“There’s nothing there,” says Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) in Manchester by the Sea.

Equally moving and understated, Kenneth Lonergan’s movie and Melanie Finn’s novel The Gloaming made me feel thoroughly sad, but I’ve never enjoyed feeling sad this much. It helps that the movie is also hilarious; somehow comedy is seamlessly woven into tragedy without letting one cheapen the other. Still, the book and film are executed with such high quality that you accept, even embrace, their melancholic effects. 

This pairing explores:

  • The intersection of blame and lack of sufficient consequences
  • Careful dosages of self-punishment that maintain the person just enough to be alive and not much more
  • Settings so prominent they are almost characters themselves (Tanzania and New England)
  • A realistic depiction of grief that is obscenely beautiful
  • Penance without room for self-pity (or anything else for that matter)
  • What helping really looks like in an objective, concrete way
  • How the unsympathetic and the overly sympathetic can make things more excruciating for the bereaved
  • Storylines that are somehow more real and vivid than real life

With both of these intricate and well-crafted works of art, you find yourself completely engrossed in piecing together the narrative, just like the characters are piecing together their new realities, except you are doing so eagerly. Grief is rarely portrayed in such a refreshingly new and yet strikingly accurate way.