movie that tells the story of a person’s life in a fairly straightforward manner, with a few twists included (of course). It’s not a birth-to-life film, but instead takes us along very specific threads of Tony Webster’s (Jim Broadbent, Bridget Jones’s Baby (2016), HBO’s Game of Thrones) life. These threads have names: Veronica, Adrian, Sarah, and they also appear to us in the photographs Tony learned to take. Then the photographs come to life, and we’re swept into Tony’s memories as a solicitor’s letter arrives, informing him that he’s inherited Adrian’s diary.
From here onward, we go back in time and learn the story of what turns into an unfortunate love triangle. Tony is in love with Veronica, and she seems to be at least to care for him deeply as well. A new student at Cambridge, Adrian, comfortably joins Tony’s group of friends. All seems well until after graduation, when Tony receives a letter from Adrian awkwardly confessing that he and Veronica had fallen in love and that since they might, y’know, travel in the same social circles, they wanted to confess. Tony’s reaction is both noble and unforgivable (just roll with me here), and changes the lives of each and every person in their immediate and extended group.
Enabling flashbacks and flash-forwards, we learn that a much older Tony is living a tidy, if slightly dull life. He is on friendly terms with his divorced wife, he’s providing support for a daughter who has decided to have a child on her own, and he spends his time repairing Leicas in his neat antique camera shop. The local postman pops in to deliver a certified letter that turns Tony’s orderly life on its head: his ex-girlfriend’s mother has passed away and bequeathed to him a bit of money and the diary of his old friend Adrian, an item that Veronica (Sarah’s daughter) refuses to turn over. Confused? Don’t worry, it’ll get more clear as it goes along.
It turns out that Adrian committed suicide not long after mailing his confession, and Tony’s growing obsession with getting his hands on the diary begins to consume his life. Does the diary contain the answers for long-held questions he’d wondered about a hundred times before? Or is Tony’s memory selective, picking and choosing the bits that allow him to reflect with a minimum of guilt?
Aside from a few jaw-dropping realizations, The Sense of an Ending is a placid film. If you are expecting a Memento-style narrator piecing pulse-pounding memories together, you will be disappointed. In fact, Tony is a surprisingly milquetoast character, the events of his youth aside…in fact, his fixation on his own satisfaction to the detriment or harm of others is disappointing to watch. Ending isn’t a criticism, though, as the movie isn’t a thriller: it’s an examination of how our own memories, the snapshots we keep in our minds, can be unintentionally fallible. Is it due to self-preservation or just plain selfishness? We’re left to answer those questions on our own in this movie and in our own lives as well.

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