Life Worth Living: The Insidious Harm of “Me Before You”

It is with some trepidation that I dip my toe into waters that have become so roiled by so many voices, but I feel like it’s important to offer my coherent view of the insidious damage that could or will result from the film “Me Before You” a film that will be released by Warner Bros. pictures this week.

As described by attorney and writer David Bekhour in this article, the movie is about a man named Will who

“has a spinal cord injury and uses a wheelchair. True to enduring stereotypes of disability, he is angry and bitter about his circumstances. Louisa is a café-worker-turned-caregiver whose unconventional approach to life makes her almost immediately endearing. The two develop a deep love for each other that feels both inevitable and authentic.
And Will still chooses to kill himself at the hands of others. He follows through on his methodical plan to commit suicide because the rigors of life in a wheelchair simply make his a life that is not worth living.”

Now, since I shared this and a few other critical articles, some have pointed out to me that this author oversimplifies the nuance of the book upon which the movie is based (no one has seen the movie yet), in which the female protagonist spends the majority of the time trying to dissuade the male protagonist from his ultimate course.

I’m glad to hear that, and it would hold significantly more sway were this not a work of fiction.  Since this is a work of fiction, the author holds the ultimate choice on the ending.  The author could have ultimately made Will choose life, at least as of the end of the book.  (It is a choice that we each get to keep making for every day of our lives.)

I don’t want to impute motives to the author.  It could well be that the decision to die was intended as a tragic commentary on the futility of our efforts against the ceaseless pull of entropy.  I don’t really care.

The fact is that, by choosing to let the character die, author has sent the message, intentional or not, that the prospect of life in a wheelchair, even one with love, romance (not always the same thing) and material comfort, is one worthy of suicide.

The main point of the article linked above is that the vast majority of people in wheelchairs are not suicidal, and in fact take great value and joy from their lives.  That is an important message, and for those who’d like to read more about it, the link above will give you an excellent perspective.

But what about those of us who are not always so lucky. In addition to being a wheelchair user, I've lived with clinical depression for almost 20 years. While I've never been considered a severe risk for self-harm, I have, at times, been treated for suicidal ideation, a precursor of sorts.

When my mental health is good, like now, I love my life. When it's bad, I cling to it with a tenacity inspired by fear of death. At those times, I need to be surrounded by messages of the value and worth of my life. I'm sure I'm not alone.

There is a term for those of us who are feeling like our disability makes life not worth living: ill and in need of help.  The last thing that we need is a film or a book that not only reinforces that message, but plants the seed of it in the minds of the very friends and loved ones from whom we need unbridled affirmation when times are darkest.

In the grips of depression, I am categorically unable to see the value in my life as outweighing the difficulty and pain.  This dark message lives in my brain, the toxic result of neurochemistry and trauma.  At those times, I need the outside, whether my friends, fellows or art to burn through the haze and help bring me back.

At best, even if largely ignored, this movie puts one more toxic message in the world in the name of sales and cheap tears.  At worst, it provides some dimming of the light that we sometimes so desperately need.

If even one person tempers their positive message about the value of life to a person with a disability with a nagging question because of this movie, then the movie has done incalculable harm.  I respectfully urge you to protest this movie, and that outcome.

 

In my faith, we are taught that the destruction of even a single life is akin to the destruction of the world.  I don’t know if any lives will be lost from the message of this movie, but I think we can all agree that even one would be far too many.  Protest this movie, maybe save a life, and maybe save the world.