Warning : spoiler alert if you aren’t familiar with the Me Before You storyline and ending.
Imagine you were a live-life-to-the-fullest-adrenalin-junkie, spending your days traveling the world, jumping out of planes, skiing international mountain slopes, scuba diving the ocean depths, and bedding your glamorous girlfriend at the end of the day in your penthouse apartment. Nothing could stop you.
Then without warning, all that is taken away by a freak accident.
Me Before You, the movie based on the novel by Jojo Moyes, raises some interesting questions about the quality of life experienced by its leading man, Will Traynor, paralysed from the chest down after being hit by a motorcycle. Having read the book, I thought they did a bloody good job of bringing the story to screen. I’m not alone.
Will has made a deal with his parents to give him six more months to live, then wants to travel to Dignitas in Switzerland to end his life. He wants to live without pain, without the frustration and longing he has for his old life, and end his life on his own terms.
Enter Louisa Clark, the carer hired by his parents to keep him company while he waits out his remaining months. She is a quirky, bubbly breath of fresh air, and after a rocky start, the two find their friendship developing as Will attempts to educate Louisa about the world outside of the small English village they live.
Granted, it’s a great plotline. Can the ingénue carer defeat the demons that haunt the unhappy wheelchair-bound hero, causing him to see life afresh and be inspired enough by her appetite for life that he chooses to continue on, albeit in an different capacity to the one he has known before?
Sadly, no. In the end, despite Louisa’s best attempts, Will goes through with his assisted suicide, while encouraging Louisa to live her life to the fullest after he has gone. “Live boldly. Push yourself. Don't settle,” he tells her. The paradox of this message of course is that Will’s character is saying one thing, while doing another.
So why the outcry? Advocacy groups for people with disabilities have protested outside the film’s premiere, speaking to the media about their discomfort of the plot (“The message of the film is that disability is tragedy and disabled people are better off dead,” said disability activist, Ellen Clifford). They are [understandably] angry that the film depicts people with disabilities as incapable of living worthwhile lives.
Me Before You is a piece of fiction that addresses very real and contentious issues. Alongside the film's bleak depiction of life with a disability, the question of whether an individual have the right to choose to live or die is also raised. It's an argument that is reverberating around the world in euthanasia debates, and it shows no sign of resolving itself anytime soon.
Personally, I don’t believe that this movie will see a stampede of people booking flights to Switzerland to end their lives, having decided that life in a wheelchair (or any other disability) is not for them, but the concerns of the disabled community are also entirely valid. Especially as the film could be seen to invalidate the existence of people with disabilities.
But there is no doubt the on-going debate will increase the box office takings. As of this week, the movie had already made over $US48 million at the box office. Which is exactly why the studio green-lit the movie.