erasing clouds

When Death Becomes a Right: On Alejandro Amenábar's The Sea Inside

by anna battista

"Your Honours, Political and Religious Authorities: After watching the images you have just seen, of a person taking care of an atrophied and deformed body - mine - I ask you: what does dignity means to you? Whatever your consciences' answer is, for me, this is not dignity … I, along with some judges, and the majority of people who love life and freedom, think that living is a right, not an obligation. Nevertheless, I have been obligated to tolerate this pitiful situation for 29 years, 4 months, and several days. I refuse to continue doing it any longer!"

These are the opening words of Ramón Sampedro's will. Former Galician sailor and traveller Sampedro was paralysed from the neck down in a diving accident and spent almost 30 years immobile in his bed, campaigning for the right to die, to end his life with that dignity he stated he had lost. His story has now been turned into a film by Chilean-Spanish filmmaker Alejandro Amenábar, director of Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes, 1997) and The Others (2001) and co-author with Mateo Gil of the screenplay for Vanilla Sky (2001). Mar Adentro (The Sea Inside; winner of 12 Goya Awards in 2004 and of the 2005 Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film), co-written by Amenábar and Gil, was inspired by Cartas Desde el Infierno (Letters from Hell) published by Ramón Sampedro in 1996.

The story follows the developments of the legal action Ramón Sampedro (Javier Bardem) started to end up his life, but also gives us insights into his life, his mind and his relations with his family and friends. Ramón lives with his older brother's family: his sister-in-law Manuela (Mabel Rivera) takes care of him, his teenage nephew Javi (Tamar Novas), helped by Ramón's father Joaquín (Joan Dalmau), builds for him gadgets to help him writing. Ramón's solitary life changes when he meets two women, Julia (Belén Rueda) and Rosa (Lola Dueñas), the former a lawyer who suffers from a degenerative disease, who takes care of his case, the second a single mother and desperate factory worker. After spending time with Ramón, Julia starts wondering if she should actually think about euthanasia herself, while Rosa sees in his desire to die, her desire to live and revaluate her own life. Both Julia and Rosa fall in love with Ramón, but he knows that only the one who will help him dying is the one who truly loves him.

Javier Bardem plays a very challenging role: confined to his bed, he expresses his feelings through his facial expressions, his sad smiles in particular and his eyes. Sight is quite important in the film: a few scenes are narrated from Ramón's point of view, from the point of view of somebody who, confined to his bed, sees the people who come to visit him standing, sitting or moving around him. Besides, sight is vital in the film, because Ramón often dreams with open eyes, fantasising about throwing himself out of his window, but rather than falling flying over the countryside, mountains, valleys and hills, reaching the sea and stopping on the beach, where he finds Julia and finally kisses her.

There are also funny scenes every now and then in The Sea Inside, like the one in which a quadriplegic cleric who offended Ramón's family by claiming on TV he wanted to die because he wasn't surrounded by enough love, visits Sampedro. He is unable to go up the narrow staircase and reach his bedroom, and Ramón refuses to come down, therefore he decides to stay in the hall and send his messages through an altar boy who runs up to Ramón's room, delivers the message, memorises his answer and reports it to the cleric.

Amenábar's latest film is a bit like a journey, indeed all the characters seem to be involved in a personal journey, Ramón towards his death which will give him freedom again; his family towards the epilogue of his life; Julia towards the realisation of what euthanasia means for terminally ill people and Rosa towards the final understanding of what death represents for Ramón.

The Sea Inside is not simply a film about the contrasts between life and death and the debates on euthanasia, it's about the rights of human beings, about freedom, love, affection and courage.

this month's issue
about erasing clouds

Copyright © 2005 erasing clouds