TIFF Review: ‘The Sea’ Allows the Audience to Sink or Swim

September 11, 2013 9:32 pm Last Updated: September 26, 2014 1:06 pm

TORONTO—TIFF has no shortage of insightful films that give audiences an opportunity to think and explore ideas, told beautifully through sight and sound.

Such films expect a certain commitment from their audience, and those that enjoy them usually appreciate having their intelligence employed rather than insulted.

It is into these depths that director Stephen Brown brings the audience in his stirring vision of John Banville’s Booker-prize winning book “The Sea.”

It’s a sorrowful tale that compels viewers to contemplate the grief that all must face—without offering the emotional appeasements audiences have come to expect from the regular Hollywood fare.

“I think there is too great a burden put on cinema to provide explanation and complete resolution and the tying up of loose ends,” Brown told The Epoch Times.

“I think you can challenge that and say, ‘Well I think that’s less satisfying than having an honest attempt to face something and then offer the audience the opportunity to think it through for themselves.'”

With “The Sea,” Brown said he strove for truth in the story, a quality as difficult to pin down in life as it is in the often enigmatic characters that circle around the film’s protagonist Max Morden, played masterfully by Ciarán Hinds.

The gentle gloom that rolls through the film reaches a baleful crest as Morden attempts to resolve two separate tragedies that have left him haunted. Hinds says his character is a sour man, plagued by things left unfinished.

“Things don’t quite work out with him the way he wanted them to,” said Hinds

He summarized Morden’s character with a quote from Irish playwright Samuel Beckett, an influence on Banville:

“I can’t go on, I must go on, I’ll go on.”

Sometimes one’s demons can’t be resolved by simply facing them, noted Hinds.

“They come at you, you’re besieged by them, battered by them, and you’ve been taken somewhere by your past,” he said.

There is a lament that pervades “The Sea” from its opening scenes to its final moments, a sense of regret or loss that propels Morden and cripples him.

Brown notes that all must suffer loss, and at one time or another be laid down by tragedies locked away in our past—like the loss of a loved one.

“We all go through grief … That kind of unexpected event is not uncommon,” he said.

Brown leaves much of the exposition of the film for the viewer to infer, but gives ever-swelling clues as to the subtle perversion that runs through the family that adopts a young Morden for one traumatic summer.

The climax of that summer comes in tandem with two other stories interweaved throughout the film, telling of three different points in Morden’s life.

While Brown faced a challenge turning Banville’s abstract novel into a concrete movie, he had the help of the author himself, who wrote the screenplay and then stepped aside to let Brown do with it what he would.

The result is a moving story told by compelling characters.