Getting lost in one’s past is quite easy to do, and may seem to do it. The best that we often can hope for is that our regrets and past failures don’t haunt us late into our lives. For a prime example of what that haunting may look like, look no further than The Sense of an Ending, the new film directed by Ritesh Batra and written by Nick Payne.

Based on the book of the same name by Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending is the story of Tony Webster (Jim Broadbent), a retired divorcé who receives a letter notifying him that an object belonging to his old high school friend has been left for him in a will.

To make matters more confusing, the will belongs to the mother of Tony’s college girlfriend, who Tony once pined after, and only met once. His high school friend, Adrian Finn (Joe Alwyn), must have also had a relationship with the mother, Tony believes, but he can’t remember how or why.

Tony spends the first third of the movie attempting to talk through his confusion with his ex-wife Margaret (Harriet Walter), whom doesn’t really want to listen. Tony and Margaret’s daughter, Susie (Michelle Dockery) is pregnant, but Tony doesn’t seem to give her much attention – he’d rather focus on his own issues. This first third is also told in flashbacks, as Tony tries to explain his relationship with his college girlfriend, Veronica Ford (Freya Mavor) and her mother (Emily Mortimer), to his ex-wife.

The second and third act of the film focus less on the flashbacks, instead focusing on Tony’s pursuit of Veronica (Charlotte Rampling), who is withholding the item left to him in her mother’s will – it turns out to be Adrian’s diary.

The Sense of an Ending beautifully floats back and forth from present day, deep into Tony’s past. Every trip into Tony’s memory focuses on one event, or one object – the clearest part of the memory. As an old man he is fascinated by his youth, sometimes appearing as his present day self, bald and bearded, in his fading memories. Meanwhile, his present becomes his past, and he doesn’t even notice it going by.

Tony is a curmudgeon – both as a young man and especially as an old one – and he is also sort of an arrogant intellectual. But it isn’t Tony’s arrogance or his curmudgeonly ways that get him into the most trouble. Instead, it is the stories he tells himself, some half-truths, some lies, that distort his world and confuse him beyond end.

Broadbent gives a heartbreaking performance as Tony in his later years – Billy Howle plays the young Tony and gives an equally powerful performance. Despite his ignorance to all that is in front and behind him, Broadbent makes Tony a character worth rooting for, while other actors may not be able to achieve such ends.

In fact, there aren’t any bad performances in the movie – even small roles like Tony’s grade school friends (Peter WrightJack LoxtonHilton McRae, and Timothy Innes) are fun and captivating to watch.

The biggest qualm some may have with the film is its conclusion. But as the title warns, although their isn’t a concrete, put-it-in-the-books ending, there is undoubtedly a sense of one.

The Sense of an Ending is ultimately a cautionary tale. One that warns to live in the moment, to reconcile with one’s past but not to pry at it, and to understand that one’s life is not lived in fractured segments but urges, instead, that life is lived in a continuous wave, one that often crashes and creates endless ripples in others.

The Sense of an Ending is now available on DVD. The DVD includes a feature on adapting the film from the book and a feature about the role of memory in the film.

Watch the trailer below and watch our conversation with Broadbent about the film here.

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