The search for a missing diary could very well be the subject of Ritesh Batra's rendition of Julian Barnes' The Sense of an Ending. The book's title was taken from Frank Kermode's book The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction. Kermode's premise, as well as that of Barnes' is that the telling of history is shaped by the selective fluctuations of memory. With close links to literary deconstructionist theory, explanations of The Sense of an Ending book and film become examples of self-consciousness and self-referentiality. Can we, should we, and how do we interpret the events in our lives which have no predetermined meaning? Both mediums make us keenly aware of how it is, in fact that we make any meaning at all.
What is The Sense of an Ending about? A man and an old love affair, a friend of the man's who took his own life, or a man with an ex wife and a pregnant, lesbian and single daughter? The list of possibilities is endless. The meanings of the movie are about as mysterious as the mystery of a bequeathed diary.
It is a given that interpretations shape our lives. It is also a given that awareness of these interpretations make us self-conscious. It is safe to say that the film is primarily a mystery about this "art" as much as it is about any one story line, plot or character. Tony Webster receives a mysterious envelope and is left a diary. Why has this diary been left to him? Unraveling these questions makes the film appear to be a "whodunit and why," but that line of the story deconstructs with the passage of time and the duration of the movie. The answers turn out to be boring and uninteresting. Has the film taken us on a wild goose chase?
What has been and what is the point of The Sense of an Ending other than to tell us what can be summed up in the title? Beginnings and endings change as we choose to selectively remember and selectively forget. Young Veronica and old Veronica float through the film's narrative, and Veronica's mother appears as poetic and sexual muse and remains a mystery. Why did Adrian Finn take his own life? And who are the parents of the baby born approximately 50 years ago?
The movie ends with a version or at least a rendition of what has happened. Did we interpret correctly or was there a twist we might have missed? "Books are where things are explained to you; life is where things aren't. I'm not surprised some people prefer books.” (Julian Barnes in Flaubert's Parrot) The end of the film remains intentionally ambiguous.
Whether contrivance or convenience, we hunger to explain our lives and to close up gaps and uncertainties in our memory. But really, how reliable are we to narrate and explain our own lives? “How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? ...Our life is merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but—mainly—to ourselves.”
There in lies the irony and dangers of interpreting The Sense of an Ending, where all conclusions becomes suspect, fragments of a larger whole and and elements of another conclusion.