It has been a long time since a movie infuriated me to the extent that “Me Before You” did. Strap in, folks, this review is chock full of opinions and passion. (Also, here be spoilers, but if you’ve followed any of the online discussion surrounding the book/film, you probably know what happens anyways.)
Let’s just lay down some ground rules before we begin: suicide is not a release. It is not an escape. It is not a relief. But for those who feel compelled to commit the act, it is almost never cowardice or selfishness.
Unless, of course, we are talking about Sam Claflin’s Will Traynor, the wheelchair-bound character at the center of “Me Before You.” After being struck by a motorcycle in the film’s opening scene, he resigns himself to moping about the house when the accident dashes any hopes of returning to his adventurous lifestyle. But Jojo Moyes, author of the source novel and screenplay, is content to explain away his surliness as largely stemming from being ensconced in wealth and privilege as well as the betrayal of his girlfriend. Any actual depression or pain never surfaces.
And how convenient that is – because the film needs Emilia Clarke’s Lou Clark (playfully referred to by her surname) to swoop in and make him happy. Clarke plays her character with the clumsy verve of a “Saturday Night Live” skit mocking Zooey Deschanel, begging both Will and the audience to wonder how someone can contemplate suicide in the presence of someone who squeals upon receiving a pair of striped tights. While it might avoid the “Silver Linings Playbook” cliché of love curing mental illness, something more insidious is happening.
Will moves forward with his decision to end his life while the film only shows us the forward-facing aspects of his growing fondness for Clark. What it omits is any sign of actual pain or real depression. “Me Before You” treats suicide flippantly, doing a disservice for quadriplegics and the mentally afflicted in the process. It really adds insult to injury when this euthanasia spurs Clark to make the bold life choices she is hesitant to make on her own volition.
Suicide is not a cute plot device. Someone who takes their own life does so because they see no other option. Presenting it as a tool to expand someone else’s options is shallow and misrepresentative. One person’s anguish does not translate to another person’s triumph. Presenting suicide as inspirational or aspirational is dangerous. Look up “suicide contagion” if you don’t believe me. C- /