“How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts?”says Tony Webster, played by Jim Broadbent. A story of an unfolding past, loose misunderstandings and regretful mistakes, The Sense Of An Ending undoubtedly presents humanity at its sincerest in this emotionally humbling story.
Based on the novel by Julian Barnes, adapted by Nick Payne, The Sense Of An Ending is directed by Ritesh Batra who creates a sensitive portrayal of the retired Webster to whom routine is everything. The film takes place in a world of private and wonderfully quaint Britishness. Broadbent embodies the gloom of Tony’s character, a true victim of life’s battering: divorced, lonely, with a dispirited daughter and a struggling shop. In light of this, the audience can excuse Tony’s daily rudeness to the overly polite postman, a comical motif that forefronts his old-age grumpiness.
Tony’s life of monotony is disrupted by the arrival of a letter from a figure in his past. The recently-deceased Sarah (played by Emily Mortimer), mother of his university girlfriend Veronica (played in her youth by Freya Mavor and later by Charlotte Rampling), has left Tony a mysterious diary in her will. This causes Tony to embark on a journey to recover his past, abandoning his life at present.
The presentation of Tony’s past consists of flashbacks to his early adulthood. Batra sympathetically captures his university days of self-discovery as the Cambridge schoolboy experiences love, independence, and adult life for the first time. We are introduced to Adrian Finn (Joe Alwyn), a curious and astute best friend, the enchanting Veronica and her bizarre family. All of these characters become pivotal in Tony’s tangle of narrative threads. The chronology of Tony’s zestful youth shifts to his sombre present and is exquisitely moving. Particularly effective is the repetition of specific scenes from Tony’s youth which I will not spoil here. This repetition brilliantly captures how such memories are inflaming present-day Tony’s conscience as he unearths his past.
However, while Tony’s thoughts are racing with the energy of his youth, the present-day Veronica withholds her mother’s diary, preventing him from discovering its mysteries. In a generally slow-moving film, it is when Tony obsessively tries to meet Veronica, watching her every move, that the audience realises the missing diary is controlling his life.
The contents of the diary leave Tony guilt-ridden and pained and the film realistically presents the past as unchanging and, as a result, cruel.
Poignantly moving, the film exposes the transformation that a true sense of self and appreciation of loved ones can bring to a person’s life. Resonant with meaning and dotted with crisp, English humour, this film captures humanity from start to finish.