Some folks are still adamantly resistant to the notion of "death with dignity," but you don't hear much from them anymore. In America nowadays, you can off yourself gently and theoretically painlessly at the hands of a trained medical professional--in fact, our very own lovely state of Oregon is the place to do it. The debate over assisted suicide is fading fast.
Fortunately, Alejandro Amenábar's The Sea Inside doesn't rehash the tired moral debate regarding death with dignity. Instead, it's an exquisitely thoughtful, gorgeously filmed portrayal of a sad and wonderful person.
Javier Bardem plays the real-life Spaniard Ramón Sampedro, a middle-aged quadriplegic who suffered a spine-crushing diving accident as a young man. But Ramón's mind is just fine--brilliant, even--and as a permanent invalid, Ramón's become an avid consumer of books and music, and a writer of elegant prose through dictation to his reluctantly devoted nephew. He is surrounded by family and friends who love him, and though he will never move his arms and legs again, his life seems rich enough to be fulfilling. Yet Ramón wants to die.
Incapable of doing it himself, he hopes for an assisted suicide, an action forbidden by the Spanish government. As The Sea Inside begins, he prepares for a legal battle with the state, helped by an attractive pro bono lawyer named Julia (Belén Rueda), who has a debilitating medical condition of her own. Linked by a common outlook (and Bardem's dreamy green eyes), the two form a strange romance, one doomed by Ramón's insistent deathwish.
Writer/director Amenábar makes no judgment regarding Ramón's decision, nor of the inherent morality of assisted suicide itself--he simply gives us a man and the people in his life, who react to his struggle in vastly different ways. Bardem is one of the few leading men who can lie in a bed for an entire movie and never be boring. His silky voice and gentle gaze juxtapose Ramón's morbid desires. He is a good man, a sweet man, with a seed of determination terrifying in its strength. I found myself loathing his choice not because I didn't agree his life is fundamentally unhappy, but because I didn't want to see him go.