ME BEFORE YOU Encourages Viewers to "Live Boldly" - But Only If You're Able-Bodied

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Before I review ME BEFORE YOU, I want to post a massive *SPOILER WARNING*!!!! There is no way for me to discuss my feelings about this movie without giving away the ending. So if you don’t want to know how it ends, here is my one-sentence, spoiler-free review: ME BEFORE YOU starts out as a cute romance, but its massive shortcoming arrives in the form of a seriously problematic message in the ending.

Okay, now here comes the long version. If you don’t want to be spoiled, ex out now!

Now that I’ve got that over with, here are my thoughts on ME BEFORE YOU.

I will preface this by saying I have not read the book. I have friends who read it and loved it, and the friend who saw the film with me said that the movie was mostly true to the book with only a few minor differences (author Jojo Moyes also penned the screenplay). Even though I had not read the book, I am always up for a good romantic tear-jerker, so I was excited for this movie.

If this film had ended differently, I would have really enjoyed this story. In fact, for the first two-thirds of the movie, I was all-in and invested in Lou and Will’s relationship. There are lots of familiar faces in the cast, including Sam Claflin (Finnick from the Hunger Games), Emilia Clarke (Daenerys from Game of Thrones), Matthew Lewis (Neville from Harry Potter), and Charles Dance (Tywin from Game of Thrones). By far my favorite part was Louisa’s awesome outfits, and I would seriously love to own her shoe collection.

The gorgeous scenery provides a great backdrop of small-town England. I know this movie is getting some criticism for the heavy-handed soundtrack, but I personally loved the music selection. The film had a very “Nicholas Sparks” feel to me, so it could appeal to fans of his. Both Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin pull off stellar acting performances; Clarke’s facial expressions and mannerisms really captured Lou’s expressive character, and during the wedding scene I could feel Will’s pain.

However, my biggest issue came with the plot.

Will Traynor (Sam Claflin) is a wealthy and successful businessman whose life becomes upheaved when he is in an accident and becomes paralyzed from the neck down. Will, whose life had previously consisted of skiing and sports and women, now finds himself living as a quadriplegic in a wheelchair, back home with his parents (they literally live in a castle, for an idea of how rich they are) under constant medical supervision. He never leaves his house and does nothing but sit in his room and blast music all day.

Louisa Clark (Emilia Clarke) is a quirky, yet self-proclaimed “stupid,” waitress with a love of unusual fashion. She lives with her working-class parents, grandfather, and younger sister, who is a single mom, in their tiny home. When the small café in which she waitresses goes out of business, she is forced to find a new job immediately, as her family relies on her income. Despite not having any relevant skills, she is hired by Will’s family to be his caretaker.

Will is sarcastic and nasty to Lou, making her hate her job. But the two start to bond, and eventually develop feelings for each other.

Here is where my problem starts.

Lou overhears Will’s parents talking. She learns that Will believes his life is worthless due to his disability, and believes he cannot be happy in his new life. He has attempted suicide multiple times, and has sought out the services of Dignitas, a real-life Swiss organization that offers medically-assisted suicide services to people who qualify. Will had made an arrangement with his parents that he would agree to live another six months, and in return they would support his decision to end his life. Lou decides she can change his mind, and with the funding of Will’s parents – who are also hoping their son will reconsider – she makes a bucket list of adventures to show Will that he can still have a good life.

Lou takes Will to a horse race, a symphony, and on a tropical vacation. She attends a wedding as his date (Will’s ex-girlfriend and ex-best friend ditched him to marry each other, the jerks), hoping to show him that he can still have love and do things like he used to.

But in the end, Will decides that he does not want to live as a quadriplegic no matter what, and goes through with the suicide. He dies. Because, to him, if he cannot ski and play sports and travel the way he used to do, his life is not worth living. As if those things are the qualifiers for what makes a good life. For example, Will tells Lou that he wishes he could travel to Paris again and eat croissants at his favorite café; when Lou reminds him that he still can do those things, he states that because he will need to do them differently (someone has to feed him, and not all restaurants have room for his wheelchair), he insists that it’s not the same – AKA, if you can no longer do something the able-bodied way, it’s not worth doing. The message of this movie is that it is better to be dead than disabled.

While watching Will’s thought process and decision, I couldn’t help wondering what it would feel like to be a person in a wheelchair watching this film. ME BEFORE YOU basically says that only able-bodied people can have good lives, while disabled people are sob stories who live to inspire able-bodied people. Will Traynor has a lot of things going for him – he’s incredibly wealthy, he has a loving and supportive family, and he’s fallen in love. He has access to any medical treatment or equipment he needs, as money isn’t a problem. Yet he still decides that his life sucks because he is paralyzed. It sucks so much that the only solution is to die. I also couldn’t help feeling that his decision was incredibly selfish, given that he knows his death will destroy his family and break Lou’s heart. By choosing to go through with the suicide, Will’s decision displays a complete lack of character development.

After he dies, he leaves a considerable amount of money for Lou, with a note telling her to use it to travel and “live boldly.” I also found this message to be a little skeevy; it felt as though the disabled character’s whole purpose was to die and inspire the able-bodied character to live her life fully. The fact that this story was written by (to the best of my knowledge) an able-bodied person and stars an able-bodied actor playing a disabled man didn’t help either. We as a society need to stop objectifying disabled people. Disabilities are not plot devices.

Something about this movie also felt a little sexist to me. Lou is depicted as very stupid and needing to be cultured by a man who knows better. I often felt like Will was talking down to Lou.

I wish this story had taken a different direction. I wish that Lou and Will could have inspired each other and ended up happy together. As an able-bodied person, I don’t feel right leaving a numeric rating, so I’m leaving it blank.

Here’s a link to a great video critique of ME BEFORE YOU by a disabled person:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVVQb0xoA6I&feature=youtu.be&a

And an article:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jun/01/me-before-you-suggests-better-dead-than-disabled?CMP=share_btn_tw