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“Me Before You” – A Disability Is NOT a Death Sentence

Here we go again.  Back in March, I talked about stereotypes under which characters with disabilities are portrayed in TV, movies, etc.  Well, it seems that filmmakers are still struggling to learn why using these is an F-ed up concept.  Before I get started, here, I feel that it’s worth mentioning: There’s really no way for me to explain my feelings on this without spoiling the movie (and the book).  So…you’ve been warned.

Me Before You is a movie based on the novel of the same name, written by Jojo Moyes.  It is the story of a paralyzed man, Will (played by Sam Claflin), who falls in love with his caretaker, Louisa (played by Game of Thrones actress Emilia Clarke).  Will’s story revolves around his apparent inability to come to grips with his paralysis from an accident two years earlier, and sees him planning his own assisted suicide.  He has an incredibly (but not altogether incomprehensibly) pessimistic outlook on life due to his paralysis, and can’t seem to understand why Louisa enjoys his company.  Louisa comes to him as a new caretaker, and the two form a bond.  However, there is a subtle feeling (not unlike many other romantic movies where one of the lead characters is “damaged”) that Louisa is trying to “fix” Will.

As a person with a disability, several aspects of this movie just irritate the hell out of me.  First, there seems to be no addressing Will’s hopelessness.  Throughout the movie, he tells Louisa things like “You are pretty much the only thing that makes me want to get up in the morning”, and “I don’t want you to miss all the things that someone else could give you”.  Yes, these are things I have felt at several points throughout my life.  However, those who care(d) about me have always pushed for me to seek the happy things in life, talk about what’s on my mind, and reach out when I was feeling helpless/hopeless.

On that note, it also sucks that Will’s family is portrayed as if they’re completely resigned to his decision to commit assisted suicide!  WHAT. THE. F$&@, PEOPLE??  I can understand his family’s want to respect his wishes, but SERIOUSLY!  Will’s mother talks to Louisa like Will is not even in the room, and the rest of his family just seems to ignore the fact that he told them he would be ending his life in 6 months!  Where’s the push to keep him going?  Where’s the want to keep him around?  They just seem to look on with horror, and not take initiative to help.

(SPOILER ALERT) Ultimately, even with the budding romance between him & Louisa, the script still sees Will deciding to end his own life.  The story doesn’t show the strength of character that a person with a disability can (and usually does) develop.  It doesn’t show the more mundane (yet still unique) issues which can arise when a person with a disability enters into a relationship with someone who has no disability.  There are SO MANY unexplored and poignant topics that could be touched on here, and it seems to me that they were just outright ignored.

Now, let me pre-emptively address the question which I can feel brewing in many of you, dear readers: “Some disabled people actually feel this way!  Why are you judging?”  I’m not judging someone’s right to feel that way – as I mentioned, I’ve felt this way myself on many occasions.  What I AM judging, is the overuse of disabled characters as things to be pitied or shunned, or the trope that a life with a disability is somehow a fate worse than death.  The entertainment industry has used these tropes for over a century, and it’s WAY past tired & old.  Back during the decades surrounding the Great Depression, people with deformities were sold to circuses & sideshows to be seen as “freaks”, “oddities”, and the like.  In What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Gilbert & his brother Arnie choose to empty their home & burn it down, rather than live the “indignity” of having their recently-deceased & morbidly obese (yes, obesity is a disability) mother’s body lifted out by crane.  More recently, in The Sea Inside, a quadriplegic man fights against a medical bureaucracy for his right to end his own life, and in doing so, simply further solidifies the idea that death is better than disability.  Me Before You seems to send the same message, and it just makes me sick of seeing things like this.

Feel free to challenge me in the comments, dear readers, as I would love some external perspective on this.  What do you think about the story in Me Before You?  Will you be seeing it?  What kinds of things do you hope audiences get out of it?

As a final note, if you or someone you know is contemplating taking their own life for ANY reason, please urge them to get help.  The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Either click the link, or call them at 1-800-273-8255.

About Doug T. (487 Articles)
A lifelong gamer, disabilities advocate, avowed geek, and serious foodie. Doug was born in South America, currently resides in Northern VA, and spends the majority of his time indulging in his current passions of gaming & food, while making sure not to take life or himself too seriously.

7 Comments on “Me Before You” – A Disability Is NOT a Death Sentence

  1. Let’s just put every piece of creative work under scrutiny before it gets published or shown on the screen, so that no one needs to be offended or disagree.
    Because that’s what art exists for, not to offend but to please everybody. it will be a bland tasteless gruel. but hey, at least no one’s sensibilities get hurt.

    The way I see it, you think that people have the right to end their lives or not.
    Whether it’s because of a severe disability or an illness, doesn’t really matter, because ultimately it is not on me to decide what is reason enough for someone else to want to end his life.

    I do understand how you feel, you see disabled people portrayed stereo-typically and as a disabled person you don’t like that.
    If you classify obesity as a disability, then I was and to a point still am disabled and I wondered whether suicide wouldn’t be the easier way sometimes, instead of endlessly struggling against myself and enduring the the disgust in people’s eyes.
    But I do not think you approach this in any way objectively.
    There are many positive portrayals of disabled people on tv or on the big screen, in novels etc.., maybe not enough, but if you complain about the stereotype, maybe it’s because the negative examples stick out more to you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Walter Ludolf, I think your first sentence hyperbolicly misses the point. Art is a conversation. Society has the right to reply.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. mariechristopher2014 // June 6, 2016 at 12:32 pm //

    I got a very different message from the book (granted I haven’t seen the movie). What I remember is that everyone in Will’s life including Louisa and his parents were pushing for his life. His parents hired Louisa because she was a breath of fresh air that might have reminded him about his spark for life. Louisa’s only goal in her push to get him to go out and go on vacation with her was because she wanted to prove to him that life was still worth living.

    The point was that it was not their decision to make. Will didn’t want to be treated like he didn’t know his own mind anymore.

    The book, from my point of view, was not as much about disability as It was about bodily autonomy.

    Like

  4. > It was about bodily autonomy.

    Seems like a term that’s getting a lot of use now days to justify any action, no matter how abhorrent or selfish. Just because one have “bodily autonomy” doesn’t mean anything they do is moral or just.

    Like

  5. I read the book and have seen the movie. I think it is a beautiful story about one person’s inability to accept his limitations after his accident. I, myself, have limitations and have felt the frustration of not being able to live in the manner I was ccustomed to… to feel your body has betrayed you, to feel like your life is no longer yours. While I haven’t felt hopelessness that Will did, knowing that his body is going to progressively spiral downwards and there is no way to counteract it, I totally understand.

    To live in constant pain is miserable; it’s depressing, demoralizing, exhausting, and overwhelming. I would imagine that I would want the power to make the decision when enough is in enough. Besides the pain you’re feeling, you think about the quality of your life; you think of the quality of your loved ones’ lives as they see you deal with a slow death and them not being able to help you. I truly believe the person going through something that castrophic should be able to decide when it’s enough.

    I think the story is beautifully told. Sometimes, love isn’t enough. When you truly love someone then you have to respect them enough to support their decision. They have no power over what’s going on with their body, they should have the right to die with dignity.

    I love the way the book/movie portrayed the subject.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I read the book and have seen the movie. I think it is a beautiful story about one person’s inability to accept his limitations after his accident. I, myself, have limitations and have felt the frustration of not being able to live in the manner I was ccustomed to… to feel your body has betrayed you, to feel like your life is no longer yours. While I haven’t felt hopelessness that Will did, knowing that his body is going to progressively spiral downwards and there is no way to counteract it, I totally understand.

    To live in constant pain is miserable; it’s depressing, demoralizing, exhausting, and overwhelming. I would imagine that I would want the power to make the decision when enough is in enough. Besides the pain you’re feeling, you think about the quality of your life; you think of the quality of your loved ones’ lives as they see you deal with a slow death and them not being able to help you. I truly believe the person going through something that castrophic should be able to decide when it’s enough.

    I think the story is beautifully told. Sometimes, love isn’t
    . When you truly love someone then you have to respect them enough to support their decision. They have no power over what’s going on with their body, they should have the right to die with dignity.

    I love the way the book/movie portrayed the subject.

    Like

  7. I will NOT be seeing the movie. You know my feelings on the matter quite well, I believe, and I have enough things to be pissed about without adding more.

    I WILL, however, get my posterior — and typing fingers — moving on that writing project I was considering. Perhaps I should watch the movie or read the book after all, purely for impetus in creating opposing tropes.

    Like

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