Generally speaking the movies based on real life can get a little arduous. So when I picked up this Spanish movie based on the life of a ship mechanic, I expected a little bit of sentimentality, some show of real heroism and a bit of boredom. But generalizations are in general risky and one can never learn enough that they should be avoided.
The story, contrary to what most briefs about the movie will have you believe, isn’t the story of Ramon Sampedro’s life at all. It is a story of his death, which begins when he is 20 and meets a diving accident and ends 28 years later. During these 28 years, Ramon lives his quadriplegic life, but refuses to accept this existence choosing in stead to die. He fights a legal battle for euthanasia, but the law continues to rule against it. Eventually, he manages to convince enough people to assist him in his death and takes a cyanide injection, thus completing the cycle that had begun 28 years ago.
The movie, however does not focus on the legal drama at all, as you might expect from the plot outline. In stead it focuses on the personal life of this bed-ridden guy who denies even the use of a wheel-chair, perhaps because he does not want to reach a compromise with his condition. It focuses on the family ties and the bond between two people battling with a degenerate disease, on Ramon’s love for sea and his dreams about flying out to it. But most importantly it is about personal dignity and a man’s vehement denial to be forced to accept what is handed out to him , because he has no other choice. So even though his family and people around him continue to love him and care for him, he continues to resent his dependence on them. At some time, specially when you see the sad faces of his family members, Ramon’s decision to die seems thankless and a little cruel. But it is rational to abhor dependence and be at the mercy of this love, specially for a sailor who loved his freedom and traveled around the world at a young age of twenty. And it is unfair to expect everyone to accept a severe setback and make amends with it.
Javier Bardem’s performance in the movie as Ramon was extraordinarily brilliant. He surely deserved an Oscar for expressing his bitterness, love, mockery and determination merely through his eyes. The movie is also very well scripted and directed, and it steers clear of making any moral judgement on whether euthanasia should be supported or legalized, which is remarkable as anyone making a movie on such a moral question is often tempted to take sides and at least tip the scales to one side. What Alejandro Amenábar has done is simply portray the life and the thoughts sensitively. It may be the emotional tear-jerking drama, it is surely well worth the time.