Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Sea Inside

My thanks to Viv Apple for the following article.

‘The Sea Inside’ has been compared with ‘Whose Life is it Anyway?’ because of its subject matter, assisted suicide. Never having seen ‘Whose Life?’, I can’t compare the two, but I would be surprised if this daunting subject could be handled with more sensitivity and truth than in Alejandro Amenabar’s supremely moving film, based on a true story.

Javier Bardem plays the part of Ramon Sampedro, a Spanish fisherman and part time poet who at the age of 26 suffered a diving accident which left him a paraplegic. Now 54, Ramon has lived for 28 years with his family: his father, macho brother Jose, sister-in-law Manuela who is his main carer, and their son Javi, who helps Ramon by transcribing his laboriously written-by-mouth words onto a computer. Although bedridden, Ramon can talk normally and still manages to smile for much of the time, enabling those around him to empathise more easily. But his inner pain is conveyed by occasional dream sequences in which he gets up and flies over the countryside to the sea, which he still loves.

Through a friend who works with a ‘Right to Die’ organisation, Ramon is introduced to Julia, a lawyer whom he hopes will take his case to the courts to let him end his life. His family, especially his brother and father, are strongly against this, and the film’s tensions arise from the relationship between Ramon and all those who love him and yet have different views on how to help him. Julia herself has a degenerative disease which influences her growing relationship with Ramon, and despite the objections of some family members, Ramon is taken in a wheelchair to the court hearing. On the way, the camera shows us through Ramon’s eyes little snippets of everyday life, and on his face we see the re-discovery of the outside world he has missed for so long: a small boy being reprimanded by his father for straying off the path, two dogs doing what dogs do, and tellingly, his eyes puzzling over the turning sails of a wind farm half-hidden by a hill. It is small details like these throughout the film which lift it out of the ordinary.

Every character in Ramon’s story has significance. I haven’t mentioned them all, or the equally significant events which accompany the story’s flow, not because it would spoil the plot - this is not a plot-driven film - but because it might dilute some of its richness. It is memorable because of each character’s closely observed interaction with Ramon, and with each other. The ending has a gentle, unexpectedly sad twist, but despite its downbeat theme the film is absorbing throughout. Javier Bardem’s performance without doubt deserves the Best Actor award received from the 2004 Venice Film Festival.

by Viv Apple

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