The Sense of an Ending is a small British drama based on a Booker Prize-winning novel of the same name. But don’t let the size of the movie fool you—the humanity on display far exceeds what seem to be modest cinematic goals.
Jim Broadbent is a curmudgeonly retired and divorced man in London who one day discovers he’s been bequeathed a diary written by a former classmate. The diary comes from the mother of a former girlfriend, and what’s more, that former girlfriend is now in possession of the diary and won’t give it up. What, exactly, is in the diary, and why she won’t part with it becomes one of the central mysteries of the film.
Which all sounds a bit complicated. But we start to piece together what may have happened through flashbacks, as Broadbent tells his ex-wife the story surrounding the classmate and the girlfriend so many years before, and here’s where the human aspect of the movie really shines. Broadbent and his ex-wife still have genuine affection for each other, even if they clearly have no business being together, and they’re able to communicate in a way that only two people who’ve been so close for so long are able to.
What’s more, we start to see the fallibility of memory, as revelations cause Broadbent to rethink his own recollection of what happened back in his school days, and he starts to realize that the stories we tell ourselves about our lives often become our lives, whether they reflect reality or not. So by the time we meet the old girlfriend, played in the present by a devastating Charlotte Rampling, Broadbent is finally beginning to see that his own actions likely played a major role in everything that came after.
The Sense of an Ending is unassuming, but no less engaging for it. What could have been a movie centered purely on solving the mystery of the diary instead smartly focuses on the human relationships involved, and how our own perceptions influence those relationships. And it’s probably a better movie because of it.