I made a mistake today. I had a couple of loads of laundry to fold, and I wasn’t feeling well. So I figured I’d put on a movie and fold clothes sitting down while the kids took their naps. I rarely do this, but it seemed like a good idea today. The mistake though, was the movie I chose. Me Before You.
Me Before You is about a young woman who gets a job as an aide and companion to a quadriplegic. Just by a quick look at the cover, I assumed this was a typical romance so I jumped in. Well… *SPOILER ALERT* I can’t explain why this was a bad movie choice for me without spoiling anything. Please don’t read on if you haven’t seen this movie and don’t want any spoilers.
In a nutshell, these two end up falling in love, and she finds out that he’s planning on ending his life. He says that he was always an active, happy person and he just can’t be that person stuck in a chair. He wants her to live her life with someone who can do things with her and take care of her. She tries to convince him otherwise, and fails. He can’t change his mind. And in a beautiful, spa-like room in Switzerland, they kiss, cuddle and confess their love for each other. She lies in his arms while the camera pans out and you know the nurse comes in for his final moments. It was peaceful, beautiful and romantic.
And that’s the problem. The movie itself was beautiful, and I don’t think that every romance should have a happy ending because that’s not realistic. But in this case… Romance movies featuring disabled people are rare. In this, I found myself wondering if I’d be willing to love someone in the same situation. I felt like I could. I imagine that this movie may have caused others to think of the same thing, which is great! People with such glaring disabilities are often viewed as different. Many admit that others don’t see them as sexual beings in any way, and finding love is extremely difficult for them. Movies like this make people see the side that many don’t consider.
Until the end. Wills determination to end his life was not about depression. It was not an illness that was going to kill him. I’m not going to claim I have any idea what someone in that situation might be feeling. But he had a choice to keep going. He was never going to get better, never going to walk again or do things for himself. But he found love. The one thing that people with severe disabilities would die for. He gave that up.
It’s not about his personal choice to die. It’s the way the movie portrayed it. There were numerous flashbacks to his life before his accident, about how active and happy he was. How many friends he had and the things he did that he could never do again. And after the accident, his girlfriend marries his best friend and everyone disappears. To be fair, they didn’t automatically abandon him. He pushes them away from the beginning. They are a reminder of what he can never have again.
But with the movie referring to everything he lost, and downplaying the most amazing relationship that he never thought he’d find, they minimize the humanity of that man in the wheelchair. It makes it feel like life would not be worth living in that situation, no matter what, so it’s better to die. Somehow, an amazing, beautiful love story turned into Hollywood convincing people that life is not worth living with a disability. They romanticized his suicide and made it seem like the most loving, selfless thing he could do. They made it look like he was a burden who was setting everyone free from the responsibility of caring for him.
I’ll admit, I don’t have a disability on that level. But I have struggled with thoughts of suicide. I had a lot of trouble watching someone choose that, on screen, to the influence of anyone wishing to watch. How would that make others feel, who are struggling with the same thoughts? Imagine people with similar disabilities who watched this, expecting hope and leaving instead with thoughts of suicidal ideation.
For anyone dealing with a disability, with a learning delay, a mental illness… You are NOT a burden. You ARE worth living, and worth being loved. Suicide is not beautiful. It is not peaceful and it is not selfless. It is also not selfish, and I understand the thought. I say all this because I need to hear it as well. But there are people who only need the tiniest bit of encouragement before they make that step. When someone is on the edge, a movie like this could be the tiny nudge to push them off.