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Sea Inside, The

Reviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 11/06/04 17:17:37

"Take Me Away From All This...Life"
5 stars (Awesome)

SCREENED AT THE 2004 TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: All of us have said the words at some point in our lifetime. “I want to die” or “I feel like dying.” Often it’s said in jest to amplify an embarrassment or a quick fix to something painful or overly cumbersome. Doesn’t signify we actually mean it. Even the hypothetical circumstances of cocktail conversations back us into an extreme “what would I do if…” corner. Tell that to Christopher Reeve or anyone close to you who may be out of choices. Better yet, let Ramon Sampedro tell his story to you, one filled with the joys of life, family and the love that penetrates and keeps us going. This is Ramon’s life. And he wants to end it.

Ramon lies in his bed, a stick in his mouth controlling the TV and telephone. He has been a paraplegic for nearly 30 years, following a freak cliff-diving accident that ruptured his spine (which does fall into my “Shayna, They bought their tickets…” category, but unlike the Touching the Void idiots, I sympathize.) In that period, he’s been petitioning the Spanish government for the right to terminate his life. His requests are constantly denied. An organization dedicated to supporting that right lends their support, but like most human rights organizations is generally ignored by those in power.

Their latest effort is to bring in a lawyer who can perhaps ease the burden on Ramon and his family. Her name is Julia (Belen Rueda) and she has a degenerative disease of her own that Ramon believes will help her understand why he feels that dignity left his lifespan some time ago. Another woman, Rosa (Lola Duenas), conscious of Ramon from the television coverage of his case reaches out to him as well. It becomes Ramon’s greatest blessing and curse that both of these women will find love for him as he’s made peace with leaving this Earth for good.

Ramon is played by Javier Bardem in a performance of undeniable strength that doesn’t have the handicapped reliance on ticks and spasms that radiate from such Oscar-bait roles like My Left Foot and Rain Man. Bardem only has his face to work and he must mask decades of frustration and grief through sarcasm and wry smiles. Ramon is all too aware of the healing power of humor, not for him but the others around him whom he has hampered for so long. Most of the time his family, particularly his intelligent (but not quick) nephew miss his wit entirely, either not finding anything to laugh at or agonized by their own feelings of what Ramon struggles to ultimately accomplish.

The debate of euthanasia was at its greatest strength during the Kevorkian years. But having a scary-looking doctor who sounded straight out of a horror film was probably not the best front man for the discussion. Someone like Ramon certainly is though and The Sea Inside wisely doesn’t make an easy case for either side. In a beautifully written showdown, Ramon makes his case from his bed while a priest uses a mediator to run back and forth. The holy man even shouts from the ground floor; trying to form a conversation (literally) with the man upstairs only to discover he’s not being listened to.

This is the only scene in the movie that has the feel of a debate. It never succumbs to ponderous fact-crunching because you can feel it’s torn over what is the right thing to do and towards the end, Ramon is too. I criticized the film, Ray, for unwisely fantasizing that the musician’s handicap is miraculously cured. Amenabar uses a similar tactic, but it’s far less impractical for a one-time thrill-seeker like Ramon to imagine himself not just able to walk, but to jump out the window and fly. There’s a heavenly correlation to it signifying the weight of his condition and the decision it has led him to. Ramon just wants to be free and that’s far more compelling than someone just taking off their glasses and saying “I can see!

Amenabar is at home with the afterlife and the decisions that lead us to it. He has plot twisted the discovery of those themes in the past with Open Your Eyes and The Others , but here confronts them head-on for two hours. Complemented with a gorgeous musical score which he conducted, Amenabar and Bardem combine to tell such a beautiful story that could have easily been dark and unpleasant to sit through no matter where your spiritual beliefs take you. The Sea Inside is a story about life, not death, and the decisions thrust upon us, whether self-inflicted or by some higher realm of fate. It demands not to be ignored and may dictate paths to follow, but the ultimate decision lies within each of us and the only thing more beautiful than life itself is our ability to live it the way we choose.

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