The Sense of an Ending

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
The Sense of an Ending Movie Poster Image
Memories may be unreliable in compelling, mature drama.
  • PG-13
  • 2017
  • 108 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

People often aren't aware how they really affect others, and when you look back on things, it's easy to construct stories that may be more favorable than what really happened. The past can be painful, and some people prefer to revise their own personal histories.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Tony is so convinced that he was the wronged party in a love affair gone wrong decades ago that he can't even imagine how he might have contributed to the situation. Now he's confounded that his ex-girlfriend from so long ago remembers things differently and still harbors hostility toward him.

Violence

Arguing. One key scene shows a suicide (not explicit/graphic).

Sex

A couple fools around in the back seat of a car, but they stop before it goes very far. Later, they get together indoors; the woman is seen in her bra, and they're shown embracing, kissing, and moving together in the throes of passion. A big plot point involves a sexual affair between two people; we don't see them involved, but it's discussed.

Language

One use of "f--k," as well as "s--t," "ass," "bollocks," "damn," "for god's sake," and "Jesus Christ" as exclamations.

Consumerism

The main character owns a camera shop that specializes in high-end Leicas. Some people have iPhones. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some characters smoke cigarettes. Adults are shown drinking at bars and parties or while socializing over meals. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Sense of an Ending is a drama that plays with the idea of memory. A couple long broken up reunites, and it becomes clear that they remember their relationship very differently. Based on the award-winning novel by Julian Barnes, the story's mature themes and characters will probably appeal more to older teens and adults than younger viewers. That said, things don't get too racy; there's some fooling around and implied sex, but nothing truly graphic. You can also expect moderate drinking and smoking, and a little swearing (including one use of "f--k").

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What's the story?

In THE SENSE OF AN ENDING, Tony (Jim Broadbent), a divorced semi-retiree, gets a letter out of the blue that reconnects him to his college girlfriend, Veronica (Charlotte Rampling). Tony is spurred to recall how their relationship went sour and how it affected his connection to his best friend at the time. In a series of flashbacks, we see the young couple in good times and in less-good times, as current-day Tony tries to understand why, decades later, Veronica still harbors anger toward him. 

Is it any good?

Based on Julian Barnes' Booker Prize-winning novel of the same name, this drama is a good movie -- but not great. The lyricism that marked the book doesn't quite translate to the screen. Its power is hindered by a lack of depth in sections that were more expertly excavated in the book, as well as by the script's inability to bring all the characters fully to life. It's only Tony who is truly nuanced. And though, as the protagonist, he's the one that viewers really has to know best, the rest of the cast -- including Veronica's mother, who plays an important role but is one-dimensional here (though not through any failure on the part of actress Emily Mortimer) -- is important, too. So is Veronica herself.  

The movie is also bogged down by its structure. The story careens from present to past, from biased memory to a clear, comprehensive picture. As a result, the story's philosophical moorings -- which are the strength of the book -- get lost in the shuffle. Still, The Sense of an Ending is thought-provoking and worth seeing for Broadbent's empathetic portrayal of a man who can't quite be honest with himself about the events of his life and who he is -- until truth finally stares him in the face. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how The Sense of an Ending deals with relationships and sex. How does sex impact the way the characters feel about each other? Parents, talk to your teens about your own values regarding these topics.

  • What role does memory play in this story? Why might two people's memories of the same event differ? How can you decide which version is the most accurate/"right"?

  • Why is Tony so surprised that people from his past may harbor old grudges? Does he demonstrate any sense of empathy that shows he understands why people may still have some anger toward him?

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