Review: Past circles back in ‘The Sense of an Ending’

Jim Broadbent and Charlotte Rampling do fine work in this story about what happens when the past comes knocking

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

“The Sense of an Ending” is a thorny little story about life’s loose ends and how they circle back around when the loops aren’t closed.

Jim Broadbent plays Tony Webster, a vintage camera shop owner whose youthful past comes rushing back to him when he’s informed by mail of a mysterious inheritance. It comes courtesy of the mother of one of his exes, Veronica, which leads Tony to revisit in his mind his old college love.

At issue is a diary, which is willed to Tony, but is withheld from him by Veronica. Why won’t she give it to him? And did Tony’s past unfold the same way he’s been telling himself for years?

Much of “The Sense of an Ending” is told in flashback, and director Ritesh Batra spreads out the pieces on the floor like a jigsaw puzzle. There’s a corner piece here, an edge here, and he slowly but deliberately puts them together until the full picture comes into focus.

Broadbent, so often a supporting player, is a treat in the lead role, soft and mournful, but with a youthful gleam in his eye. And Charlotte Rampling (as current day Veronica) is vicious in a small role, cutting Tony down with a simple glance while showing the deep wells of her character’s scars. It’s a bracing performance.

Nothing is easy in “The Sense of an Ending” (which is adapted from Julian Barnes’ 2011 novel), but it’s not supposed to be, and the story continues to reward the further it unfurls. It forces Tony to confront his past, and perhaps the reality that all of our stories aren’t quite as tidy as we like to remember them.

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‘The Sense of an Ending’


Rated R: for thematic elements, a violent image, sexuality and brief strong language

Running time: 108 minutes