Downtown View:Good Stories

By Karen Cord Taylor

So we’re sitting in a movie theatre at Loews on Tremont Street, waiting for “Manchester by the Sea” to begin. The previews are too loud. The themes are sadistic, violent, cruel, creepy, pathological. Silence is one of movies. The others I can’t remember but they involved cars blowing up, gunshots fired, people disintegrating, mayhem complete. The audience twitters. We’re laughing. The chaos is so profound that it’s ironically funny. The movie-going public has become so inured to violence that it must be extreme.

I say to my husband, “We can skip all these.”

He says, “This must be one reason why modern-day Americans are so messed up.” (He didn’t say “messed.”)

Later, in the ladies’ room, I hear people discussing how awful the previews were, so I know it wasn’t just me.

But it got me thinking about movies and why in my family we avoid so many. One is that movie-makers fail us with a lack of imagination.

Why do they have to rely on Jackie Kennedy to tell a story? Are they having a hard time making up stories of their own? There’s a movie about Chappaquiddick, for heaven’s sake. Let’s skip it. I felt the same way long ago when Mel Gibson, another violence-obsessed movie maker, made a film about the crucifixion. We all know how that turned out. It does not make us better persons to see it filmed in gory detail, supporting Gibson’s screwed-up mind.

I don’t want to see the films about the Boston Marathon bombing either. I want to remember on my own how Mayor Menino left his hospital bed and made it to the podium, metaphorically capturing what Bostonians described as strength in their response to the tragedy. I want to remember on my own how everyone stayed inside, following the Boston Police’s instructions, showing we trusted them to do the right thing. Given how the police are viewed in other communities, it makes that behavior special.

I read the reviews of the first marathon bombing movie, Patriot’s Day. This is probably not a bad movie, as movies based on real events go. But it seems to be not just about the bombing. It’s also about that local felon and recovered druggie, Mark Wahlberg.

Apparently his character is everywhere. Wahlberg exploits the tragedy for his own aggrandizement and financial benefit. Someone suggested in a letter to the editor that with his profits Wahlberg should fund the park near the Boston Children’s Museum that will be named after the little boy who was killed — the same little boy whose bereaved and injured family has responded to the tragedy with such dignity and class. Watertown and Cambridge wanted nothing to do with the movie, repudiating the exploitation. The family of the little boy also refused to be involved.

I imagine this movie will annoy all Bostonians because even Boston native Wahlberg will probably not be able to get the accents right either.

I won’t give up on movies, however. It’s because of Manchester by the Sea. Except for one character at the end they don’t nail Boston accents even though the credits listed a dialect coach. I guess they never will.

This movie takes place in the town of Manchester. Islands, ocean, snow, fishing and trees play their parts. It’s unclear whether the main character works in Boston or Quincy. But that’s a detail.

The family is dysfunctional. The main character is quick to fight if someone rubs him the wrong way. He reminds the movie-goer of what Mark Wahlberg might have been like as a young man.

But there has been a tragedy, one so profound that even a well-balanced person would never recover from it. In that way it is as extreme as the movies that feature violence as their reason for being.

But the delicacy and nuance that pervade the story elevate it to a category of its own. The characters sometimes find courage. At other times they falter. They make remarks that have the audience laughing even in the saddest parts—that short distance between tragedy and comedy. This story is about working-class Massachusetts people, but it does not offer the usual clichés about bank robbers and petty criminals that lurk around Charlestown or Southie. It’s been a long time since someone made a movie like this.

I hope it gets all the awards it has been nominated for because the story telling, the acting, the filming are all exquisite.

But its real value is in its creativity. It did not have to rely on the clichés of Boston, nor violence, nor someone else’s story. I hope it sets a new standard for movies worth seeing.

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