The Sea Inside

This is the full 500 word version of what I wrote for Redbrick (the University newspaper) last year. The version I sent them was cut to 300 words and consequently a bit crap.

In 1998, 55 year old Ramón Sampedro ended his life in secrecy after being denied the right to die by the Spanish courts following an accident that left him paralysed from the neck down. In this Golden Globe winning film, director and co-writer Alejandro Amenábar tells Sampedro’s story.

Although handled sensitively, the euthanasia debate is not the main theme of the film. Instead, it focuses on Sampedro’s relationships with the people around him: his family, who look after him; his lawyer, Julia (Rueda), who intimately understands Sampedro’s desire to die as she suffers from a degenerative illness; and Rosa (Dueñas), a local woman who tries to convince him that life is worth living. These characters are portrayed with a huge dose of realism – there is no point at which any of them begin to feel clichéd – and are all well acted throughout, making the viewer care deeply, not only for Sampedro’s predicament, but also for the feelings of those around him. Bardem’s portrayal of Sampedro himself is excellent, showing a great depth of emotion and character despite the obvious limitation of only being able to use his head in most scenes. He portrays the character with a sharp sense of humour and a great deal of intelligence, showing his decision to die not as the product of frustration and depression but as a calculated judgement – a product of the lucidity that is the lynchpin of Sampedro’s case in court.

The viewer is allowed further insight into Sampedro’s mind by Amenábar’s mixing of the character’s fantasies into the narrative, which are neither flagged up in so obvious a way as to seem crass nor presented so that we are left confused as to where Sampedro’s imaginings end and reality begins. Similarly, the director’s use of flashbacks is so subtle that it runs no risk of breaking up the pace of the film, leaving a smooth transition between times and places.

Amenábar’s portrayal of Sampedro’s final days treats its subject seriously without being too grim, and sensitively without being too sweet. He reveals details of the plot subtly with images, not relying on dialogue to drive forward the plot or to drive home the points he tries to make. Likewise, he manages to weave in views of Spanish scenery that give the film a very peaceful, relaxed feel that is never quite shattered by its tenser moments.

The one flaw this film has, though, is that it’s not for the impatient – the subtitles, for some reason, are written in a colloquial American style that jars with the Spanish setting and the first reel of the film seems to drag its feet aimlessly. These little irks aside, I would recommend this film highly for its ability to gently massage the emotions and its personal portrayal of a controversial subject.

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~ by Scary Rob on 14 December, 2005.

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