An unfinished mourning: Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea (2016)

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This article considers the notions of grief and mourning in Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea (2016). The analysis centres on three moments characterized by the coexistence of two opposite states: numbness and an abundance of feelings; immobility and mobility; infidelity and fidelity. To understand each moment, I draw on three philosophical approaches to mourning elaborated by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida. In the first moment, I posit an analogy between the grief experienced by the film’s protagonist Lee and the grief described by Emerson in his essay ‘Experience’. In both cases, grief takes the form of numbness that only masks an abundance of feelings. In the second moment, I apply Barthes’s account of psychic immobility after his mother’s death to the film protagonist’s experience. In the third moment, I analyse Lee’s mourning in relation to Derrida’s concept of ‘possible’ (or ‘successful’) and unsuccessful mourning. Finally, this analysis turns to the question of the bereaved’s loyalty (to the departed, to those who survived and to one’s own grief). Together, these three perspectives reveal a complex, nuanced portrayal of mourning in Manchester by the Sea, which departs from the widespread Freudian understanding of grief and mourning.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)141 - 155
Number of pages15
JournalNew Cinemas: Journal of Contemporary Film
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2017


  • Barthes
  • Derrida
  • Emerson
  • grief
  • mourning
  • Manchester by the Sea
  • Lonergan


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