Disclaimer: Spoiler Alert
Will Traynor was an avid adventurer until he became a quadriplegic in a tragic motorbike accident. Me Before You, written by Jojo Moyes, was published in 2012, and the movie adaptation is being released in theaters on June 3rd. It is the story of Will’s journey with his caregiver, Louisa Clark, with whom he ends up falling in love. Louisa, who previously had a menial lifestyle and took care of her parents and sister, is opened to a new world with Will’s help. In turn, she also enlightens Will by showing him that happiness still exists in a world where he had recently only been privy to darkness. Louisa, after a couple months of working with Will, learns that after a failed suicide attempt, he promised his parents six months, and then he would take his life with the aid of an assisted suicide institution in Switzerland. Upon making this disturbing discovery, Louisa decides she wants to persuade Will that his life is still worth living. When he decides that he still wants to commit suicide, Louisa is baffled. He loves her, yet is so adamant about leaving her forever. She comes to learn that his decision does not mean he loves her any less but rather that he wants to give her the life he knows she deserves.
Will does not kill himself because he is weak, but because he is strong. Strong enough to make the decision that he deems best for his particular situation. He believes that if he cannot live his life fully, as he used to, he does not want to live at all. The institution that Will ends his life at is called Dignitas, which is a real institution in Switzerland. In Latin, dignitas means worth and merit. Assisted suicide is a whole other issue; however, that’s a topic for another article.
Although not all of the Latin community has read Me Before You, there is a large portion that has. There may be criticism about the stereotypical love story, but most would agree that they enjoyed the book for its new perspective. Accustomed to novels with happy endings, Jojo Moyes provides an outlet for students to see that even after finding love, sometimes that is not enough. At Latin, we are taught to view writings with a critical eye, which helps us with our analytical skills, but not everything warrants analysis.
Emily Ladau, who lives her life in a wheelchair and is an activist in the disabled community said, “The entire premise [of the film] rests on the belief that life with a disability is not worth living.”
To Will, his life does not hold the same value as it once did, despite him trying to persevere. I do not believe that Jojo Moyes’ intent was to undermine all quadriplegics and send the message that you are ‘less than’ if you have a disability. The point of novels and film is to tell a story. Moyes is simply telling a story in which a disabled man makes a decision to end his life. Another reason activists are speaking out against the novel and film is because there are not many paralyzed characters represented in film. So, if a movie comes out with a paralyzed man who kills himself, the public could possibly get the message that this is a sentiment that all disabled people share. There are many holes in the aforementioned arguments that, in my opinion, stem from people simply wanting to create controversy and be heard.
“What was most surprising to me was that Will decided to kill himself at the end,” says sophomore Emma Weiss, “But I never once thought of this movie as a political statement about paralyzed people but rather an incredible love story.”
Remember back to the movie Soul Surfer, which was a true story that depicted a young, talented surfer who lost an arm due to a shark attack. In the film, Bethany Hamilton, played by AnnaSophia Robb, ultimately perseveres and continues to surf, although she is disabled. When members of the disabled community lash out at Me Before You, are they forgetting the unwavering spirit of Bethany Hamilton? Or are they just choosing to ignore it to prove a point? The Theory of Everything starring Eddie Redmayne came out in 2014 and documented the life and accomplishments of Stephen Hawking. The English physicist has not given up and continues to learn, write, and educate with a disability. Just as there are stories about succumbing to disease or obstacles, there are many stories that depict the opposite and show triumph. But triumph is personal and in his own way, Will Traynor experienced his own version of satisfaction.
In a volatile time in our world and in our school, it’s unfortunate that everything has to be over analyzed, and motives constantly questioned. Not everything has to have an agenda. This movie is one particular example of a story that needs to be accepted for the message that Jojo Moyes intended.
In an interview with WomanAroundTown, Moyes said, “I’d like to think that if it happened to me I could be graceful about it and find a new purpose…But I’m also conscious that I could end up horribly bitter….I think the one thing I do believe is that we shouldn’t judge someone else if we haven’t stood in their shoes.”
In creating her character she did not have a specific agenda regarding a paralyzed man taking his life, but merely wanted to share one mindset of someone who has a disability.
At Latin, over time we have become hypersensitive to most remarks that are made. I urge you to not find the problem in every book, movie, or speaker that we see, but to appreciate different points of view and sometimes just take things for what they are. Although it may be hard for some to accept, the world is not plotting against you. ]]>