The Sense of an Ending

Aida Vucic | 17/05/2017

Muted and somewhat devoid of emotion, perhaps even detached, The Sense of an Ending can either play as refreshing or unnerving, depending on your palate.

Ritesh Batra’s latest film The Sense of an Ending is an adaption of the Julian Barnes’ 2011 novel and yet again sees Batra exploring all of the human experiences. While we would expect this film to be emotionally driven, it’s interestingly devoid of such emotions, if not even somewhat detached.


Jim Broadbent plays Tony Webster, a retired camera shop owner, divorcee, father to an expecting mother and generally unpleasant old man, who receives an unidentified letter in the mail. The letter is from a past acquaintance who has since departed and gifted him a diary in her will. However, Tony is unable to retrieve this diary (which is the property of his former best friend, who committed suicide as a young man) as it is in the possession of the deceased’s daughter, and his former girlfriend, Veronica. Tony attempts to discern the reasons for Veronica’s resistance to return the diary to his possession by retelling his college tales to his ex-wife Margaret (Harriet Walter), depicted on-screen through a series of flashbacks.


The two timelines are melded together with ease, served well by Max Richter’s pensive score, echoing the story of self-discovery, young love, loss and clemency. The performances by the cast are uniformly good. Broadbent, most notably, grasps the role as Tony, delivering his lines coolly and with the right amount of sarcasm to relieve us from what would otherwise have been a very melancholy film. Broadbent is also able to transition as the story develops and his character is injected with a sense of remorse, quietening his temper and replacing it with a deep nostalgic bent. Charlotte Rampling is also excellent, her aloofness and class oozing out of her. Her performance gives every linkage between her older self and the pretentious, somewhat narcissistic youngster we meet in the flashbacks. Every move of her hand or raise of her eyebrows tells us everything we need to know about where this woman has been and what she has done for the last however many years.


It’s a shame, then, that these performances don’t succeed in entirely saving the movie. Batra infuses the piece with not only a sense of melancholy, but one of expectant dread. You expect there to be some kind of twist, a big reveal musing on the invariability of time and truth, but while the book cannot be spoken too, the film fails to achieve that sense of wonder in the discovery of secret meaning that it foreshadows early on. There are twists, certainly, and some of them are fairly satisfying. And certainly Batra should be given credit for not bludgeoning the audience in their explanation, or with exposition. But the movie never gives the sense of wonder that comes not from exposing a secret in a plot line, but from delivering a wider truth about the world as we, the audience, know it, and thus it suffers immensely from a muted payoff.


The events of the past, like our own past, are unclear; they’re opaque, and the story of our past, much like the story The Sense of an Ending portrays, relies on the audience’s intellect to deduce what is fact and what is fiction. It’s an interesting story, with convoluted relationships and an ending which is not quite as  satisfying as it could be (something to which the title might allude).