Manchester By the Sea, director Kenneth Lonergan‘s 2016 drama which earned Casey Affleck an Academy Award for Best Actor, ends with a quiet scene on a boat. (I’ll be vague for now to avoid spoilers.) But according to producer Matt Damon, Lonergan originally had a much larger ending in mind – one that involved a flashback, some whales, and a drone shot that simply proved too expensive for the indie film’s budget to overcome.
Read Damon’s description of Lonergan’s original Manchester by the Sea ending below.
Matt Damon – who nearly starred in Manchester By the Sea but eventually ended up producing it, paving the way for the younger Affleck brother’s first acting Oscar – was recently a guest on the Bill Simmons Podcast (via The Playlist), where he talked about what Lonergan wanted the ending to be (Spoilers ahead):
“I love Manchester, I’m incredibly proud of it, but Kenny had an ending—there was this scene where they were on the boat that the whole movie’s kind of about, and it was a flashback to before Casey’s kids had died, before his brother had died, when he was still married to Michelle [Williams], and they were all on this boat and they were whale watching. It’s this incredible moment of joy and you see this family all together and then these whales start breaching out of the water. You needed [a] fucking drone cam, I mean it was one day of shooting and you gotta get lucky with the whales, but either way we could’ve figured that out. It was this epic [scene], so as the camera pulls back as this family is experiencing this incredible joy—and you know it’s about to go horribly wrong for them—the camera’s pulling up, up, up and it reveals all of these other boats all around it, and it’s all of these other families watching these whales and it’s like this is one little story in this sea of stories. It was epic and it was beautiful and it tied the whole thing together, and we ran out of money (laughs). It was like, ‘fuck.’”
Here comes a hot take for you: I thought Manchester By the Sea was only okay. The performances were impressive, and the flashback to how Affleck’s character lost his kids in a fire was devastating, but I wasn’t as bowled over by the story as the rest of the world seemed to be.
The visual Damon describes of this story being one of many in a vast sea of other stories sounds like a minor detail, but it’s the kind of subtle touch that can add to a movie’s complex tapestry and create an entirely different perception of it when the end credits roll. In fact, I distinctly remember thinking, “Wait, that’s it?” when the movie came to a close, so perhaps this original ending would have left a larger impact on me.
Still, Amazon Studios is pleased with how the film turned out: in addition to Affleck’s Oscar win, Lonergan took home a trophy for Best Original Screenplay that year and it put the streaming service on the map as a serious awards contender.
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