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The world of “Manchester by the Sea” is the world imagined by white men in an era when a Black man was in the white house and women held public offices at many levels. It is a world where the white working class man has no power – he dies young (Lee’s brother), he lives alone (Lee), he cannot even enjoy spending time in his basement with other white men.

White Men Behaving Sadly

Sad white men

At the end of a year in which men behaved badly, madly, and even gladly, how appropriate that an Oscar contending film appears in which men behave, yup, sadly. Indeed all the ladly behaviors that make up the repertoire of white masculinity have culminated in this – a film where we finally understand why the white man is sad, why everyone else is bad and why despite being sad because everyone else is bad, he learns to be a dad.

Manchester by The Sea (directed by Kenneth Lonergan) is a self-indulgent but pretty picture in which Affleck the Younger, Casey that is, mopes around for a full hour onscreen before we understand that something terrible has happened to him. His brother dies but that barely merits a tear from our sad sack chap. So could it be that he has a really bad job as a handy man that puts him in the way of verbal abuse from women and people or color and even an episode that comes close to sexual harassment from a woman of color? No, the sad white man mostly just takes the abuse and keeps on keeping on. He soldiers on because he is a white man behaving sadly and that is what white men do. So what is the terrible thing that has happened to Casey Affleck to make him move around in the world like a zombie, silent and brooding, angry and resentful. Well, spoiler alert, let me explain. Lee Chandler (played by Affleck the Younger), we find out in flashbacks, once had a wife and some kids. And he was a good man. And he behaved gladly and sometimes even a little badly. Like, one night he had his buddies over and they made too much noise. So his wife broke up the party and made them go home. Sulking, Lee makes a fire in the living room and then steps out into the night to get some more beer. By the time he gets home, his house has burned down with his children in it and only his wife escapes.


After an episode in the police station where you think that maybe he might be charged with something, manslaughter perhaps, he finally wigs out about what has happened and tries to grab a police officer’s gun, presumably to kill himself. The police politely restrain him and he is released to his brother’s care. Well, wow. So he burned his own house down and waved a gun around in a police station and lived to tell the tale because…sad white men’s lives matter and so accidently burning your kids and waving a gun at cops is not a big deal and just requires a little TLC! Don’t you get it? He is hurting and we are expected to cry for him because it is all so sad…for him! Not for his wife, not for those kids, not for his brother, but for him. All the bad things that happen around him, are his bad things.

Why are white men so sad? Well, in this film, they are sad because women are fucked up shrews and alcoholics who drag them down, give them heart attacks and, for god’s sake, try to talk to them and offer them food. They are also sad because they work for very little money and do the worst jobs in the world. They clean other peoples’ toilets, fix their showers and live in small garrets alone and with very bad furniture. Poor sad white men. This sad white man also has to take on the burden of parenthood after his brother’s death. His brother left his only son in Lee’s care and Lee and the boy tussle about girls, sex and authority until Lee learns to see the boy as his heir, as another white man who should enjoy his adolescence because soon everything will be taken from him too.


Yes, reader, this is a film made to measure for the coming Trump era, a time when white men can stop being sad, feel very glad and grab lots of pussy with impunity. Like Trump’s entire campaign, this film does not need to trumpet its white supremacy because this doctrine is embedded in every scene, it saturates every shot, it controls the camera and it lives in every hangdog moment that Lee Chandler spends staring silently off into space. Whiteness, the film tells us, is part of the frayed beauty of America and its power hangs in the balance in a world where bad things can and do happen to white men…even when they themselves cause those bad things to happen! Indeed, off screen Casey Affleck has been cast as a serial sexual abuser and while accusations of sexual harassment brought Black director Nate Parker’s Oscar hopes to a sordid conclusion, Affleck’s history with sexual harassment suits barely merits a mention. This film gives us a clue as to how powerful white men see the world, women, love, loss and violence – it is all one tragic narrative about how hurt and misunderstood they really are.


The world of “Manchester by the Sea” is the world imagined by white men in an era when a Black man was in the white house and women held public offices at many levels. It is a world where the white working class man has no power – he dies young (Lee’s brother), he lives alone (Lee), he cannot even enjoy spending time in his basement with other white men. His wife treats him badly and then later, after the tragic event (that he himself caused) his Black boss and his female customers abuse him. The white world of Manchester by the Sea is elegiac, brimming with a sense of tragedy that exceeds the events on the screen and asks us, begs us even to find a reason for why things should be this way.


There are great tragedies written about women who have killed or been forced to kill their children – think of Sethe in Toni Morrison’s Beloved who takes a hatchet to her baby rather than relinquish her back to slavery. Think of Medea who kills her children to take revenge on her husband and their father, Jason, for leaving them. Think of Sophie in William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice who must choose to let one child live and the other die upon entering Auschwitz. These stories show infanticide as a deliberate action taken as part of a sacrifice or to prevent something worse than death from happening. No such logic underwrites Manchester by the Sea – the death of the children is almost gratuitous, it means nothing in the film except as its function as the source of irreducible melancholia for the white man. This same melancholia does not affect his wife (played by Michelle Williams) who quickly marries and has another child. There is no set up in the film to show us the bond between Lee and his children; there is little that explains the melancholia – is it guilt? Anger?


While critics fall over themselves to give this film an Oscar, we should ask what the film is really about. If this film is an allegory then it is a perfect symbolic landscape of the territory that ushered Trump into office – the film sees the world only through the eyes of working class white men. It sees such men as tragic and heroic, as stoic and moral, as stern but good. The film knows that the tragedy from which the white man suffers is of his own making but nonetheless the film believes that the tragedies that they have created happen to them and not to other people. This is the same logic by which Dylan Roof took the lives of nine African American church-goers in South Carolina while claiming to be defending white people from Black criminality and it is the logic by which Elliot Rodger killed six people and wounded fourteen others in Isla Vista near UC Santa Barbara in 2014. Rodger left a manifesto behind that represented him as a victim of women who had sexually rejected him. It is the logic of every lone white gunman in America and while the media depicts these killers as mad and marginal, American cinema romanticizes them as sad and solitary. Obviously, Manchester by the Sea is not about a serial killer who turns a gun on innocents and yet innocents do die by his hand and rather than seeing this as a tragic narrative about white male narcissism or about the dangers of centering one group in a complex society, we are asked to read the film as just another story about white men behaving sadly.


And now, in Oscar season, we prepare to watch the films that celebrate white families, white song and dance, white grief, white music go up against films about Black families (Fences), Black grief (Moonlight), disaporic displacement (Lion), and win or lose, we can hear the storm troopers outside on the streets. Films that a few months ago just seemed to be about sad things or happy things, now appear in a new light and become part of our national tragedy in which all attempts to make diversity mean something, to resist systems that criminalize communities of color while representing white crime as law and order, to rethink sex, are quickly dismissed as identity politics, political correctness or authoritarian feminism. It is time, apparently to make America great again, to cater to the sad white man, to feel his pain, to lift him up and dry his tears. White men have been sad for too long apparently, now it is our turn.

63 replies on “WHITE MEN BEHAVING SADLY by Jack Halberstam”

I found this review, somewhat curiously, a bit genre-deaf and simplistic coming from a thinker who typically brings a subtle and nuanced view to the intersections of affect, masculinity, and representation. So much of this film is cast in a tragicomic–not tragic– light that encourages the viewer to question the absurdly self-centered and racially privileged responses of the protagonist to his life’s apparent “turmoil.” The attempt to situate the film in light of tragedies by Morrison, Seneca, etc. seems less helpful than connecting it to, say, early modern tragicomedies by writers like Ben Jonson and Shakespeare, or even modern variants on the form by someone like Beckett.

Idiotic review by a self loathing, pandering liberal lunatic. White men aren’t human beings in Jacks, world. Anti white racism does exist? Just ask the over 600,000 whites who are the victims of interracial violent attacks every year. In Mr Halberstam’s mind all white men are evil and racist, hellbent on destroying everybody who isn’t white. In reality, it is white christian nations that are the most tolerant societies in the world today. Also, white men created cinema so they should have a say about the artforms and industries they create.

Manchester by the sea Is a story about the complexity of forgiveness—not just forgiving other people who’ve caused you pain, but forgiving yourself for inflicting pain on others. It’s a story about parenting, of the biological, foster and improvised kind. And it’s a portrait of a tightly knit community that depends mainly on one industry, fishing, and that has evolved certain ways of speaking, thinking, and feeling. And—perhaps the biggest paradox in a movie filled with them—it’s a full-blown melodrama, packed with the sorts of events that a silent filmmaker might hesitate to jam into one film for fear of being accused of overdoing it, and yet the characters are so emotionally guarded, at times emotionally constipated, that they rein the movie in and stop it from becoming too much.

It’s the funniest movie about grief ever made. But that’s far from the only remarkable thing about it. This film by playwright turned filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan contains multitudes of emotions, people and ideas, in such abundance that if you ask somebody to describe it, you should probably take a seat first.

Folks – I rest my case. The aforesigned “Mr. White Privilege” lets it all hang out above. As he worries about interracial violence directed at the sad white man, he also argues that “white christian nations are the most tolerant societies in the world” – holy crap – where to begin with that one – never mind slavery, genocidal projects, Ku Klux Klan and current religious right Fascist shenanigans, the poor white man apparently tolerates everyone only to be met with anti-white hate crimes and liberal lunatics! Poor, poor sad white men – lucky they developed cinema in order to have at least one platform in a world of people out to get them. Apparently we should be thanking Kenneth Lonergan for this funny and emotionally complex film not berating a downtrodden minority. Good to know!

Funny Mr. White Privilege, for most of modern European history Jewish people were not considered white, but now you want to claim them in your reference to the invention of cinema. I’m not Jewish but I’m pretty sure that that inclusion as “white” would be news to Jewish people, who don’t consider themselves white (nor should they be). The economic situation of a fishing village would be what Europe would’ve amounted to were you to deduct from European history certain non white populations, not to mention the free labor and free resources taken from other places around the world.

Well this is a funny and perceptive review but are we sure that racism — even anti-white-male racism — is really the way we want to go? I mean, the review makes a nod towards diversity but basically is about mocking and dare I say hating a poor white guy for being unhappy about his tragedy. You want him in jail for manslaughter, how right wing of you. The fire is all his fault and not his wife’s, how sexist of you, because after all men are the responsible ones. It just seems to me that adding to the hate between different groups is just not the smart way to go.

This is nonsense and this is exactly how people have rallied around the film. “Anti-white-male-racism” is not a thing and no one is “mocking” or “hating” a poor white guy. This is FILM, he is a CHARACTER, I wrote a REVIEW. I am not calling for him to be jailed because he is not real – I am noting the very different treatment that white and Black crime receive in Hollywood. Buy by the way, the fire was totally his fault and the fact that you did not get that from the film and now want to blame is wife tells us everything we need to know about how the film plays to white guy emotions and leaves everyone else out in the cold.

No I’m not blaming the wife I’m just noting that champions of victims often deny them their own agency. And really, you’re the one who is elevating this fiction into a measure of the real world, so you can hardly claim that its general racist tenor — and of course it’s only fair that finally white men know what it’s like to be singled out negatively because of their race — doesn’t really count. What I’m saying, fairly gently I think, that encouraging racial animus is not progressive. I didn’t see the film, or Birth of a Nation, because who wants to watch black women be raped and killed? Not me. Didn’t see Shoah either. I get that from the news.

I think you really don’t understand the film at all. You’ve taken it as a chance to make a statement about the Trump era but the film has nothing to do with that and was made years before Trump was even elected or even the primary candidate. As a filmmaker in Hollywood, I know NO ONE who is speaking on the film in this light and NO ONE who is shunning Moonlight or Fences because they are minority films. If you really want racial equality, why can’t white people be sad just like any other person of color? His character is not sad because he’s a white man who hasn’t succeeded to Goldman Sachs, a white picket fence, and a hot Russian model wife. He’s sad because of mistakes he made in his life. If you murdered your children, you can’t be sad because you’re white? This is what I’m misunderstanding about your post. But please feel free to explain your motivation.

Thank you Brent for reading and responding. I am not saying the character cannot be sad – I am saying that the representation of white male melancholy is without a proper reference point. IN another film the character’s tragedy would stem from structural inequalities, injustice, oppression and so on. In this case, the male character’s sadness is never represented as a result of his own irresponsible behavior – we are never given the perspective of his wife who would have been devastated or anyone else who must have been impacted by his stupidity. By asking us to empathize with this character, the film must foreclose all the other stories that crowd in on the scene of tragedy. IN addition, his actions are NEVER cast as criminal or even worthy of blame. And by the way, this plays out in real life where Casey Affleck’s sexual harassment cases are just cast aside as irrelevant…

“Never worthy of blame”….I don’t think that is completely true. Recall that he is unemployable in his hometown because of how people view his actions. Social ostracism isn’t exactly nothing. Its a bit of a thing in the plot–that he cannot live and work where his nephew has roots and wants to stay. Look, I get some of where you are coming from. Yep–Its a dopey white guy who gets more than black folk would have. No question. Its also a bit of a story about people making life changing, tragic stupid mistakes–and that can transcend race. Maybe it didn’t do a great job, in some regards. Privilege is also just being educated, and not having to take whatever shit job you can get. And feeling like you are worthy–which this this character does not.

Very nice to hear that Brent thinks you don’t understand the film at all. I was talking with women after the screening about why we hated the film, and a man in a row in front of us turned around and kindly mansplained to us how we simply did not understand the film, and that it was a GREAT film. He felt sorry for us for missing that. Thank you for a brilliant review.

Yup!! There are a lot of mansplainers winding up to pitch this film as universal, truly sad, about our shared vulnerabilities etc. ad nauseum.

Thank YOU! For expressing the sense I have had since I watched the film a week ago. The sense basically that I had eaten a bad meal which was regurgitating violently…the misogyny of the film alone made me mad, but underlying all that, the whitey-whiteness….aaarrrgghhh.

This review is mostly asinine. It attempts to shoehorn a take on a very good – not great – movie into a larger point on Trumpism, but to do it makes some really stupid and false observations.

E.g., “In this film, they are sad because women are fucked up shrews and alcoholics who drag them down, give them heart attacks and, for god’s sake, try to talk to them and offer them food. They are also sad because they work for very little money and do the worst jobs in the world. They clean other peoples’ toilets, fix their showers and live in small garrets alone and with very bad furniture. Poor sad white men.”

Really? The main character’s 3 kids burned to death. That may explain maybe part of his sadness. Actually, all of it.

Oh wait, the review says, that can’t be right, because “[t]here is no set up in the film to show us the bond between Lee and his children; there is little that explains the melancholia – is it guilt? Anger?”

Putting aside the scenes, such as those with his kids before their death, that provide that very set up, do we really need any exposition to explain why a character – albeit a white guy – would be devastated by his kids’ death? And guilty and angry re his role in it? Of course not.

And you can see the guilt in the character’s actions – his attempted suicide, his repeated punishing himself, his nightmare when his kids revisit him and say they are burning. And you see his anger right below the surface, and often above it, in the many times the character gets in bar fights.

All of this disregard for what actually happens in the movie is in apparent service to the review’s main, truly lame point, namely that the main character’s grief is somehow not valid because a white man is presented as feeling it. I’m pretty white, and pretty male, but I can tell you, I’ve felt great grief. My undoubted privilege took little of the sting off.

Straight white guys get too much screen time. Hollywood feels an unrelenting and unjustified need to present them as heroes to their darker skinned, gayer and/or more feminine characters in movies. White, straight male supremacy is an unspoken theme in Western culture, Hollywood included.

And there is, undoubtedly, unspoken white supremacy in this movie – the main character’s descent is depicted in large part by the fact that he has an African American boss and a job where an African American woman hits on him (though she seems pretty cool, and his boss is not a complete dick). The reviewer picked up on that point – like I said, this review is “mostly asinine”, not entirely.

But one can make that point without flat out lying about what happens in the movie, and, more importantly, without making the dehumanizing assumption that straight white men are automatons whose grief, even in the face of unfathomable tragedy is undeserved and inexplicable.

Piss. Off.

Wow, the white guys are coming out now…mansplain that bit to me again about how sad he is that HE KILLED HIS OWN KIDS. Oh poor, poor sad white man. Listen, I am not the one making this film about white masculinity and its melancholia – this is the very point of the film and yes, it is in tune with the rhetoric and narrative sleight of hand that elected Trump because somehow, white men and lots of white women in this country believe that whatever is wrong with this country comes from queers and immigrants and especially queer, immigrant muslims! It never, in Trump’s skewed reality, has anything to do with them. This is the narrative arc I am tracing and finding in this film. The film makes no sense other than in its appeal to a mythic sense of white masculine fragility. Why do so so many white men love this film? No one doubts that white men grieve, that when you cut them they bleed, when you slight them, they hurt; but films are not simply about individual pain and suffering, they offer us a visual landscape within which we can recognize or miss the political landmarks of our moment. This film wants us to believe that white men’s pain is special and unique and now we want to reward it with an Oscar for telling us so. You know that some of what I am saying makes sense – otheriwse, why are you so upset about a slightly humorous blog?

Wow, indeed. That is such a rag-bag of non-sequiturs it’s hard to know how to respond, but I will try:

“You know that some of what I am saying makes sense – otherwise, why are you so upset about a slightly humorous blog?” Come on. That sounds like it came out of the mouth of an alt-right internet troll – “hey, it’s a joke, but I must be kinda right because I hit a nerve” Offensive comments are not true just because they elicit strong negative reactions. The original Birth of a Nation filled me with rage, and not because its racist caricatures “made sense.”

I’m mansplaining? You publicly posted a controversial, admittedly contrarian article on a post that invites comment. If my disagreeing with you while having male bits crosses some line, then you should re-think the line, and make clear that no men need comment except to say “hooray”. Wait, did you trick me into mansplaining again? Well played.

Your respond to none of my points, including those that point out your misrepresentation of what actually occurs in the movie, but instead scramble to change the subject.

Except, maybe, to respond to my point that his melancholy is, in truth, not inexplicable, since his kids died. To which you respond – “HE KILLED HIS OWN KIDS” (all caps. Really? That is for dumb republican uncles on Facebook). Yes, he did, accidentally. But that would make his grieving no less acute, but likely more so.

You suggest that this movie, like Trumpists, tries to deflect guilt away from the real wrongdoers, and leave white men blameless. But nothing in this movie really happened. Had the filmmakers wanted to make him blameless, they would not have had him drunkenly neglect to put a screen in the fireplace then stumble away to the liquor store while his kids burned alive. They intentionally placed a large part of the blame on him. Unlike a real Trumpian ode – Sully, which invented facts about a real event to fortify the myth of white male victimhood.

The movie “ is in tune with the rhetoric and narrative sleight of hand that elected Trump because somehow, white men and lots of white women in this country believe that whatever is wrong with this country comes from queers and immigrants and especially queer, immigrant muslims!” I am beginning to think you didn’t even watch the movie, and maybe just read some reviews of it. None of those groups get blamed for anything in this movie.

“The film makes no sense other than in its appeal to a mythic sense of white masculine fragility. Why do so so many white men love this film?” You got me there. Yes, because so many white men like this movie, it must be no more than a Trumpian ode to lost white privilege. By that logic, so must be Caddshack, Tommyboy, Field of Dreams most Star Wars movies and Spike Lee’s 25th Hour. Spike, you disappoint me.

Did you ask any white guys why they like this movie? I know we are just seething cauldrons of resentment, but we can occasionally sputter out coherent observations. I liked it because it actually showed a guy feeling grief. That is pretty rare for movies. Cinematic guys triumph, or, if they are villains, get triumphed over. And the only acceptable cinematic guy response to tragedy is rage and a desire for revenge. But the filmmakers took that option away by making him the most culpable person in this tragedy. And he doesn’t triumph over the grief. He just barely comes to terms with it, when he, by no design of his own, absolutely has to in order to try to do the right thing. All of which I could generally relate to, all while feeling no misplaced Trumpian sense of victimhood.

But Colin – why are you SO angry. Telling me to “piss off,” calling the review asinine, refusing to take my review on its own terms – namely asking what is film tells us about our contemporary political moment. There is no need for this rage – the film is about white male anguish and tragedy, we agree. Yes, the tragic event is the death of his children, we agree. He himself caused these deaths, we agree. But I am saying that the film, from there, idealizes and romanticizes the guy’s grief. You disagree. I argue that this is a world emptied of people of color (who appear only as people who bother the main character), dismissive of women, and committed to a very specific narrative of white masculine pain. I argue that such a story built around a man of color would have a very different outcome – imagine a scene in which a Black man has burned his house down, killed his children and then tries to grab a police man’s gun. Would he survive?

It is ok to disagree but let’s scale down the rage!!

A note to a later comment you make that seems to find an element of non-agreement: “the film is about white male anguish” — I think it symbolizes that for you. Yeah–I get that you are sick of no females, or people of color, here, or elsewhere. That all (of course) makes sense. But, I honestly also think that keeps it this from being “a film about the anguish of a particular white male.” I don’t think this is about a Zeitgeist. Honestly, some of the fawning over this is the minor victory of the characters not being unflawed Hollywood models. Yeah….its a small victory…but sheesh…I mean…Hidden Figures was such a feelgood whitewash….

I live in South Africa. Greetings from Cape Town. I agree totally with what you say, I also left the cinema thinking, What? I’ve shared your review, mainly white people complained about it (the review). Bitterly. Please, you are spot on, I get what you are saying. That it has to spelled out is bizarre. His sadness is pure narcissistic injury. He’ll probably win an Oscar, as his long, sad face will appeal to the hurt little boys masquerading as big men.


THANK YOU! I hated this film. I felt like I had been watching it for 4 hours when it was only 40 minutes in. I was so focused on the terrible acting by Affleck and the almost complete lack of narrative structure to really analyze why the whole affair was so offensive to me. Thank you so very much for putting it in perspective for me.

Repetition of a canard – here, that “you’re angry, so I must be right” – makes it no more true. Even if you modify it with adjectives – “you are SO angry, so I must be right.” Turn on Rush Limbaugh for an hour. Maybe you, unlike me, can do so without feeling rage, but any rage you may feel does not result from his speaking truth, but his spewing damaging lies.

Your responses to my comment repeats the flawed arguments that elicited my strong negative reaction to your article, namely, that emotions felt by, or viewpoints espoused by, white men are inherently invalid, and/or unfounded. E.g., my comment was just “mansplaining”. Or that a white men’s positive reaction to a movie must somehow mean that the movie is, at its core, rotten. Or that a white father’s grief at the loss of his kids, particularly due to his own stupidity, needs plenty of explaining for it to make any sense. Do you demand the same of women in tragic movies? Sophie’s Choice was too painful for me to watch twice, but I don’t recall the movie’s spending much time establishing her bond with her children. It, fairly, assumed it. Why was Lonergan wrong to assume the same of Lee Chandler?

Those arguments rest on dehumanizing premises, in that they assume the invalidity or inexplicability of viewpoints or emotions just because of the speaker’s largely immutable characteristics like their gender identity or skin tone. Denying someone’s basic humanity is going to elicit strong negative reactions, and not because doing so is “true”. And that kind of dehumanization is the lie at the core of all bigotry. All such bigotry is not equally damaging – “honky” yelled from the belly of a slave ship is worlds less evil than racist views held by a President. But, at bottom, all bigotry rests on the same evil lie.

Saying “Piss off’ to a dehumanizing argument, or calling it asinine, is pretty tame. And at least I gave you the courtesy of taking on your argument on its own terms, instead of, as you did, pointing out my gender and skin tone as a supposed basis for why my argument is flawed.

On “mansplaining.” If, as I understand, that terms refer largely to the speaker’s condescension, all the “splaining” is on your end than mine, e.g,, the use of my first name and observing my anger (“calm down, Mary”), and the pointing out of the painfully obvious – you note “It is ok to disagree”. Really? Thanks!

Returning to the movie’s merits, yes, his stupidity caused his kids’ death. And, yes, the law does not punish him. But, rather than make his grief inexplicable, all that explains why his grief is so strong, and poignant. His role in his kids’ death give his grief nowhere to rest and makes it boundless, and the law’s failure to hold him accountable forces him into the role of his own jailer, after his failed efforts at being his own executioner. His attempt to navigate his way out of a largely self-imposed hell was, to me and others, riveting. As your own response observes, Medea is still tragic despite her central (and, unlike Lee Chandler’s, deliberate) role in her kids’ death.

Yes, his grief was romanticized to some extent. But show me a movie that does not romanticize its subject matter and I am sure we won’t have to wait in line to long for seats. And his grief was not, as you contend, idealized. He did not, for example, go all “About a Boy” and overcome his personal demons because he needed to be a father to his nephew. His grief lets up only slightly so he can arrange for someone not as damaged to take care of the boy. If that’s “ideal” I need to check the dictionary.

Do love your writing. I had a different feeling about the film. I spent long hard years teaching in a New England college in a small town. The number of stories of deadly house fires and carbon monoxide deaths from bad furnaces punctuated several decades in a desolate ice patch. How does it happen so often? Front page news regularly–the burned out house, the fire fighters that can’t stop the blaze even under snow and maybe since so many are volunteers. The dead ex-fishing towns, the heavy drinking scene –it all seemed so familiar to me as I watched. I felt like I was there again–having moved away some years ago. The filming of the weather, the dialogue, it seemed real to me, well-done. “Affleck” was laughed at a lot by my audience anyways. I thought the writing, the dialogue, was strong that way. Dunno. I like that you put your view out there for your readers to ponder.

I feel like some of these comments are proving the very (valuable and pertinent) points made by Dr. Halberstam, those that you apparently are trying to debunk (not successfully or skillfully either).

ALL white men are not like this. You are falling into the trap of categorizing just because they are white men. ROLE reversal. Like saying all black men are criminals. Reverse racism is still racism.
Saying the Oscar noms are white movies against black movies is also fueling the “fire”. This is entertainment. Although some movies are depicted from real life it is still entertainment. Everyone of these movies were excellent movies. They should be appreciated for exactly that… a well done movie.
As far as the Oscars and all those Awards that the entertainment industry bestow on themselves to me is just them patting themselves on the back. Kinda like the thing, people are complaining about that Trump is doing. So again Role Reversal. It not OK for him to do but it’s OK for them.
I won’t say God Bless America
I will say God Please Save America!

I have the suspicion that *any* response to this article coming from white men that was anything other than celebratory would be met with accusations of “fragility”/”mansplaining”/”see! just proved my point”. Because that’s the by-now-quite-familiar rhetorical strategy at work here.

I’m flummoxed that people still somehow think this sort of thing is edgy or radical or somehow politically productive for the left. I have the feeling that mocking white men in this way has exactly the opposite effect people imagine it to have; i.e. it *recenters* white masculinity and literally *provokes* the aggrieved entitlement it aims to call out in order to generate further content. It’s so perfectly transparent that it has been literally crowdsourced to woke 14-year-olds on Twitter.

Jack, Can we have a little basic honesty? Not only about this article, but about *all* your writing and scholarship about (cis) white men?

The fact that you’ve provoked a bunch of white men to anger with this stuff is not surprising; it’s also not radical, incisive, or revelatory of anything in particular; you spend hundreds of words relentlessly *mocking* white male affect, so much so that your actual argument about structural racism is almost totally obscured.

Yes, of course it’s a review of a work of fiction, that’s obvious; but the fact that white men are responding this way (as I’m sure you expected and wanted!) does not in fact reveal anything in particular about aggrieved entitlement or Trump’s America. This whole tawdry expectation that the good, woke white men are the one’s who *don’t* respond this way because they’ll be righteous enough not to get mad at you relentlessly mocking them, and thus agree with you–is so dishonest. It just reduces any and all critical analysis or discussion of affect and identity to an essentializing contest of performative virtue– to a closed circuit loop of empty identitarian signalling and performative politics.

All this reveals only that you (as a professor of affect and white masculinity!) know very well how to provoke white men to anger using your words– ostensibly detached “analysis”! It reveals surprisingly little *emotional intelligence* for an author who claims to have some sort of insight into these matters. You know how to manipulate white male readership into
anger *so that* you can call it out! It makes me wonder about just what identitarian stance an author who so relentlessly postures about white males is taking… What about *your* identification with white masculinity?

This mockery of the intrinsic violence and ridiculousness of white male affect feels evasive and cheap; it’s a feature of all of your scholarship on the subject; one could be forgiven for interpreting the attitude communicated to white male readers as the following: “Don’t show your feelings and toughen up.” There’s something relentlessly *masculinist* about

And because the review is so relentlessly focused on this strategy, it ironically ends up re-centering white male identity in both its content and in the discussion in the comments!

I understand mocking white men is fun and cathartic for some people. That;s great And by all means, let’s address the points you want to make about structural racism, white male privilege, and film criticism. But, again, can we stop pretending that making fun of white men is somehow this edgy, tactically brilliant manuevre that exposes hidden power structures and opens up critical debate? It quite literally does the opposite.

Thank you for this honest response! I hear that you feel I am mocking white men and making the emotion expressed by white men seem ridiculous and laughable. I understand you think that I am implicated in the very masculinity that I take to task and that you see this kind of writing as a waste of time and as something that plays into the very tensions it proposes to expose or resolve. I know that you are annoyed that my humorous take down of a beloved film gets cast as potentially edgy. I hear all of that and I can certainly think about these points. However, there is a big miss here – I am not relentlessly parodying white men as a group simply for showing emotion. I am asking about the national attachment to a particular narrative of white male vulnerability at a time when white men are not particularly vulnerable at all! I am trying to understand how this narrative – a story about a guy who kills his kids by accident, loses his wife as a consequence and becomes suicidal in the process – seems to foreground the guy’s pain while allowing his wife’s immense grief to simply manifest in her heartless abandonment of him. I am reading the sad white male trope against some traditional and conventional casting of women as needy addicts, annoying shrews and weak spinsters. Surely we can tolerate such a reading at a time when we are surrounded by the disastrous aftermath of a political contest that pandered to the needs of white working class men and blatantly ignored all other political subjects. Surely we can entertain a little humor at the expense of white guys after we have endured centuries of humor at the expense of everyone else.

I know this film touches a nerve, especially for viewers interested in the affective experience of class in the US and I do apologize for any pain my reading may have caused…but I stand by it. As someone whose very existence as a queer masculine subject makes me the target of countless barbs and jokes, I will bash back with humor and a little insight and obviously, I hope to occasionally land a few rhetorical punches. Feel free to email me back if you want to continue the conversation, I actually really valued your perspective here.

How can you say “white men” are not vulnerable? This is precisely the problem, of course. That a coastal college professor can describe a (fictional, but realistic) plumber from a dying fishing town as more privileged than he — it betrays such profound classism that it seems absurd. Why are white men sad? Perhaps because they’re poor, jobless, screwed over by republicans and democrats alike, and yet denied their vulnerability by elitist professors who get to talk about film all day.

Layla – who said that white men are NOT vulnerable? this is a review of a film and of the way it introduces “a terrible thing” as the source of his sadness. The film never ever suggests that the white man is sad because he is in a dying fishing town or underpaid or under represented. His sadness is a product of a terrible accident of his own making and his grief is exacerbated in the film by the women who abandon him and his nephew. My review is precisely pitched to ask whether the film, under the guise of melancholic empathy, is actually continuing to screw the white guy over and all the women he dates along with him…and the nephew who is already well into a career of deceiving women by the time we meet him!! Be angry with the film not me!

Actually I thought it was an insightful and accurate critique of a particular culture of men stunted by their inability to communicate and how toxic that is to them and those around them. I agree Moonlight is a better film though.

The movie showed what it is like to live in a small, mostly all white fishing community: not a lot of emotions flowing between men unless there is booze, sports, drugs. The cops didn’t arrest him when he took the gun because it is small close knit community. They were taking care of him, they related to him, they all knew each other one way or another. This tragedy was not about other races or differences in other communities. I find the review a stretch, simplistic, fishing. This is a piece of art and I don’t understand why the critic had to go there. Oh bother. I am a white liberal and consider myself sensitive to racial issues. Couldn’t watch Disney shows when I was young once I spotted racist slurs, which was a lot.
This was a movie about loss, grief, and learning to live with both. He moved to a city but not even the change to a totally different environment could shake the PTS out of him. Not even a sexy woman or slave driving cold ass boss could bring him back to life. A part of him died with the loss of everything he cared about. I was fascinated watching his process, especially in relating to his teenage nephew. Also, by looking from his eyes, feeling and seeing what it was like to go back to his home town where there was so much history, good and bad. I did not think about our disastrous current politics for nearly three hours. The movie took me away and while it made me feel numb and sad, It did what all great movies are supposed to do: It moved me, made me think, not a worry or thought about my own life while sitting in the theater. The ending was real. His spirit somewhat resurrected, he showed he could actually care about someone again, and in turn, care for himself. Grieving takes time and is different for everyone. I’m glad he moved back to the city where there is lots of opportunity/diversity. I felt hope with his decision! I even wondered if in time he would get together with the black woman who was attracted to him? But I am a romantic…
The acting was excellent, especially by the nephew. The direction and writing outstanding. Cinematography beautiful. I really enjoyed Manchester By the Sea.

I experienced the “tragic burned down house” scene as veering strongly into campiness. The character would have been so much stronger without having had anything “terrible” happen to him. He is repulsive and and there is nothing wrong with that as a character study – repulsive for no other reason than he has no redeeming qualities and is incurious about life. The problem is attaching the “something terrible” that makes him completely unbelievable unfortunately.

Looking at some of the comments, I’m glad you can see the irony in white men angrily defending this movie while in their self-victimisation confirming every word of your brutal and funny takedown.

What a stupid, hate-filled, imbecilic review. Race race race race race race race race race. Everything all things you me and baby makes 3 all boils down to race and more race and gender gender gender and more gender and more race and more gender and yet again race and more race and white and black and black and white yellow green purple red blue and yet more gender more race….
Your world is a small suffocating mouse trap in which you languish amid endless skin colors and genitalia, as though there had never been anything called the human heart, but even were that in your
blindered scope of view it would just be an organ and glands and more glands and glands and organs and secretions and black and white and…oh, you know what? Why don’t you and your palsied world view, in the words of Fielding Melesh, go fuck yourself?

Amazing how the accusation of “hate-filled review” is accompanied by words like “imbecilic” and with the injunction to “go fuck yourself”…wow, wow, wow…

FIrst, I think this is a really great assessment of certain seductive qualities of this white male character driven cinema and theater thing that Kenneth Lonergan specializes in. Casey Affleck’s character carries that hundred yard stare that says I’m a veteran of things you just couldn’t believe (while those around him who went through literally the same shit just get on with life, cause I guess you have to), and he has the freedom to be a loser while at the same time becoming this odd object of affection for people who should really know better and who deserve a lot better (loser with a heart of gold is one of my least favorite movie identities for a white guy to have). The thing is, the only way these losers get characterized as losers is through their pattern of opting out, which is a really privileged place to be. Class is completely ignored, because opting out is actually a class privilege. Casey Affleck is a janitor because he wants to be a janitor, which is so hot.

The son was a tough character to even care about. I hate when characters are endowed with paradoxical power sources like enhanced introspection but also two girlfriends. It’s like emotional magical realism for white people. It’s basically every Wes Anderson movie in a nutshell.

The white male sadness is sort of in the same family as longing but they are never really oriented to anything other than themselves so the aura around them just devolves into that quiet man moody bullshit that is supposedly such a turn-on. The difference is the characters in his earlier stuff are forced to face something other than themselves in these dramatic scenarios that Lonergan is actually really good at writing, while his two major characters in MANCHESTER BY THE SEA never really have to face dramatic resistance of any sort. Take that really terrible interaction between Michelle Williams and Casey Affleck that basically absolves Casey Affleck of any responsibility to face the grief that he caused, since the guilt has been transferred to her due to the “horrible things” that she said to him probably 10 years ago. We don’t even hear these awful things, or see his reaction, or understand that dynamic, which is a really fucking cheap way to let somebody off the hook, especially considering that he just disappears for years and his brother decides he’s the best candidate for guardianship, which is yet another random act of exoneration. The only dramatic conflict occurs between Casey Affleck and the kid, and that just becomes this bogus wing man system of trying to get the kid laid.

It’s totally the best move to think of these movies in terms of their framing whiteness, because the white guilty male figures are sort of prefigured to dole out their own form of self-examination and self-punishment, as if they are the ones most equipped for the job. That’s sort of the operating principle of whiteness. They become these isolato pillars who represent feelings without having the actual responsibility to interact and understand the feelings of others. Instead, it’s our responsibility to understand them. Casey Affleck just punches his way to freedom on a dive bar pub crawl through New England. The kid fixates on how weird it is to keep his dad in the freezer at the morgue in a very obvious and completely insufficient gesture to the fact that he actually has some real feelings for other people, which exonerates the lying to his two girlfriends part of the show, I suppose. The internal emotional content of these characters makes them a danger to those around them, and a movie like MANCHESTER BY THE SEA ultimately serves as a tutorial for how to understand and interact with emotionally unavailable and unstable white dudes, as if that were the only option.

Thank you SO much for this – you lay out beautifully the way that race works in this move to thwart the narratives about white working class masculinity that others want to find here: “Class is completely ignored, because opting out is actually a class privilege. Casey Affleck is a janitor because he wants to be a janitor, which is so hot.” Yes, yes, yes.

Thank you for this review and this social/theorical/political reading of film which examine “how [working class white men] hurt and misunderstood they really are” : a class which is disempowered by capitalist white heterosexist supremacy – and NOT by women, immigrants, and other oppressed groups (like them).

When an Hollywood movie show us possible congenvence of struggles against the oppressive system? Maybe with a representation of collateral oppression of working class, immigrant and women ?

More than “gives us a clue as to how powerful white men see the world”, this film give us a clue as to how powerful white men (maybe like Kenneth Lonergan) construct a political illusion – which takes here the form of a film – in order to manipulate the working class white men’s opinion/self-conciousness and demonized women/immigrants, feminist/anti-racist politics which could ally with/empower them to fight the oppressive capitalism.

This show reflect – or, is the representation of – how power divide oppressed people between themselves : working class white men against women, immigrant…

Manchester by the Sea was boring. A story should have a beginning, middle and end. This film was middle, middle, middle.

This is a movie about coping with the extreme grief and guilt of accidentally killing your children. The melancholy comes entirely from that act. Casey Affleck did a superb job portraying the emotional numbness that comes from such trauma. You’re reading it too allegorically, and you’d be hard pressed to find evidence for that allegorical subtext besides the fact that the characters are white New Englanders. Poor take.

Bro your shitty take is a shitty take. You don’t like a movie, movie has sad white people, so movie is about pernicious white identity in Trump’s America? Ugh the idiocy on both sides of the aisle. Good wordplay at the beginning, though.

Didn’t your English professors tell you not to read everything allegorically? It’s sophomoric.

I second that – see above. This was an ungainly attempt to shoehorn this movie into some Trump allegory, which attempt required the reviewer to tell a lot of lies (ironically, Trump’s strong suit) about what the movie actually depicted. E.g., the review says women in the move “give [men] heart attacks” when the movie actually had a scene where a dr. (depicted as a nice woman, btw) explained the main character’s congenital heart issues would eventually kill him.

This is a snarky and unintelligent review full of the very hate it attempts to deride. It fails to appreciate a very humanist film about haunting mistakes, survival guilt, PTSD, and depression, instead reducing it to a political stomping ground. It doesn’t recognize the very gentle love shared between the husband and wife, both before and after the accident. Instead it reduces all women in the film to shrews. Utterly untrue. It’s not much different than postmodern academics slapping theories on works of art rather than trying to understand them on their own terms or within their own contexts. As someone mentioned, this film was written and made before Trump was even elected, but who cares about accuracy; it must’ve been made “for” this era! When will people on the left realize they are acting just as narrow-minded and parochial as the right? The hysteria of identity politics has resulted in increasing essentialism, division, and judgement, almost to the point of parody. If making fun of – or critiquing – Trump is not unlike shooting fish in a barrel, then so is critiquing this kind of work. It’s too easy, as many of the salient criticisms here have revealed. Of course those who kowtow to the party line simply say “perfect” review; right “on point” without even trying to tease out the nuances and problems within it. Nope. And that’s exactly how the people on Trump’s side “argue” — “he’s 100% right” — by ignoring his myriad contradictions and intolerances.

Jack, this review is absolutely on point. Thank you very much for this, it was a pleasure to read (and a sadness at the same time in its reflection at such structural horrors… but we can only persevere in antiracist work!) I will share widely!

I don’t understand this review. I think the film was touching and critical, It showed brilliantly how masculinity can be very toxic, if not lethal. The main character’s reckless and irresponsible behavior tormented the wife (even before the tragedy) killed his kids and destroyed his own life, this is very blunt in the film. He might or might not come to a realization that the tragic event was not only a mere accident, but the film is far from apologetic about it, not taking in defense masculinity and the privilege that goes with it, but dissecting and scrutinizing it in a pretty clear, yet sublime, fleshy and artistic way. It is a good story about how detrimental the norms of masculinity can be, both in relation to an individual and the larger environment. The film could be shot from the wife’s perspective, from the brothers perspective, even from the perspective of the larger community, yes it could be, but it wasn’t, simple as that. It is masculinity that was centered, dissected and critiqued here and in my view pretty brilliantly, through a prism of a tragedy, loss and grief. I was surprised to read that someone viewed the film as sympathetic to “white men” in general (if we use this sort of generalization to talk about the film at all), when, on the contrary, a lot of people liked the film because it represents a critical take on an irresponsible ‘macho type’. Maybe where it went to far for some and it seems also the reviewer, is that even the main charterer, the killer, is portrayed as the victim — of his own character and deeds. Like it or not tough, but many psychologists and other experts would claim that men, while the main aggressors, are also crippled themselves through the process of being socialized as hyper-masculine. The film while showing some sympathy for the character ( I can understand that it is easier to feel with the wife and hate the killer.), is pretty harsh when it comes to exposing the crippling effects of his “manly ways”.

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