The Sense of an Ending Movie is based on the popular eponymous novel that tells a story of a man with a forgotten past. It is a case of repressed memory with the protagonist trying to sift through old leaflets that gradually tell us more about his darkest secrets. Everything plays through the perspective of the protagonist and it becomes a sojourn of discovering things the way he discovers them himself.
The Julian Barnes novel of the same name is a work of genius. You can tell that once you are finished with the movie, and when you connect all the dots. To play things through the perspective of Tony Webster, the protagonist played by Jim Broadbent, and to unfurl locked memories one by one until the final climax spills the beans gives you a rare sense of satisfaction. Barnes has brilliantly built the setup to reveal things just when they are supposed to be revealed, and left an ending for you to speculate. It forces you to think and that’s why it is so impactful.
Direction of The Sense of an Ending Movie
To complement his work we have Ritesh Batra, the director of the beautiful flick The Lunchbox, who chooses to juxtapose images from the past into the present. He places frames intertwined with each other to help things emerge in the form of what Tony remembers. He does it sometimes via a conversation with the protagonist’s ex-wife Margaret Webster (Harriet Walter) or sometimes just trying to remember things from the past. Then he chooses to relive the memories by actually revisiting it in the form of old Tony by manually letting his old version visit the exact scenes. It is so beautifully and subtly done that you cannot praise him enough.
I think the ending takes away the realization part a little bit, owing to his direction. He might have wished to leave an open thread for his viewers to find out, but in an attempt to close the circle, he goes for an amicable ending instead. Even though it is strangely satisfying to watch owing to the upbeat music he chooses, the cardinal issue at hand steers away. It was supposed to bring us towards an epiphany but instead, it ends up becoming oblivious to the elephant in the room.
I intend to discuss that in detail in the following analysis part.
Analysis of The Sense of an Ending Movie (Spoilers Ahead)
I am assuming you have already watched the movie and then proceeding because it’s going to burst the bubble for you. If not then stop right here, and watch The Sense of an Ending Movie first.
When The Sense of an Ending movie begins, the primal theme is set up with the words of Tony as he says:
In those days we imagined ourselves as being in a holding pen, waiting to be released into our lives. And when that moment would come, we would be at university. How were we to know that our lives had already begun, and our release would only be into a larger holding pen? And in time, a larger holding pen.
It tells us how little he remembers of his school. He wasn’t fond of it and just thought about it as a ladder to release him into his life. Also, the fact that he felt as if life was right around the corner, and that whatever he did during school or university, or whatever mistakes he committed wouldn’t matter as much in the long run. That’s one of the reasons why he remembers so little.
The Letter in The Sense of an Ending Movie
We see a grown up Tony receiving a letter from a certain Sarah Ford (Emily Mortimer) who had recently passed away and wished Tony to have an attachment (which we later discover to be Adrian’s diary) and some money. The letter read something like this:
I think it right that you should have the attached. Adrian always spoke warmly of you, and perhaps you’ll find it an interesting, if painful, memento of long ago. I am also leaving you some money. You may find this a bit strange, and, to tell you the truth, I’m not entirely sure what my own motives are, but I wish you well, even from beyond the grave.
P.S., it may sound a little odd, but I think the last months of his life were happy.
I think a lot of things get instantly clear through this letter. But we fail to pay attention because we weren’t introduced properly to all the characters in the movie.
He remembers Sarah to be his love interest Veronica’s mother, whom he had visited once during an awkward weekend spent at their house. We aren’t even shown what went on during his short stay. Hints were dropped although it is hard to make out anything with it.
Wading through the Past
He sets up a meeting with his ex-wife to discuss his past deeds, and to figure what the letter could mean. On being asked who was it he slept with – Veronica or Sarah, Tony asserts that he didn’t sleep with any of them. At least that’s what he remembers.
As part of a flashback, in their first meeting, Veronica points out why Tony wears his watch inside of his wrist, and he replies he didn’t know it was that way. At a later stage, we find even his friends wearing the watch in the same manner. We come to discover it was their way of revolting against notions of time. That is one of those allusions for Tony’s silent revolt against time. He is oblivious, candid, and nothing is too important for him.
During his stay at Veronica’s, we find Tony to be instantly obsessed with Sarah. There is so much sexual frustration in him, for Veronica not letting him have sex, and this voluptuous Goddess in the form of Sarah materializing like that, you have to understand Tony’s state of mind.
I hope you sleep the sleep of the wicked.
When he wakes up Sarah is all by herself, and you can tell something is going to happen between them, and that something did happen by the way Sarah bids him goodbye with a horizontal hidden gesture when he left their house.
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Adrian Finn in The Sense of an Ending Movie
In comes story’s second most crucial man, Adrian Finn played by Joe Alwyn. The guy is an insightful philosophist, you can tell with his answers.
All one can ever truly say of any particular period of history is that something happened.
He becomes quite a good friend of Tony within no time. He quotes Patrick Lagrange at one point forming the basis of the entire movie.
History is the certainty produced at the point when the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.
He follows it up with:
It’s the lies of Victors, as long as you understand that it is also the delusions of the defeated.
As they move on in their lives, Adrian is the only good thing Tony wishes to stay close with. Unfortunately, Adrian swoops in to steal his girl, Veronica. Adrian writes to Tony about how close they had become, and if possible forgive them for their misdemeanor. Tony was amused beyond limit with that very idea of him dating Veronica, the girl with whom he saw nowhere. So he prepares a letter for him mentioning it was perfectly fine with him.
Soon after, Adrian kills himself. Somewhere in the back of the mind Tony is convinced that Victoria must have been pregnant with Adrian’s child, as there was one case similar. Unable to live with that blotch on his mind, he chose to take his life instead.
In the present world, somehow managing to contact Veronica’s brother Jack so as to arrange a meeting with Veronica, Tony finally gets to meet her. Veronica tells him that she has burnt the diary, and offers him a letter that Tony had written to Adrian and Veronica when they were seeing each other.
That’s when Tony realizes that he hadn’t posted an ‘approval’ letter wishing them well, rather written a hurtful horrible letter cursing them both.
Dear Adrian and Veronica.
Hello, bitch, and welcome to this letter. A letter to you both to wish you much joy. You certainly deserve one another. Indeed, I hope you get so involved that the mutual damage will be permanent. Part of me hope you’ll have a child because I’m a great believer in time’s revenge. Yay unto the next generation, and all that. But in fairness, it would perhaps be somewhat unjust to inflict such ill will on the fruit of your poisonous loins.
Adrian, if she hasn’t let you go all the way yet, I suggest you break up with her. And no doubt she’ll be round your place as quick as a flash with sodden knickers and a three-pack, eager to give it away. Certainly, it worked for yours truly. Veronica is undoubtedly someone who will manipulate you. Even her own mother warned me against her. In fact, if I were you, I’d check things out with mum.
On re-reading that horrible letter years after, Tony feels really sorry for them. Somewhere inside his head he is convinced that it could have been his letter, and the embarrassment that might have ensued after, that could have caused Adrian to take such desperate steps.
He stalks Veronica till he finds her whereabouts. He discovers the name of the man she was seen holding hands with to be Adrian. Jumping to the conclusion that Adrian must be the son of Veronica and the deceased Adrian, he arranges a meeting with her once again to pay his regards.
The Huge Revelation
The meeting doesn’t go well as Veronica storms out to a truly apologetic Tony. He hasn’t still got the gist of it and considers young Adrian to be Veronica’s son. Veronica doesn’t want to talk about since it is an abhorrent case worth extinguishing.
However, it is later revealed by the caretaker of Adrian, when he revisits the pub that young Adrian was, in fact, Sarah’s son, that Victoria is actually young Adrian’s sister. It is a setback for Tony, yes. He had been living a lie all this time.
Tony heads back to meet his daughter at the hospital where he confides in her about everything that had happened.
She formed a relationship with my best friend. And I wrote them both a very nasty letter. And recently I’ve been working under the assumption that they’d had a child together shortly before my best friend committed suicide. But now it appears that the mother of that child wasn’t my ex-girlfriend, but it was her mother. And I can only assume that it was my horrible letter that in some way pushed the friend…
We can see Tony still being oblivious to the fact that something had happened between him and Sarah as well.
As his last statement insinuates, he assumes his letter to be the reason for the whole “Adrian – Sarah” setup. He thinks of it as a spark that might have evicted Veronica out of the equation, led Adrian to come closer to Sarah. It is very likely that they developed feelings for each other, and ended up having sex.
The Final Unanswered Question
However, all of it doesn’t answer one question:
Who is the father of young Adrian?
From the perspective of Tony, it is obvious that it is none other than Adrian who had fathered the child. But if you stop judging things from Tony’s perspective, (which you should by now because of his flaky memory), it is quite obvious even Tony could have been the father of the child.
Why, you ask?
With Sarah’s letter to Tony when she chooses to include him in his will, wishing to share Adrian’s diary with him, it is quite apparent that she has been fond of Tony as well. There could have been something in Adrian’s diary which Adrian wanted Tony to see, and understand. But Veronica intervenes having read it, destroying it completely since she didn’t want any piece of Tony lingering to dig out this farrago all over again. What was she hiding?
The child could very well belong to Tony since that horizontal secretive gesture from his memory is still left untended. Even Tony had sex with Sarah, and we know that for sure because of that gesture. That memory being a sordid one for Tony, was repressed unknowingly in his brain like all of those memories he had forgotten about. To stop Tony, an unreliable fellow from being a part of a semi-truth, and from further smudging her dead mother’s name all over again, Veronica does what is right.
Unfortunately, Tony remains as convinced as he was about everything in his life even after he feels that he has discovered the ultimate truth. But that’s once again his perspective of looking at things. Veronica chooses to let him think he found his closure and that’s what we the audience get at too.
Final Words from The Sense of an Ending Movie
I’ve been turning over in my mind the question of nostalgia, and whether I suffer from it. I suppose I am nostalgic. I think of my time with Margaret and Susie’s birth and her first years. A bunch of kids in school. A girl dancing for once in her life. A secret horizontal gesture beneath a sunlit Wisteria. I think of Adrian’s definition of history.
I think of everything that has happened in my life, and how little I have allowed to happen. I, who neither won nor lost. Who avoided being hurt and called it a capacity for survival. I think of how our lives got entwined and went along together for a time. And when I look back, now, on that time, however brief, I am moved more than I thought possible. Indeed, I’m sorry that I have known nothing of your life in the years since. No doubt you could have taught this old fool a thing or two. Perhaps, in a way, you have.
Even so Tony has learnt something from all this. He begins to focus in the present more, starts to live with a clear perspective, paying more attention to things around him so that he doesn’t miss out on life once again. It is a nice way to end the story, as we see Tony getting back on the saddle yet again, asking for forgiveness for not being there, and then carrying on living without regrets.
Tony chooses to remember what he chooses to remember. It has always been like that. Even after the truth is revealed to him, the memories of Sarah have been constrained in his head. He has literally no remembrance of spending time with her, and he clearly spits it out during his last apologetic words of consolation – “how little I have allowed to happen.” or “avoided being hurt”. It is pretty self-explanatory of Tony, of how he chooses to live.
Tony is really sorry for how in his madding sense of wrath he chose to overlook what Veronica had to go through after Adrian’s demise. Swallowed by his smug egotistic mien, he never even bothered to turn around to look at lives of the people he really loved and cared about. This realization is somehow enough and overwhelming for Tony to carry on his life unapologetically. That’s what we see him do when he tries to make amends with his ex-wife, and pay more heed to his daughter and grandkid.
The Final Verdict
The Sense of an Ending Movie ends without letting us in on the conclusion of Adrian’s diary that Sarah intended Tony to find. It is clearly left to viewer’s imagination as to what might have been in the diary. It is unfortunate that the director doesn’t even try to help us look in that direction. For some, The Sense of an Ending movie might not have been so huge owing to that very fact.
But if you are in a habit of reading through the lines, you might find it very interesting that the movie ended leaving things for speculation. The way it has been wrapped alongside two different eras is simply gorgeous. It is the sense of an ending that you might think is an ending after all, but when you try to witness the genius in the threads left open you see more, and the ending doesn’t seem like an ending at all.
The Sense of an Ending movie is embellished by some powerful acting by Jim Broadbent who literally stays the heart and soul of the movie throughout. It is fun to watch even if you choose to pick Tony’s vantage of understanding the tale. For those who think that’s that to it, and there’s nothing more, even you peeps will be satisfied.
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