28 years ago, Spaniard Ramon Sampedro snapped his neck when he dived into the sea just as the undertow was pulling back. He would have drowned, too, if someone hadn’t pulled him out just in time. He survived, but he doesn’t think it was worth it since he was left a quadriplegic, condemned to be completely dependent of others. He finds this to be a life without dignity and he’s been fighting for the right to end it ever since. He feels he should have died face down into the water back then, and he’s looking to correct that mistake.
We enter Ramon’s life along with Julia, a lawyer whom he picked because she suffers from a degenerative disease herself, so she truly understands his plea. She also happens to be gorgeous, which never hurt anybody, though Ramon’s knowledge that he’s unable to reach out three feet and touch her (or anyone) does pain him. Still, he finds momentary solace in the love of the people around him. He’s almost got a harem there! Besides Julia, there’s Gené, who works for an organization trying to legalize assisted suicide, Rosa, a lonely single mother who sees him one day on TV and finds herself drawn to him, and Manuela, his caring sister-in-law. There are also men close to Ramon but, unsurprisingly, they have a harder time showing affection than their female counterparts. His brother loves him but he can’t help coming off rough and angry, Ramon and his father aren’t able to open up and talk to each other but love fills the silence, and his nephew doesn’t always get the subtle ways Ramon has of expressing his feelings, but he will, eventually.
“Mar adentro” was co-written and directed by Alejandro Amenábar, somewhat surprisingly. Best known for trippy genre flicks, he’s not the first filmmaker you’d expect to make an “issue movie”, let alone a tearjerker. In any case, even though the use of melodramatic music and montage is hardly as visionary as what you’d expect from the director of Abre los ojos, Amenábar does manage to make this intimate story not feel claustrophobic. I liked the use of fantasy sequences in which Ramon can walk again, fly even, and the film nicely establishes the small “kingdom” that creates itself around him.
Javier Bardem gives an amazing performance, even though his character’s paralysed and can only act with his face. You can sense his suffering, yet there’s also strength and lucidity in his eyes that makes it impossible to pity him. From the bed where’s he stuck in for almost the whole movie, Bardem still manages to fill the room with his presence, and he deeply moves us with his portrayal of this man who’s learned “to cry with a smile”.
As for the politics, the film makes a good case for euthanasia, but it doesn’t force anybody’s hand. What it does is show this reality without blinking, forcing the viewer to evaluate or reevaluate his feelings and opinions.
“Freedom without a life is not freedom.”
”A life without freedom is not a life!”
“It’s his choice.”
“What if it were up to you?”
“That’s beside the point.”