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Film Review: Me Before You

Jojo Moyes' heart-rending romance, Me Before You, released in 2012 was received with raving reviews and with over 6 million copies sold worldwide, the author’s film adaptation was anticipated to be met with similar acclamation and praise.

The plot tells the story of quirky-dressing, happy-go-lucky, Louisa Clark, a bright 26-year-old, who is happy coasting along through life. When she loses her job as a waitress, she begins a new career as a caregiver to Will Traynor, a previously adrenaline-fuelled, successful banker, who has lost the will to live since a motorbike accident left him with a tragic spinal cord injury, leaving him paralysed from the neck down. Despite their blossoming romance, Will is adamant in his resolve to seek assisted suicide and put an end to what he believes to be an unbearable and agonising life.

When I encountered the novel, I brushed it off as a cliché light read romance - far from it - I quickly fell for Moyes' easy-to-love characters and was swept up into this beautiful, emotional and suspenseful novel, which left me reflecting on some serious ethical questions. 

The film however has been received with mixed reactions. Critics have slammed the big screen adaptation as disrespectful and Moyes has been faced with an impassioned backlash as having an agenda. When the film premiered in London this month, disability rights campaigners from the Not Dead Yet group staged a protest on the red carpet, condemning the story for its negative portrayal of disability and claiming that it endorsed the message that assisted suicide was an equitable response to disability and injury. The critics have labelled the film as a “gross misrepresentation of the lived experience of most disabled people”. The film has also been criticised for giving a one-sided view of disability; written and directed by non disabled people rather than through the eyes of a quadriplegic.

Moyes has defended herself, by retorting that "everyone's entitled to their opinion, but this is not a movie with a message, other than perhaps to not judge somebody. This is about one very uncompromising man's choice. It's not a 'how to', it's not got a political message. It's just a human study, which asks: what would you do if you were in somebody's shoes?" She also explains the films deeper origins; inspired by her own family relatives who required 24-hour care as well as well-thought out research into quadriplegics and real life stories.

Although the movie has stirred up much controversy, I believe Moyes’ story line successfully touches on a challenging and uncomfortable topic for many and offers an eye opening perspective into how quadriplegics have to cope physically, emotionally and socially. Just like the book, the film also moved me to tears, not manipulatively by its divisive tear-jerker one-liners, but because of its bravery to put on the table a big discussion. Cringe-worthy in parts and not the most sublime pieces of acting, it was nonetheless an incredibly moving, uplifting and life-affirming film - I left the cinema screen, grateful for life.  

Written by Esther Dark

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