July 2nd 2016


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY CFA dispute may end up burning Victorian Labor electorally

CANBERRA OBSERVED July 2: Independence Day or Groundhog Day?

EDITORIAL Expect shockwaves as Britain votes on EU exit

CLIMATE CHANGE Coral bleaching way overdone by reef saviours

EUTHANASIA Victorian report closer to truth in dissenting voices

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Trump v Clinton race revealing of state of U.S.

SEXUAL POLITICS Transgenderism and the triumph of marketing

EDUCATION Deconstruction and other rot at school

POLITICS AND ECONOMICS Two heretics: Hilaire Belloc and R.H. Tawney

FREE SPEECH From disagreement to discrimination: section 18C

LITERATURE Tolkien, Golding and Hell

SOCIETY New lease on life for freedom machine

MUSIC AND ENTERTAINMENT Talent shows grind down singers, grind out drivel

CINEMA Puppet people pull the plug: Me Before You

BOOK REVIEW HOMOSEXUALITY, MARRIAGE AND SOCIETY

BOOK REVIEW Friendship under fire

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CINEMA
Puppet people pull the plug: Me Before You


by Symeon J. Thompson

News Weekly, July 2, 2016

Spoiler alert: This review reveals the complete story in the film.

There’s no such thing as “realism” in art. All art involves the making of choices, and those choices reflect the values and understandings of the maker. They may not be conscious, or even thought through, but they are there.

Actor Sam Calflin and actress Emilia Clark

Me Before You is a case in point, where what is sold as a weepy romance and an affirmation of life could be more accurately referred to as a study in nihilism and a hymn to suicide.

Will Traynor (Sam Claflin) was a successful banker with a relentlessly physical and hedonistic life. While not a bad man, he was one who lived fundamentally for himself. As a result of a tragic accident, not of his own making, he has been paralysed from the neck down. Now he lives in his parents’ castle, depressed and bitter thanks to his misfortune, isolating himself more and more from society.

Louisa ‘Lou’ Clark (Emilia Clarke) is a bright and chipper girl who lives at home, and has worked to help support her family since her father lost his job thanks to the rationalisations of a banker. She has an ambitious boyfriend, Patrick (Matthew Lewis), who, while not a bad man, is not a particularly sensitive one, and who has a keenness bordering on obsession for physical fitness. When her employer reluctantly decides to close his cafe, she loses her job and must find another.

Will’s parents, Stephen (Charles Dance) and Camilla (Janet McTeer) are looking for a companion for Will. He already has a nurse and physical therapist in Patrick (Stephen Peacocke). Camilla decides to give Lou a shot, hoping her vibrant personality will cheer up her son.

And so Louisa enters Will’s life. There are early difficulties, as Will is a surly sort, but in time a bond grows between them. Will introduces Louisa to “culture” through the medium of a subtitled French film, and Louisa gets Will to laugh and go outside.

But one day Louisa overhears Stephen and Camilla discussing Will’s plan to kill himself. This horrifies her and she seeks to show Will that life is worth living. She does this by getting closer to Will, taking him to the races, a classical concert, and ultimately, by going on a luxury holiday to a tropical island.

None of this changes Will’s mind, and there is an interlude of agonising before Louisa heads to Switzerland to be with Will and his parents as he kills himself. Afterwards she discovers that Will has left her some money, to give her her independence and encourage her to continue to get more out of life – to “live boldly” as he puts it.

In stating the plot so bluntly, the film’s problems are brought into focus. The film equates “living” with “living the life you want”, and unsubtly proposes that “the Good Life” is one of sensual pleasure and materialism. The pleasures may be more refined, at times, but they’re still the point of life. And it encourages the view that women and commoners will find a more meaningful life through the machinations of wealthy men.

Despite elevating “choice” to lofty heights, it presents its characters as completely passive – they react to their circumstances, and each other, but they do not act of their own volition. They are like puppets driven from without, lacking any life within.

The rhetoric of “choice” becomes a mask to obscure the nihilism at the heart of this worldview, a simplistic worldview that reduces life to the total of the “choices” available to us, and where suicide is a “good thing”, where the film’s catch cry of “Live boldly” actually means “Go and Die”.

The French film that introduces Louisa to culture is Xavier Beauvois’ 2010 masterpiece, Of Gods and Men, about the martyrdom of Algerian monks who refused to leave their monastery. They refused to leave, not because of a death wish, but because they sought to bear continual witness to Christ, for they knew that the terrorists could take their lives, but they couldn’t take their souls, in turn showing the community that they need not be controlled by terror.

The commercial success of the movie of Me Before You, like the novel before it, is because it takes various tropes from the romance genre and then twists them. This twisting is the only thing that makes this story different from any of the countless others available.

Disability activists are rightly angered by the film, for the film is not about disability. Disability is a plot point resolved only by death, and its purpose is to make the main character flourish. But the film’s rationale for suicide does not just apply to the disabled. It applies to anyone who cannot live the life they want. Thus humanity is reduced to an animal existence, and Me Before You becomes the extinction of me and you.

Symeon J. Thompson is a member of the Film Critics Circle of Australia (FCCA).




























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