For the next few posts on this blog, I will examine the treatment of life issues in what has become the most prevalent medium of culture: Movies. Though there is firm competition from television for this position, movies have, over the last 100 years, proved their staying power. Thus, if one desires to reach a wide audience, one should make a movie. This is the mentality behind several independent film companies and filmmakers, and it is also behind the movies to be discussed in the coming posts.
Unfortunately, there are few films that portray the pro-life cause. Besides the fact that contraception is almost universally accepted as the norm not only in Hollywood, but throughout the United States as a whole, falling on one side or another in the debates concerning life opens the door for the challenge most filmmakers cannot afford to face: debates. However, there are some films that have portrayed one side or another of the debate. These films, some against life, some for it, will be the focus of this blog up until the March For Life on January 22. Hopefully they will be interesting and enlightening for all readers.
The Sea Inside (2004)
Few movies touch on the subject of euthanasia, just as few movies touch on the subject of abortion. Even fewer movies center around either of these two atrocities. The Sea Inside, however, does just that, focusing its scope on the life of Ramon Sampedro (played by Javier Bardem), a Spaniard who shocked his native Spain, and the world, with his vocal desire to end his own life. Sampedro became a paraplegic after diving into too shallow of water on the coast of his native Spain. He spent the next 30 years of his life trying to argue that he should be allowed to “die with dignity” (the universal euthanasia call heard around the world) while living with his brother’s family. He eventually succeeded in his venture, providing a hero to the “right to die” movement.
Director Alejandro Amenabar hoped to paint a sympathetic portrait of the man and his cause, throwing his support with Sampedro. He wanted, however, to make the movie more than just an argument for or against euthanasia. Rather, he wanted to tell the story of the man. In that regard, he does succeed. The story in the film is a moving one, and the characters are compelling. However, the central story of the desire to die permeates the film, overwhelming any other facet, such as the love or joy Ramon experiences, of the storyline.
The movie does present both positions in the debate, with several characters arguing against Ramon about his desire to end his life. Ramon, however, is a rationalist, a man who will not accept any argument if it cannot be proved through rational means. In one scene, he tries to get his nephew to tell him why, rationally, he (Ramon) should allow him (the nephew) to watch a soccer game on the TV in Ramon’s room. Ramon makes the comment that he will only allow him to view the game if there is a rational reason. The love of rationality also appears in Ramon’s argument with a paraplegic priest, who is trying to convince him to abandon his fight for death. The priest’s arguments are not helped by the fact that the same priest had appeared on TV previous to their meeting and commented on how Ramon’s family must not love him, much to the anger of Ramon’s sister-in-law Manuela, who does everything she can to take care of her brother-in-law. The arguments on both sides are rather stale, and it ends more with two angry men than with two agreeing parties. Likewise, Ramon’s brother and father are against his pre-natural death, with the brother arguing that he, as the older brother, would not allow any killing in his house. The father makes the incredibly moving point that it is hard to loose a son, but even harder when the son tells you he wants to die. Even the people who are there to support Ramon in his quest for death (the RDD [Right to Die with Dignity, I believe] representative who has Ramon’s case; the attorney who helps with his case and then helps publish a collection of Ramon’s poetry) all reflect some reservation in supporting Ramon’s request to die. The attorney even contemplates dieing herself, but does not (the deleted scenes on the DVD expound upon this rather well, adding a sort of beauty to her story, but were unfortunately cut for time.
On the other hand, these counter arguments seem to fail when pitted against Ramon, who is perpetually shown as the hero of the tale. Every claim brought against him is knocked aside, followed by another argument for the right to life and the right to death. Even his own self doubt of his cause, a nightmare at night where he wonders “Why? Why? Why can’t the others change, Manuela ? Why can’t I make due with this life? Why? Why do I want to die?” is discarded in the morning. It seems he is, as his friends and family insist, “thickheaded.”
Ramon’s argument throughout the film is that he has no dignity living the way he does, with no movement except his head. Even when others touch his life and seem to make him enjoy living, it is more of a spark of joy, rather than a flame of happiness. The character comes across as sad, distant, even bitter. He rejects love, claiming that those who really love him are the ones who would help him get what he wants (i.e., help him die). In the end, however, it seems that no one is truly happy to see him go. The only one who eagerly yearns for the end of his life is Ramon himself. However, even Ramon has moments where he almost, almost recants, only to push on even harder. In the end, he succeeds, sipping some water with cyanide in it, thus ending his life.
What this film shows is that even men so obsessed with death like Sampedro can be made into heroes. The follower of the Gospel of Life might see the movie as disturbing, and rightly so (I’m pretty sure it got an “O,” that is, “morally objectionable,” rating by the USCCB), for it is a disturbing movie. Sampedro does not believe there is any purpose to his life, nor an afterlife. There could be one, he muses, but probably not. He has spiraled to a strange despair, for he hates his life, but relishes in the beauty he does see. He is a man who has given up, not as much run away, as some characters hint at in the beginning of the film. He has abandoned himself to his obsession with death, and thus provided a tragedy for the world, not a sort of canonization, as the Pro-Choice followers would hold.
Where lies the success in such a story? Is there really a freedom to end your own life? Is that even a freedom? This continual reasoning, followed through, leads to a mess of disorder, where any authority at all is diminished. It becomes a matter of what I want for myself, not what would be better for the common good, or even those who love me. The world slips into a hellish wasteland, burnt and charred in its own disgust.
This, it seems, is the goal and unfortunate result of this “right to die” movement.
Therein lies the horror. We are still a society of Mr. Kurtzes, dead and hollow, only left to murmur to ourselves “The horror, the horror.”