Life Matters Media
Quality of life at the end of life

Me Before You Turns ‘Death With Dignity’ Debate Into Cinderella Story

Film fails to offer realistic portrait of death

BY DANIEL GAITAN | daniel@lifemattersmedia.org

There is nothing subtle about Me Before You.

The controversial tear-jerker focuses on Louisa Clark (Emilia Clarke), an eclectic young English woman loses her job at a local cafe and becomes a full-time caregiver for Will Traynor (Sam Claflin), a wealthy 30-something. Traynor became a quadriplegic as a result of a motorcycle accident two years before.

The film opened with an “exceptional” $18 million earned in ticket sales, according to the industry website Box Office Mojo.

The drama, directed by Thea Shamrock and based on Jojo Moyes’ popular novel of the same name, lays the campiness on thick by depicting nearly every character as a cliche and avoiding anything “ugly.” It uses the genre to shoehorn in on the timely “Death with Dignity” controversy regarding physician-assisted suicide laws.

Louisa, with wacky attire and saintly disposition, gets the unexpectedly glamorous job with Will in order to help support her working-class family. When she finally arrives at the Traynor castle (yes, he lives in a castle), Will wants nothing to do with her. When he and Louisa first meet, Will fakes a seizure to scare her away. But, bubbly Louisa is, of course, up for the challenge.

We learn Will had the perfect life – London flat, good job, dashing demeanor, gorgeous girlfriend — until the rainy morning he was running late for work and was struck by a biker. After the accident, his shallow girlfriend married his former best friend. Meanwhile, he moved back in with his rich, but distant, parents. He is also severely depressed.

Until Louisa arrived, Will spent his days blasting heavy metal music and intimidating professional caregivers. He is a cynic and never stops insulting Louisa’s appearance.

However, Louisa is attracted to his cultured upbringing. She eventually breaks up with her meat-head boyfriend who would rather watch a Will Ferrell comedy than a foreign-language film.

Louisa was hired not due to any experience or interest in medicine. She was hired because she is pretty. Will’s mother, Camilla (Janet McTeer), hired her to cheer-up her son and stop him from cutting his wrists. How could Will, a quadriplegic, cut his own wrists? Anyway, Will promises his parents six months before he ends his life with doctor-prescribed drugs.

The film makes it clear that Will isn’t “dying.” His condition can be managed with an assortment of pills and family support.

And as “caregiver,” Louisa never cooks, cleans or changes Will’s clothing. Instead, she watches movies, drinks tea and accompanies him to posh parties. Real caregivers would envy her job.

Her most difficult task: going on a luxury vacation to persuade him not to commit suicide. It doesn’t work, even after they make out.

Although the two have fallen in love and forged a relationship, their love is not strong enough to stop him from booking a flight to Switzerland’s Dignitas clinic for a so-called “dignified death.” Will says he could have a “good life” with Louisa but it wouldn’t be “his life.” He only experiences true happiness when he closes his eyes and dreams about the past.

Advocates for people facing disabilities have denounced the film for its apparent argument that it is better to die than subject loved ones to your physical limitations. Pain and suffering are not Will’s main reason for ending life. He is simply depressed and doesn’t want to burden Louisa.

Shamrock called her film “life-affirming.” But John Kelly, regional director of disability rights group Not Dead Yet, isn’t buying it.

“We see yet another film in which people like me are clamoring for death, either to commit suicide or to be killed,” he told Life Matters Media.

Kelly said he suffers a spinal cord injury similar to Will’s. He is paralyzed from the neck down.

“If Will and Louisa lived happily ever after, no one would go see this film,” he said. “The fact that he dies is part of its appeal and it’s very disturbing.”

Despite the film’s emphasis on personal choice and the need for doctor-assisted death, Me Before You doesn’t show Will ingesting the drugs. In reality, death by barbiturates takes hours and isn’t so pretty.

SEE: “The Fault In Our Stars,” a film that tackled death and young love in a far more effective manner.