The film industry is not dying.
I have read countless cynical articles which basically asserts that the business structure of the modern film industry is constricting the artistic potential of movies. In theory, this may be true to an extent, especially with the popular employment of tedious sequel strategies. But in reality, great films are still being made every year. We have Wolf of Wall Street in 2013, Whiplash in 2014, and Inside Out in 2015. Yet a bunch of movie analysts still insist that films, in particular, Hollywood films, are in a state of decay. I suspect that it has nothing to do with the films. I suspect it has something to do with the critics themselves…
In his brilliant film Midnight in Paris, director Woody Allen explores the concept of ‘Golden-Aged Thinking’, which revolves around the notion that some people (artists in particular) tend to prefer to live in the past over the time period they are living in the present. Many artists today is in love with the 1920s. Many artists in the 1920s are in love with the Renaissance. People in their university years misses their high-school days. People in their high-school days misses their childhood days. On one hand, recognising the worth of the past is a respectable attitude. But nostalgia has its perils. It can interrupt people from fairly noticing the quality of the present’s attributes; from maintaining their objective, unbiased judgement. What the cynical, golden-aged-thinking film critics fail to comprehend is that one can still appreciate modern art forms while still having a preference for the classical ones.
Furthermore, assuming that modern Hollywood is dying, it follows that it was alive in the past. But frankly, I fail to see that much of a difference. Sure, the so-called ‘Golden-Age’ of cinema, generally accepted to last from the late 1920s to the early 1960s, also has its own share of bad films. The only difference I notice is that while the bad films in modern cinema are those dreary sequels that seem to be made for people with attention-deficit disorder, the bad films of the past are those cringy, indelible flicks like the notorious Plan 9 from Outer Space. Same goes for the good films.
Seriously, if the artistry of films is indeed dying, then explain the existence of Manchester by the Sea.
The film revolves around the life of Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), a lonely janitor with low self-esteem living in Boston. Following the hospitalisation of his elder brother Joe Chandler (Kyle Chandler), Lee hesitantly returns to Manchester-by-the-Sea, his hometown, where Joe is situated. Joe dies before Lee makes it to the hospital. Lee then learns that Joe has named him the guardian of Patrick (Lucas Hedges), Joe’s sixteen-year-old son. Haunted by his tragic past in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Lee attempted to bring Patrick back to Boston with him; an attempt that fails as Patrick refuses to leave the village. With no other option but to stay in Manchester, Lee had no choice but to face his past and at the same time, take care of Patrick.
Manchester by the Sea is not a film about stories; it is about people and emotions. And it is much harder, in my opinion, to express emotions and relationship in a film than to express stories. But with a mind capable of noticing the essential elements of human sentiment, writer-director Kenneth Lonnergan manages to do so, creating an authentic and touching piece of art. What draws more of my admiration is the fact that the film never looks for sympathy. It is simply there. Just like reality.
Trying to convey reality into films, like what Lonnergan did with Manchester by the Sea, is a bit like naturalistically painting. One has to possess a vivid, detailed imagination of the image, or in this case the emotions and characters, before having the capability to really succeed in depicting reality into the medium. The more intricate the mind of the artist is, the better the result. It’s almost as if the details are more crucial than the broad idea of the film itself.
The tremendous success of the film wouldn’t be possible without the fantastic performance of the actors and actresses. Hedges delivers a marvellous depiction of Patrick. His yells and rants are as natural as dialogues can get. Hedges’ portrayal of a troubled teenage boy does not simply represent the mere idea of how a troubled teenage boy should be, like what lesser actors would do. His character is genuine, almost as if Hedges himself is as insecure as Patrick is. The major spotlight, however, is on Casey Affleck. I don’t really comprehend the reasoning behind it, but especially in modern films, the less an actor or actress do, either in tongue or facial expression, the finer his/her performance is in my eyes. Affleck’s silent gaze appears to me to be more expressive than dialogues are capable of becoming. He does his everyday activity in a detached, almost robotic manner, but we can somehow feel his emotions, and most of all, his pain. Perhaps this is why some critics find it hard to appreciate contemporary artistic films. It’s not that modern filmmakers like Lonnergan are passive and lazy. It’s just that they have altered their own style, focusing less on surrealism, and more on authenticity.