The Sea Inside
- Alejandro Amenábar
- Reviewed by
- Gon Curiel a.k.a. Groucho
- Review date
- Thursday, February 24, 2005
The film tells the story of Ramón Sampedro (Javier Bardem), a Spaniard from Galicia who suffered an accident when he was 25 years old becoming a quadriplegic for life. In real life, the man became famous due to his legal battle with the government to allow him to practice suicide after almost 30 years of living attached to his bed. Given the impossibility to do it himself, Ramón required assistance, hence euthanasia. He never received the support of the government, but he surprised a whole nation through his views on life and death, because his fight was not against life, but pretty much the contrary: Ramón loved life, just not the way he was forced to live it.
Amenábar’s film (co-written by himself and Mateo Gil) does not deal as much with the legal battle as it does with Ramón as a human being. It’s important that it tackles the subject this way because getting to know the man is essential to understanding his message. Ramón, in his own words, was a man who cried by smiling, and it’s true: He always declared that he didn’t like his life, he always defended his right to die, and yet, somehow, he always managed to transmit optimism and hope to everyone around him. Ramón was a remarkable man because his mind was so clear, and so peaceful, despite his own saying that he lived in hell, because he was forced to see everyone from below.
Ramón, the artist, became well known on account of a couple of books he wrote, most famously one that compiled several poems he penned through the years with his mouth. A sensitive genius, Sampedro transmitted via his writings all his thoughts and views of life, making his struggle all the more affecting to the Spanish people who witnessed the proceedings and questioned their own stance on euthanasia thanks to this man.
So here we get to see Ramón in his day-to-day life with his family, just as he becomes famous and is visited by several people. Lovingly cared by his sister-in-law Manuela (Mabel Rivera), he befriends two women who become pivotal to the denouement of his life: Julia (Belén Rueda), a lawyer with her own health problems who wants to help Ramón, and Rosa (Lola Dueñas), a conflicted woman who finds meaning through Ramón’s friendship and becomes quite fond of him. The stances of these women pretty much sum up those of the people in general, and it’s interesting to hear their points and understand their respective views. Both are right, one to say death is right, the other to say life is a privilege, making it clear that this subject is and will always be subjective and neither side can be definitive to all people. Sampedro however, with his always present smile, his charismatic personality and his unending wit, makes sure to convince most people of his own point of view: Life is a right, not an obligation; and living it the way he does lacks dignity.
Alejandro Amenábar created a piece that defends Sampedro’s view to the point of being one-sided. Some viewers might be mad that it’s so obviously pro-euthanasia, but there’s just no other way to make this movie. The good thing is, there’s enough of the opponents’ side expressed here to make their point clear as well. The scene I found most compelling in that way has a paraplegic priest (José María Pou) trying to convince Ramón that life is well-worth living even that way. Both men are intelligent and their points of view are smart and effective. In the end, neither is convinced of the opposite’s opinion, but both prove they have good reasons to think the way they do.
After such a long time awaiting it, I wasn’t sure I was looking forward to see Mar Adentro. I expected an unbearable movie, one that would pack an emotional wallop and would leave me depressed and frightened afterwards. Happily, I was wrong. This master filmmaker chose not to tell this story as an overly dramatic one with no redeeming factors. On the contrary, he was sure to sprinkle as much humor to the viewers as Ramón did to the people who surrounded him. It’s a funny movie at times, pleasant as a whole, and only tragic every now and then. What it does have is poignant situations every single minute. You may not be able to stop the tears from flowing, but if you get a laugh every couple of scenes, and you find yourself smiling more often than not, it really doesn’t hurt… but it does become unforgettable.
Javier Bardem is absolutely magnificent as this memorable human being. He understands the character to perfection and transmits just everything he should by using his facial expressions and his voice. He sports a perfect Galician accent and speaks his witty lines as if he were really thinking them. I’m pretty sure Sampedro would be proud to see such a brilliant actor portray him as the charming, sensitive, intelligent man that he was. Bardem is really irresistible, and it’s quite easy to see why everyone around just couldn’t help falling in love with him.
Surrounding this man are quite a few talented performers, whose work is truly flawless: Rueda and Dueñas as the two women, Clara Segura as the representative of the association that hopes to get Bardem the necessary help to die, and some others are fantastic. But the real talent lies in those who portray the family members: Mabel Rivera, the selfless sister-in-law, Celso Bugallo, the hardened brother, Joan Dalmau, the saddened father, and Tamar Novas, the loving nephew. What amazing performances!
The film is so beautifully crafted that it’s unbelievable. The photography and editing are first-rate, with some visual effects and outstanding camera work throughout. The makeup is a work of art to say the least, making Bardem look a much older age with us never doubting for a second that what we’re watching is real. The music by Amenábar is one of his most touching works in that department to date, though it’s hard to say because he has composed so many beautiful film scores. And so on…
Mar Adentro is a wonderful film, very important, and also highly entertaining. It’s one from the heart and one for the world and the many people who need to think twice. It’s a must-see, and the best I’ve seen from 2004. What a treat that it comes from my favorite contemporary director.
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Other reviews of The Sea Inside (2004): Morris