The Sea Inside is out for rental and I’ve been looking forward to seeing it – Javier Bardem is a phenomenal actor. It was in theatres at the same time as Million Dollar Baby (which I saw), both about the same theme. My impression of Baby was… less-than-stellar. I think it’s only “inspiring” to able-bodied people. NB: SPOILER AHEAD! I’m very supportive of the right to do what you want with your life, including ending it if you think it necessary (not on a whim, please), but when you have a disability, watching someone choose to die merely because they can’t walk anymore, hits a nerve.
While waiting for Sea to come out on DVD, I’ve been playing with writing something about how sick I am of creative media using disability as some sort of twisted cripple version of the madonna/whore metaphor. The person with the disability tends to be portrayed as saintly and inspiring or conversely, the disability is an outward symptom of evil. I’m also sick of how playing someone with an illness or disability (and They – the They in charge of greenlighting such dreck - seldom differentiate between the two) is the surest way to get an Oscar nomination. Or how offended I am that this year, three(able-bodied) actors were nominated for playing people with disabilities and only one of the movies (Ray) was about the person’s life and talent. The other two were – as is usual - all about the Tragedy of being unable to walk and how Profound and Uplifting and Brave these people were for choosing to die, rather than spending the rest of their lives in this non-life, this hell.
When I’d only seen Baby, that was what I’d planned to say. Then I watched Sea and…. it’s different. It’s not perfect, but it is based on Ramon Sampedro's real story. It had “been there” credibility, instead of being some able-bodied writer’s idea of using the disability as a plot point leading to someone else’s journey towards redemption. Whereas Baby left me enraged at its presumptions about disability as a Fate Worse Than Death, Sea made me argue both points furiously. With myself. Alternating rapidly. One moment, I defended Sampedro’s right to do what he wished with his life, the next I was yelling about how maybe if instead of lying in bed on the third floor of an ancient farmhouse for almost 30 years, the man had gotten some accessible housing, attendant care and a good counsellor, he might have been able to find meaning in life again.
And maybe I’m as judgemental as the people who think they’d have to kill themselves if they lost the use of their legs. Partly for thinking that Ramon Sampedro’s desire to die was somehow more valid than Maggie Fitzgerald’s. Why? Because he’d wanted it for a longer time. It takes time to adapt to losing the way things were and after 30 years, I think he’d given it enough thought. Which brings me to the other part – the one where I don’t understand the willingness to give up, to not try. Sure, I’ve got my own theoretical scenarios where I can imagine saying “I’m done with this crap”, but I’ve used this chair long enough to know that eventually, you tend to adapt and life gets good again. For me, it’s about fighting tooth and nail to create a meaningful, joyful life. It’s about dusting yourself off and getting back on the horse that threw you. About not letting the bastards get you down.
“Resolved: To take Fate by the throat and shake a living out of her”
- Louisa May Alcott