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Cinema in Focus: ‘Me Before You’

3 Stars — Challenging

It is understandable that some disabled persons would take issue with Jojo Moyes’ romantic tale Me Before You.

Having received acclaim for the novel in the United Kingdom, Moyes worked with director Thea Sharrock to bring her fiction of a quadriplegic’s decision to end his life to the big screen.

Due perhaps to the focus on the romantic journey between this young man and his caregiver, the morality of his decision is not discussed except as it affects his or her ability to “live boldly.”

The handsome young quadriplegic is Will Traynor (Sam Claflin), a rich, athletic, debonair 31-year-old banker who was tragically injured in an accident when a motorcyclist hit him as he crossed the street to catch a taxi.

So irrevocably injured that he has no feeling or movement from his chest down, he has given his parents six months to convince him that he should not end his life.

His mother, Camilla (Janet McTeer), has attempted to change his mind by hiring young, beautiful women as caregivers.

Resentful, angry and cynical Will has run off five women in a short period of time. It is then that Lou Clark (Emilia Clarke) answers her employment call.

Lou comes to the moment in quiet desperation. Although the film does not explain what the book makes clear, she is hiding from the world due to an earlier trauma in her life.

Working as a waitress since high school, she is now 26 and has no skills by which she can provide for herself or her needy family. The high wage and her desperate need compels her to put herself in the impossible situation of caring for Will.

The blossoming of their romance is classic. We won’t spoil the journey or attempt to describe the chemistry, but the unlikely joining is of fairytale quality.

The contrasts are many: poverty with riches, simplicity with complexity, quirkiness with sophistication, but also happiness with sorrow, hope with despair and compassion with selfishness.

As is true in all such tales, the healing is mutual and the love is believable.

But what makes the film a challenging journey is that the love and healing both of them experience is not enough. The empty despair prevails as Will’s resolute decision to end his life is not assuaged by Lou’s love or pleas.

The film’s attempt to make this an act of love is so empty of anything beyond the physical that it is a disappointment, both in story telling and in reflecting real life.

Having found a deep and abiding love, both Lou and Will could have gone to a deeper relational and spiritual place that could have given them both lives that are far more bold than the extreme sports Will mourns.

It is in that way a shallow resolution of a very real experience that so many have overcome.

Discussion

» Do you agree with Lou’s mother when she states without equivocation that no person has the right to end his or her life, or do you agree with Lou’s sister who says that it is more complicated than that and that it is Will’s decision? How does your faith inform you in making such a moral decision? Do you believe the individualism of the modern Western world colors our thinking?

» The beauty of Wales and Pembroke Castle sets the stage for the fairytale romance Lou and Will experience. How do you think the story would have changed had it been set in London or in an American suburb? Was the “prince” a captive of his “royalty” such that he could not escape to live life with a “commoner” in the “common grace” all humanity shares?

» The tension between Will’s mother and father over his choice to end his life is understandable and presents the two ways we can respond to people who are so hopeless. If Will was your son, would you respond more like his father or his mother? Why do you answer as you do?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

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