WARNING: SPOILER ALERT
Me Before You, the romantic, dramatic, and comedy-filled film directed by Thea Sharrock and released on May 23, 2016, has created quite the controversy since its release. The film has drawn fury from certain audience members that say the movie depicts disability as a hindrance, and something that can’t ever be adjusted to, but is that really the case?
The film, based on the book of the same name by English author Jojo Moyes, tells of businessman William “Will” Traynor (Sam Claflin) and of Louisa “Lou” Clark (Emilia Clarke), who, after losing her job at a bake shop, is hired to be Will’s caregiver. Will once was a vibrant and energetic young man that spent his spare time skiing, windsurfing, cliff-diving and got involved with flashy women. After being hit by a motorcycle, he is left paralyzed. Lou is a sweet, kind-hearted girl with a positive outlook on life and a colorful, peculiar wardrobe. Will’s mother hires her as a companion for Will, hoping that she’ll be able to lift his spirits.
Emilia Clarke, Jojo Moyes, & Sam Claflin
The film proceeds to tell the story of how Will wants nothing more than to end his life at Dignitas, the assisted dying organization in Switzerland, and of Lou’s attempts to convince him not to do so. What starts off as strictly a business proposition eventually grows into a more personal and romantic connection. In the end, Lou unfortunately fails to persuade Will to continue living on and he goes through with his plan of euthanasia.
Because of Will’s choice, disability advocacy groups are offended the main character would take his life rather than live as a quadriplegic. Activists have highlighted the fact that the movie’s pro-choice argument is flawed using the hashtag #MeBeforeEuthanasia. They are boycotting the film, calling it “disability death porn.” An editorial on LifeSiteNews argues that prospective moviegoers should boycott the film because “‘You before me is better than me before you.’”
Disability advocacy group, Not Dead Yet UK, has criticized the film for promoting assisted suicide as a possible option for people with a disability, stating that the film suggests that the lives of disabled people are “not worth living.”
Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation said, “‘The upcoming release of the movie Me Before You presents a deeply troubling message to our society about people with disabilities. To the millions of people with significant disabilities currently leading fulfilling, rich lives, it posits that they are better off committing suicide.’”
I get why all of these reviews I mentioned above are very negative because does the film have a happy ending? No, not at all. But I feel as if happy endings are normally expected with movies dealing with sensitive topics, so I believe the ending to Me Before You was somewhat of a refresher. It adds realism, reminding people that everything doesn’t have a fairytale ending.
In an interview on EW Radio, Thea Sharrock, the director explained that “‘This is a brave ending. It’s too easy to do it the other way. We could all tell that story tomorrow. But this way… this is the more interesting way.’” Sharrock adds,“‘It’s an incredibly serious and important subject.’” In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter she says, “‘…I think it puts the subject on the table for discussion. If he hadn’t taken that decision, we wouldn’t be standing here having this conversation, and I think all credit to the studio for not ever questioning whether that should be in the movie or not.’” I’m sure many people would agree that assisted suicide is a difficult and complex topic. I know a lot of people are against it. Many people disliked this movie because they thought it was insensitive. Opposite of the majority of audience members, I share Sharrock’s opinion and I personally enjoyed how this movie attempted to tackle such a challenging subject.
Don’t get me wrong, I bawled when Will decided to go through with the assisted suicide. It tore me up inside. But it was his decision as a grown man, with the capability to chose whether or not he wanted to live. Lou made him happy, as he himself says in the movie, but the life he lives confined to his wheelchair is not his life. The film taught me that it is not my decision to make the choice for someone to stay alive, no matter their physical state. They have to want it for themselves. It is about one’s power over their own life. Even at the end of the book, Will says to Lou, “You still don’t get it. It’s my choice.”
Notice that all of those reviews above share a common opinion thinking that the film delivers the negative message that the lives of disabled people are not worth living, but none of the reviews mentioned that Will also suffered with a mental illness, which was depression. I think it’s upsetting how people didn’t seem to consider other disorders that Will had other than his physical disability. I imagine with such a drastic life change, such a mental illness to occur is natural.
I personally think depression would be extremely difficult to live, so imagine being in Will’s footsteps with both a mental illness and a physical disability. He was sick of not being able to take proper care of himself. Despite all his efforts, he physically cannot get out of bed, let alone shower and brush his teeth. His mind kept telling him that he was worthless. He was constantly wishing for a life without the pain and suffering. Major depression can cause one to have constant negative thoughts running through their head everyday and that’s what Will went through. Depression causes people to feel drained and hopeless and this often leads to a severe lack of energy or drive. Because of the severe lack of energy or drive, I feel like one wouldn’t be able to accomplish much. Without the mental illness, Will still isn’t able to accomplish much on his own and doesn’t have a sense of independence. Also, depression can cause frequent suicidal thoughts which is displayed in the film when Will’s parents mentioned that he attempted suicide. There’s just so much negative thoughts a person can handle until they finally reach that breaking point and make the decision to end their lives. I feel like since Will really wanted to go that badly, then I’d much rather have him get help from a professional and choose assisted suicide where death would be painless over killing himself on his own.
I’m sure audience members who are disabled have a much better understanding than I do and truly know and have dealt with what Will was going through. I feel like disabled audience members expressed the most anger over the ending of the film, which is understandable. If they know what Will is going through then I’m assuming that they may have had the same negative thoughts as Will, possibly going through depression. But you have to understand that with mental illnesses, like depression, it takes time for people to heal, and some just don’t heal at all and Will happened to be one of those people. You can’t just simply tell someone with depression “Think positively” or “Change your thoughts” because that won’t miraculously cure them. Even though those approaches can help, sometimes it simply is not under one’s control no matter how positive they try to be. Just because someone may be smiling on the outside doesn’t mean their brain isn’t shutting down or their doing fine on the inside. They could be merely one step away from the edge. Will displayed this with Lou, Lou made him happy and genuinely smile, but even so, at the end of the day he still wanted to end his life. Will’s decision had nothing to do with his parents or Lou; it was for him. And while I disagree with his choice, I understand why he felt the way he felt. What people need to realize is that Will was in tremendous pain. There was one scene in the movie that really stuck with me- the nurse mentioned to Louisa how sometimes Will would be awake screaming at night because he was in so much agony.
To me, Me Before You highlights the real struggles a portion of humanity faces. There are people in this world who are currently going through the same problems as Will, struggling with both a mental illness and a physical disability. Some people eventually come to terms with their disability and some people just don’t. There are people who find it challenging to continue living and enduring the complications or consequences of having a disability. Some people also can’t live with the ongoing negative thoughts caused by depression. They feel as if they had their dreams, choices, social life and freedom ripped away from them, similar to Will, and choose to end their lives. This does not make assisted suicide at all morally acceptable, but it is understandable.
By Chanel Somnuk