I knew the book had something to do with a quirky girl (Louisa) and a quadriplegic (Will), and I knew they fell in love.
I did not know Will wanted to die.
When I realized what was happening, I felt ill. I had emotionally invested in the book already, and this revelation was like a kick to the stomach. I was totally blindsided by Will’s plan to end his own life.
By now, whether you’ve read the book or seen the movie or not, you probably know all of this. You probably know because countless organizations, both right-wing advocates and disability advocates, have organized protests and boycotts and published articles written by little girls in wheelchairs telling you that Hollywood glamorizes suicide and implies a disabled life is no life at all.
I am not here necessarily to tell you that they’re wrong or to dismiss the valid objections from the disabled community or to advocate public policy. I cannot speak from that place. I can only tell you what I thought.
The director has made clear that the message of the movie (and the book) is to Live Boldly.
The horrific irony of a man dead set on ending his own life being the messenger was not lost on me. Perhaps the most emotional moment in the film was his plea that Lou live boldly after he was gone – despite knowing how it ended, I couldn’t keep myself from wishing he would take his own advice.
Throughout the book and the movie, I was mad at him, mad at his parents, mad at everyone who went along with it. Is it not the ultimate selfish act to end your own pain, meanwhile causing torrents of pain for everyone who loves you? How is it brave to multiply the pain?
But I must stop myself to consider, is it not also selfish to demand that someone in pain stay that way for your own sake? To keep you from feeling pain?
The hopelessness of these choices continues to bring me to tears.
I believe what the Church teaches regarding suicide.
Suicide is the ultimate act of despair and lack of faith in God. It is always wrong, as is assisted suicide. It is not compassionate or merciful. Every life, whether disabled, unborn, or anything in between, is a gift and worth celebrating.
Perhaps it is because I believe this that I find Me Before You to be so poignant.
I do not agree with the perspective that the movie glamorizes suicide, nor did I feel that it meant to portray a disabled life as somehow sub-human.
Will’s choice to die was presented as just that – his choice. His sacred, empowering choice.
And while I painfully disagree with that premise, the movie provided me with a perspective I had not yet considered. I did not walk away justifying anyone’s “right to die.” I did not walk away thinking Will was selfless and acted in the ultimate display of love. I did not walk away impassioned to ensure the same choice for other suffering people.
I was…and am…sad.
It’s easy to boycott. It’s easy to be indignant and condemn the world. It’s not easy to be faced with the hard reality of a world that celebrates suicide and devalues life. It’s not easy to consider, to truly and deeply search the depths of your soul to wonder what you would do if you were in their shoes.
A world where people view death as the best option, a world so full of the deepest despair, is not a world that needs protests and boycotts. It’s a world that needs to be shown the truth.