14 February 2005 | jotix100
The right to die with dignity
Alejandro Amenabar, the young and talented Spanish director, clearly shows us he is a serious film maker. Anyone doubting it, should have a look at his latest film "The Sea Inside". This is a movie that has been rewarded with numerous accolades, not only in Spain, but throughout the world, wherever this wonderful movie has been shown.
If you have not seen the film, perhaps you would like to stop here.
Ramon Sampedro is a man confined to bed. Being quadriplegic, he depends on the kindness of strangers for everything. Since his accident, Ramon only thinks in one thing alone: how to end his life! This is the moral issue at the center of the story, based on the real Ramon Sampedro's life.
Mr. Amenabar tells the story from Ramon's point of view. There is nothing here that is false or manipulative on his part. After all, he relies on facts that were well known in his country as this case became a "cause celebre" in favor of euthanasia, a theme that no one in that country wanted to deal with in Spain.
With its background of being a predominantly Roman Catholic country, Spain has evolved into one of the most democratic societies in Europe, a distinction that is more notable because of its long years dominated by a dictator. Yet, in spite of the advances in that society, the idea of taking one's own life, is something not clearly understood by the majority of its citizens, who still considered this subject as something that could not be done in their country.
Ramon Sampedro was a man that loved life. He lived an intense life as a young man when he enlisted as a sailor to discover the world. Having no money, this was the only way for him to see other lands, experience other cultures. Ramon's love affair with the sea, is something that people in Galicia learn to love from their childhood. Imagine how that same friendly sea is the one that takes away Ramon's life, as he knew it! In a second, Ramon goes from a vibrant young man into a vegetable!
Ramon's family is shattered by the experience. Suddenly they must leave everything aside to take care of him at home. His brother and sister-in-law, are stoic people that deal with the situation as a matter of fact. Their lives become something of an afterthought, because Ramon's life comes first. They tend to the sick man without protesting, or blaming Ramon for the sacrifices they must make to keep him alive.
That is why, in their minds, the Sampedros can't comprehend Ramon's wishes to end it all. Haven't they given up having a normal life to take care of him? This moral issue weighs heavily on these uncomplicated and simple people because in their minds, they are doing what came naturally.
The second subject of the movie is the legal issue of the euthanasia and the well meaning people that suddenly enter Ramon's life in their desire to help him put an end to his suffering. There's Julia, the lawyer who is herself handicapped and suffers from a rare malady. There is Rosa, the fish cannery worker who becomes infatuated with Ramon.
Javier Bardem, makes a brilliant Ramon Sampedro. His transformation is total. We don't doubt from one moment he is no one else but the paralyzed man on that bed. Mr. Bardem can only use his face in order to convey all the emotions trapped inside Ramon. Mr. Bardem makes this man real. This is perhaps Javier Bardem's best role of his career. He surpasses his own award winning performance as Reynaldo Arenas, the late Cuban poet he portrayed in "Before Night Falls".
In the supporting roles, Belen Rueda, makes an impressive appearance as Julia, the woman fighting her own physical problems. Lola Duenas is also effective as Rosa, the kindred soul that loves Ramon deeply. Celso Bugallo, as Ramon's brother shows a man at a crossroads of his own life. Mabel Rivera makes a compassionate Manuela, the sister-in-law that never asks anything of life, but tends to Ramon without questioning why she has to do it, at all.
Mr. Amenabar also has composed the haunting music score for the film. He is a man that never cease to surprise. One wonders what his next project will be, but one wishes him success in whatever he might decide to do in the future.