In the movie Manchester By The Sea, after Joe dies, Joe's brother Lee is assigned to be Patrick's guardian instead of Patrick's mother. Through flashbacks they show that the mother was an alcoholic. However, Lee appears to be a far worse alcoholic and also admits to smoking pot and doing cocaine the night that everything happened. The worst thing we see the mother do is get drunk, pass out naked on the couch, and fail to walk to the dog. Why is she so much worse of a potential parent than Lee?

There was a brief mention of her having been "in an institution," but it wasn't clear if that was just rehab for her alcoholism, or if it was actually a mental institution that would have disqualified her from taking custody. She certainly seems to have gotten her life together by this point (though Joe probably didn't know that). But given that Lee's substance abuse problems cause him to violently lash out at strangers, clients, and family, and that it caused the accidental death of his own children and ended his marriage, she still seem like a better choice.

  • "The worst thing we see the mother do is get drunk, pass out naked on the couch, and fail to walk to the dog." She was also mentally ill and was institutionalized for that.
    – BCdotWEB
    Dec 15, 2016 at 9:18
  • Can you elaborate on that and post it as an answer? I didn't recall them actually saying it that clearly, and I was confused as to whether her institutionalization was just for alcoholism rehab or mental illness because it seemed so vague. Dec 15, 2016 at 19:40

3 Answers 3


Patrick's mother was obviously still battling her alcohol problem, hence her little escape into the kitchen, and her husband's concern made it clear when he told Patrick he was going to go see what she was up to in there. He later wrote Patrick the email discouraging future visits, I think, because Patrick's visit made her extremely anxious as she fell all over herself trying to portray a perfect image, causing her to slip in to the kitchen for a quick snort from the bottle.

  • 2
    That makes a lot more sense. I didn't pick up on that detail. I'm still not convinced that being an alcoholic is worse than being Lee, but at least I get it now. Thank you! Feb 27, 2017 at 16:58
  • snort from the bottle?!! It's alcohol not cocaine. LOL Jul 19, 2018 at 12:38

The mother seems narcissistic in the hospital scene. She goes "home" rather than deal with her husband's diagnosis. It's obvious that she neglects her child, and the incident on the couch is no doubt one of many, since Lee was asked to come and help with her. When Patrick goes to visit her, it seems clear that she has found religion as a substitute for alcohol. She is allowing her husband to control her. He has the power and she knows it, but she will probably never be aware of the email he sent to Patrick which essentially told him he was not welcome in their home.


The mother doesn't feature much in the flashbacks.. and that has some meaning for me. The length of someone featuring was dependent on how much the person was available, or had some connection with Patrick, although Patrick isn't the center of the movie. We see Lee trying to gauge the attention of Patrick and even playfully trying to frighten her of Sharks in the opening scene of the movie. I guess the only scene that gives us some semblance about availability of Elise was the hospital scene in which she gets disturbed by the playful humor of Dr. Betheny. Joe knows Patrick can't have a perfect life, as he has seen his mother drift away but he wants someone as Lee around him, although Lee has had his fair share of events, he is the one who will never give up on Patrick.

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