I Can’t Beat It [Manchester By The Sea]

I knew I would like Manchester By The Sea, and I assumed I would love it. 

I was right. 

But it took a couple years on my watch list, and six months of being available for free on Amazon Prime before I watched it. Because as much as I knew I would like it, I knew it would affect me deeply, and so I avoided this movie I knew I’d love.

I finally watched it, and I have two thoughts. 

  • Michelle Williams is mind-blowingly good every time she is on screen, and I want her to be in more films.
  • I keep replaying the scene in my mind where Lee sits at the dinner table with Patty, in the house of his dead brother, in the town where the ghosts of his children still haunt him, and he lays out the new plan for Patty to be adopted by Georgie and his family, for Lee to move to Boston, for Lee to hand over control of his brother’s estate to Georgie. 

I still, at that point in the film, hoped Lee would come to grips with his past, and live peacefully in the place that he had run from. You know… the normal movie storyline. And yet every moment up to that point, that appeared to be the big emotional payoff, was suppressed in Irish Catholic bravado and interpersonal distance. The payoff never came. And a part of me knew this wasn’t going to end like other redemption stories. This wasn’t that type of movie. But I was in too far, I cared too much, I wanted Lee to embrace Patty as a son, and thus his new life. I wanted him to find meaning in raising a child as recompense for the children he lost, to find his punishment and salvation in adopting a life he never wanted and working for something greater than himself.

Instead, Lee told Patty, “I can’t beat it.”

I can’t beat it…

It’s a line that will stick with me for a long time. In real life, redemption isn’t a guarantee. Sometimes we can’t beat that which haunts us.

Movies don’t often bother to tell the stories of failures, of the men who don’t rise to the challenges in their life, but Manchester By The Sea did. And it creates a powerful moment to be remembered, not along with other great movie lines which often denote grace under pressure or overcoming all odds, but as a subtle nod to a reality that movies shy away from. Because when films embrace these truths, then the movie is no longer finding an escape, but diving further into the reality from which movies help us run. 

I can’t beat it, Lee tells his nephew, the son of his dead brother who needs him. 

I can’t beat it, Lee tells himself, a man who needs a path to redemption, forgiveness, and reconciliation. 

I really wish he could. But that’s just not how this story goes. 

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