We saw the movie adaptation of Julian Barnes’s Man-Booker Prize-winning novel The Sense of an Ending last weekend. I haven’t read the book (I will now), but the cast alone was enough to convince us to see the film. It stars the always reliable Jim Broadbent as the divorced father of Lady Mary from Downton Abbey, who is hugely pregnant and single. He’s on decent terms with his ex-wife, and runs a tiny classic camera shop.
He receives an unexpected letter from the mother of a girl he knew when he was at university. A girl he fancied but never quite managed to get on with, and who will be played by Charlotte Rampling in the modern era. The letter is posthumous, and it is a bequest of some money and an object, unspecified, that is the movie’s McGuffin. Rampling’s character has it and won’t give it up.
The story can be compared to Ian McEwan’s Atonement in that it is driven by an ill-considered letter written under passionate conditions that has far-reaching implications. However, Broadbent’s character has written that letter out of his memory of events from his college days. Suddenly he is forced to reckon with the reality of what he did, and the consequences.
It’s the kind of film that kept us talking long after it was over. The big reveal toward the end makes you go back and re-evaluate other things that happened in the movie and question why certain characters did what they did. Ultimately, why did the mother want to will the object to Broadbent? What did she hope to achieve?
Apparently Broadbent’s character is treated less well in the novel, but even here he self-centered, demanding and stalker-ish, although by the end he has something of an awakening. This thing from the past belongs to him and he’s determined to get it. It asks the question: are we better off revisiting certain things from the past or does it just re-open old wounds and cause new pains? We thoroughly enjoyed it.