After taking a class called Faith, Film, and Philosophy in graduate school, I can no longer watch movies for pure entertainment and enjoyment. This class has taught me to look for the philosophies taught in movies and to filter it through a Christian worldview. Movies are more just than the acting and cinematography, the message matters too.
From the preview of the movie Me Before You it looked like a romantic film. One day while on Facebook I saw that the Gospel Coalition had posted an article on it. After reading it, I thought to myself, “that’s what the movie is really about?” I thought maybe I won’t watch the movie anymore, but I decided to because of my growing interest in bioethics and because of free tickets. Spoiler alert* The movie is about a quadriplegic who decided to end this life by means of self-assisted suicide (SAS). The movie has a dangerous and degrading message for those who are disabled.
Movie Synopsis: The movie takes place in a small town in England. The two main characters are Louisa Clarke and Will Traynor. Will Traynor had everything going for him (by the world’s standards). He was a healthy, wealthy, good looking, a thrill seeker and successful banker, but after an accident he was left quadriplegic and confined in a wheelchair. Louisa Clarke was brought up in a lower class family. She is in desperate need of a job to help support her family. She is hired by Will’s mother to take care of Will. Louisa is cheerful, chatty and quite quirky with a sense of style that is very noticeable. She doesn’t care what people thing about her. She is content being a small town girl.
The two of them come from different worlds but are brought together because of Will’s situation. Louisa does everything in her power to make a tough situation better and even tells Will’s mother she won’t let her down. She undergoes rejection after rejection from Will until she has a breakthrough. She is finally able to get Will to smile, laugh, and leave the house for outings and travel. They even fall in love. As the movie progresses Louisa hopes that Will would change his mind. Will is too selfish to let anyone love him deeply and truly. Sadly, love was not enough to give Will the will to live. All Will could think about is what it “feels” like to be a man and his “old self,” he didn’t like his “new self.” Will chooses to end his life even with the love and relationships that surrounded him. Will just was utterly unhappy with the way his life turned out to be.
The story is tragic and if you’re like me you won’t leave the movie with dry eyes. The movie gives you a sense of hopelessness although it wants to portray Will’s decision as bold or even heroic.
The film has a deeper message than a love lost. This film normalizes self-assisted suicide and sends a dangerous message about and to the disabled community. The movie tells us being disabled is not a life worth living and “dying with dignity” is the best way out of this life. The film wants to give Will the “right to die.”
What is SAS? Self-assisted suicide:
Physician assisted suicide is a second form of assistance in dying, and in this situation the physician more actively serves as a casual agent in the patient’s death. The physicians’ role in physician-assisted suicide is normally to provide a medical means by which a patient can take his or her own life. This is generally done through a prescription for a lethal does of medication. The physician provides the medication and instructs the patient on how much medication to ingest. If the patient follows the instructions and takes the medication, death occurs within a few minutes. In this case death is caused directly by the medication and not by the underlying disease. So far, all of the ballot initiatives that have arisen in various states have attempted to legalize physician-assisted suicide only.
SAS is now legal in 5 states: Oregon, Washington, Vermont, Montana and the fifth state is my home state California. It is also legal in some places in Europe such as Switzerland, which is the place that Will had his performed.
I want to talk about the dangerous ideas that are found in the film by quoting Will:
Dangerous Idea #1
“I pretty much just exist.”
Will thinks that his existence doesn’t matter and living disabled is a terrible way to live. This is an awful message to send about people who are disabled. It makes them seem as if they are less than a person or even dehumanizes them.
Dangerous Idea #2
“The world will be a better place without me.”
Will thinks he is a burden to the people who care for him. This movie presents the idea that disabled people lives are not worth living because they will be dependent on others for the rest of their lives. Will thinks the greatest good is to end his life because he will no longer be a burden to his family and the people who care for him. He thinks that is better for them to just move on with their lives. He thinks his life only matters if he could just have his old life again. Even though Louisa tells him how important he had become to her and how profoundly he has impacted her life for the better. She tells him she learned more about life in the six months she has known him and that she has become a whole new person because of him.
In a Christian worldview, Will’s life is important, he has intrinsic value, something with intrinsic value is valuable in and of itself. The Christian worldview does not look at people using a cost and benefit analysis. People are valuable no matter what because they are made in the image of God. It is not dependent on if we are able bodied or disabled.
Dangerous Idea #3
“I don’t want you to miss out on all the things that someone else can give you.”
Will assumes that because he is disabled that he cannot be the right man for Lou. During a beautiful night under the stars at the beach Will tells Lou about his plans, but she already knew. She tells him that she can make him happy. But Will tells her that he is going to go through with it because he promised his parents six months. One thing he can’t give her is physical pleasure, but I don’t think that is what Louisa is looking for, you can tell she loves him and is content with just being with him. He thinks she will miss out on something or someone better. Do people miss out on life because they decide to love a disabled person? Are disabled people not worthy of love and affection? Isn’t there more to life than physical pleasure?
Dangerous Idea #4
“I don’t want to go in yet, I just want to be a man whose been with a girl in a red dress a few minutes more.”
Will doesn’t feel like a man because of his disability. There is a difference between feeling like a man and being a man. While Will no longer is able to do some things that men do, it does not mean he is no longer a man. He has confused his essence with function (who are you vs. what you do). A man doesn’t cease to be a man because he can no longer do things. We are humans and we have human functions. The converse would like to say, we have functions and therefore we are human. Think about these examples:
- When we have generalized anesthesia our human functions, we lose function.
- Irreversible coma, we lose function.
- In deep sleep, we lose function.
Are we no longer human during these times when we lose function? Something is grounding us as a human even when we lose function, and we as Christians call that the soul or the image of God.
This movies sends out a very dangerous and degrading message about the disabled community and about what kind of life is worth living. The movie wants to tell the audience to #LiveBoldy and “you have this one life, it’s your duty to live it as fully as possible.” How do we live it as fully as possible if we’re telling disabled people that their lives aren’t worth living and they are better off dead? Living boldly is choosing life when life gets difficult, it is the willingness to fight the good fight and not to give up. There are many people who are disabled who live fulfilled lives even with their dependence on others. The movie is telling us If you’re unhappy with your life, you can just end it, in fact, you have the right to. How is it that suicide is tragic, but self-assisted suicide is heroic? How is this brave in one situation and not the other. How is it in suicide we have prevention or awareness and in self-assisted suicide there is promotion. Self-assisted suicide is still suicide. Death with dignity is still death.
The movie presents the idea that living a disabled and dependent life is not worth living. In reality, there are many people who do live dependent lives and are amazing human beings that do impact the world for better. One person, I can think about is Joni Earekson Tada (learn more about her). Also, check out this video on Francesco Clark who is living with a spinal cord injury and even says his life has gotten better after his injury: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AjNxCaoRGZc
I am sad about how the movie ended. Our culture tells us our identity and being are based on things that we do, our success, or our accomplishments. Will had a false hope in life, he invested his life in his wealth, looks, career, social status, and pleasure. When he no longer had those things he hated life and wanted to die. C.S. Lewis says, “Don’t let your happiness depend on something you may lose.”
The Christian worldview values human life because humans are made in the image of God, life is sacred. God is the giver of life and he has the final say about a person’s life (Job 30:23, Ecc. 3:1-2, 8:8). The only person in the entire movie that anything close to a Christian worldview was Louisa’s mother, you may even notice she was wearing a cross in the film, she says, “Some choices you don’t get to make. It’s no better than murder.” She was the voice of reason while everyone else went along with Will.
Our culture needs to know that good things can come out of bad situations. Our culture needs to know that there is a God who understands suffering because he has been through suffering. If you trust in Him, he promises that one day he will end all suffering:
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” –Rev. 21:4
Live boldly for the Glory of God.
 Scott B. Rae, Moral Choices pg. 213-214