Film — The Sea Inside (R)

The Sea Inside (R)

By Amy Diaz

Just in time for the circus surrounding the Terry Schiavo case, The Sea Inside, a Spanish film based on the real-life tale of a quadriplegic who sought the right to end his life, has finally made it to New Hampshire.

What is so just-in-time about it? For one thing, the conscious-and-talking Ramon Sampedro (Javier Bardem) makes no mistake or hesitation in describing his wishes. So we are spared any doubts about “what he would have wanted.” He tells us. Repeatedly.

Ramon, paralyzed from the neck down in his 20s, has lived the second half of his life in bed. His caretakers are his brother (Celso Bugallo), his brother’s wife (Mabel Rivera), his young nephew (Tamar Novas) and his father (Juan Dalmau). He has also developed a circle of friends, including a right-to-die activist named Gene (Clara Seguara), who are willing to help him with his oft-stated desire to end his life. His family is very strongly against it, which, along with a desire to make the way easier for others, pushes Ramon to take his plea to the courts. In this, he gets help from beautiful lawyer Julia (Belen Rueda), who suffers from a degenerative disease that may one day make the issue personally relevant to her. His fame from the issue also gets him the attentions of a local woman named Rosa (Lola Duenas), who seeks to convince him to drop his plea and appreciate his life.

Eventually, Julia and Rosa both fall in love with Ramon. In some ways, both women understand his despair — Julia because she faces similar physical loss and Rosa because she has been left to raise children fathered by two different men on her own. Manuela, Ramon’s sister-in-law and primary caretaker, also has a bit of a crush on Ramon. Eventually all three woman display a love for this bed-bound charmer and a sympathy for the pain he seeks to escape.

Because this movie is about a real person, I think it’s relatively fair for me to report that eventually Ramon does kill himself, doing so in a way that prevents any of the people who helped him from ever being charged with murder. He films his own death and, with the publication of his book Letters from Hell, seeks to use his death as a political call to action.

Dependent on others for everything and acutely aware of the life outside his bedroom that he can never take part in, Ramon’s plight is certainly a horrible one. Were I in his position I would no doubt feel, on many occasions, that life in this severely limited state isn’t worth living. Heck, I remember being 13 and thinking that life wasn’t worth living. And that is perhaps the biggest problem I have with this tale of woe. The real Ramon Sampedro may have been a noble and intellectual man who could articulate in his plea for death not just an end to suffering but a greater ideal of what it truly means to live. Perhaps his arguments were filled with awe-inspiring ruminations on dignity, on humanity, on the nature of life and death and what it means to each individual person to be as in charge of that life and that death as the random nature of the universe allows him to be. Perhaps the real-life Ramon Sampedro would have me not only agreeing with his every word but cheering through my tears as he gets his wish. Perhaps.

But this Ramon Sampedro, the movie Ramon Sampedro, is sort of a whiner.

The movie has a viewpoint and that viewpoint is that the choices of life and death are each person’s to make. A priest appears at one point to attempt to change Ramon’s mind and to serve as the movie’s living example of Ramon’s oft-stated belief that euthanasia was not the right choice for every quadriplegic but it was the choice he wanted to make for himself. The priest, and for that matter Ramon, was a functioning member of society and both Ramon and the movie seemed to say “good for him” — he should function and be a member of society if that is his choice; Ramon should get to die if that is his.

I make no particular judgment about whether this belief is right or wrong but I will say I think the movie makes a solid argument for the right of choice. What it doesn’t make a solid argument for is why Ramon is so antsy for death. He’s a published author. He’s got chicks falling all over him. He’s famous. I understand that he has pains — both physical and emotional. But, dude, so does everybody I know. And you’ve got a book deal. I don’t have a book deal.

The movie features a score that is uplifting and thrilling, longing and beautiful, sad and thoughtful. I found myself amazed by this score. The subtley, the grandeur, the feeling with which it was put together and used—at several points in the film I found myself in awe of what I was hearing.

The film itself? Not so much.

- Amy Diaz

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