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.