Film: The Sense of an Ending
by Jennifer Bryce
This was a great book by Julian Barnes. It won the Man-Booker prize.
When I read it about 5 years ago I couldn’t put it down. It was, I said at the time, about remorse and how we change with the passing of time – the things that can’t be ‘undone’. This film was disappointing. It is terribly British – perhaps surprising, because the director, Ritesh Batra, is Indian. The main character, Tony Webster (played very well by Jim Broadbent) would be a laced-up somewhat unemotional type – but, in a film, we need to have some idea of inner passion as the 60-something main character faces the devastating consequences of decisions made in his youth.
The 60-something Tony Webster has been left the diary of his good friend who committed suicide at university, sometime after having taken up with Tony’s girlfriend. As a jealous undergraduate Tony wrote and posted (an act that cannot be undone) a letter where, among other things, he inflicted on his former girlfriend and his school friend a wish that they conceive a child.
He finds out nearly half a century later that a child has been born . . . but . . . horror . . . the boy is intellectually disabled. Much later Tony finds out that his girlfriend wasn’t the mother of that disabled child – her mother was the mother.
So much inner conflict . . . grief . . . lurching regret. The inheritance of the diary leads to a grudging meeting between Tony and his former girlfriend (Charlotte Rampling).
In the book, she keeps saying, ‘you just don’t get it . . . you never will get it . . . stop trying.’ I don’t recall such persistent not getting it in the film. But a memorable moment is when the older Tony says to his former girlfriend ‘I can only imagine how difficult this has been’ and she, Charlotte Rampling, with her steely gaze says, ‘No, you cannot.’
I don’t remember that Tony’s daughter is pregnant (without a partner) and he takes her to neonatal classes and is present at the birth and indeed that’s pretty much how the movie ends. Whereas the book ends: ‘There is accumulation. There is responsibility. And beyond these, there is unrest. There is great unrest.’ I suppose such a state of mind is difficult to capture on the screen. Or maybe we had to try to have a happy ending, with the birth of a child. But that’s not what the story is about.