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    The Sea Inside

    Death of reason

    "The Sea Inside" — passionately filmed by Alejandro Amenábar and performed by Javier Bardem — remains unconvincing on the issue of a paralyzed man who fought for the legal right to die.


    (Originally reviewed in Spanish release.)

    The recent death of Christopher Reeve — Superman — showed us the other side of the coin regarding tetraplegics; here was a man who fought to the end in order to regain his ability to walk for, at least, one more time. His dream, lamentably, never did come true but in the process of trying to achieve it he gave hope to many people who were suffering as much as he was. Amenábar's new film "Mar Adentro" ("The Sea Inside") reopens the debate of euthanasia, and it is bathed in pessimism (even if on the surface it looks like something much more different); the film, at the end of the day, tells us: life is only worth living when you have absolute "freedom" to do so; that is, when you can move your knees and toes. Otherwise, if that's not the case, it's better to kill one's self. (The film refers to this as "dying with dignity.")

    Original title: Mar Adentro.
    Directed by: Alejandro Amenábar.
    Written by: Alejandro Amenábar, Mateo Gil.
    Cast: Javier Bardem, Belén Rueda, Lola DueĖas, Mabel Rivera, Celso Bugallo, Clara Segura, Joan Dalmau, Alberto Jiménez, Tamar Novas, Francesc Garrido, José María Pou, Alberto Amarilla, Nicolás Fernández Luna.
    Cinematography: Javier Aguirresarobe.
    Edited by: Alejandro Amenábar.
    Music by: Alejandro Amenábar.
    In Spanish with English subtitles.

    Related links: Official site | Spanish site
    "The Sea Inside" ("Mar Adentro") is an account based on real events about Ramón Sampedro (played by Javier Bardem), who, having traveled around the world as a sailor, was left tetraplegic after an accident in the sea at the age of twenty-six. For twenty-nine years he stayed in his own room (he refused to use a wheelchair), struggling in an "unworthy life" and anxiously waiting for the state to authorize his suicide. Such thing never did occur, so it was in 1998 that, with the help of family and friends, he killed himself.

    Spanish director Alejandro Amenábar, who jumped to international fame with "Tesis," "Open your Eyes" and "The Others," shows us with "Mar Adentro" (again) what a great director he is, with restraint, a tactful vision and complete control over his actors. The film is undeniably well made; it is also powerful and, at times, even moving, its emotions orchestrated by the beautiful score (also by Amenábar, who clearly knows how to up his sentimentalism to the nth degree). The narrative of the film flows admirably; there isn't a single tedious spot in the entire running time and the events and characters are introduced with fine skill. There are a couple of memorable scenes here and there (such as the unforgetable scene where Sampedro dreams he can move; the scene where he gets taken away; the flashbacks) and Javier Aguirresarobe's exceptional cinematography gives the film a more than appealing look, resulting in a visual tour-de-force (the editing, using time-lapse and other inventive techniques, is also a standout).

    The Sea Inside  
    One of the most incredible things of the film is undoubtedly Javier Bardem's performance, who manages to transcend his limitations to give one of the finest performances of the year. Confined in a bed during most of the film, Bardem, his real face hidden and completely modified under a load of effective — and ever-credible — make-up, radiates emotion with surprising finesse; for two hours and a couple of minutes, the spectators really do believe he's Ramón Sampedro.

    The rest of the cast are also splendid in their roles (Belén Rueda, Lola DueĖas, Mabel Rivera, etc); key (partly) to the success of the characters is Amenábar's attention to the script (written by Mateo Gil and himself), which respects its characters and develops them with finesse and authenticity. Rosa, the woman so often mistreated by men who found in Sampedro a source of tranquility and happiness, was, I felt, the truest of them all. It is in her character where the viewer may find a good message; she falls in love with Sampedro (he, on the other hand, tells her that in that physical state of his it is impossible to love), and wants to help him with all her might — to help him, but not to help him die, which is just what Sampedro doesn't want. Sadly, the film seems to be on Sampedro's side.

    Aesthetically, "Mar Adentro" is, needless to say, a triumph, but when seen from an ethical point of view, it nose-dives. It puts those who firmly opposed Sampedro's longing to kill himself in a bad light (the "Jesuit" priest, his story in the film fictionalized and changed to satisfy Amenábar's anti-catholic and pro-suicide philosophies, is presented as a mere caricature) and what's more, it regards life as a right, not as a privilege. There is a point in the film where Sampedro says that "A life without freedom is no life at all"; what freedom exactly? Are we talking about physical freedom or the real freedom, the internal freedom? Sampedro, like those around him, had the latter in abundance.

      The Sea Inside
    Moreover, the film, at the end of the day, is a blatant defense of euthanasia disguised as an oeuvre that respects life. But really, how is it possible to swallow this when the main character's only "hope" is to die as soon as possible, and when he believes that after death there is nothing? This results in a contradiction of sorts that simply cannot be ignored. Sampedro, given the state that he's in, sees life as an obligation, but this couldn't be more wrong; nobody is forcing him to live, it's just that getting rid of one's life is, in a word, morally abhorrent. That said, while it may be one's "right" to do whatever he may please with his body, the "right" doesn't necessarily have to be morally correct. But Sampedro regarded his conscience as his own God, and that's where he went wrong. "Mar Adentro," overall, presents itself as something that it knows it isn't, but it believes that the spectators may fall for it. It is a film made with "mala leche" as the Spanish would say.

    What message is the viewer meant to find amid this ideological deformation of a film? It is nothing more than a manipulative story (albeit told with consummate precision and brio), that wants us to look upon Sampedro as a hero (it does glorify, or at least, agree with, his actions), that talks about "lives that aren't worth living" with such lightness it's scary. But of course, it's all justified given that Sampedro tells the people not to judge him (another contradictive paradox here, as the film judges him as a good person who was "doing the right thing" — its bias can be seen everywhere, and instead of providing us with a neutral view of the subject matter, we have to let Amenábar shove his opinion down our throats with mind-numbing obviousness). It is a narrow-minded, egotistical and pessimistic viewpoint the one that Amenábar shows us. What's wrong is that he wants us to be on his side; I can imagine a wheelchair-bound individual watching this film and being completely demoralized by it. Where is the hope?

    On the whole, you can expect a lot from a purely cinematic viewpoint, but don't be surprised if, by the end, you feel as though it seems that people will never learn. Truth be told, it is impossible for me not to admire "Mar Adentro" for its cinematic merits alone (it will probably be nominated for an Academy Award or two), and yet it is inevitable to avoid my own ethics from getting in the way. But because nowadays such a controversial film as this one may be considered "politically correct" by a large percentage of the audience, this humble reviewer doubts not that some will, granted, fervently disagree with him; but he, like Ramón Sampedro, firmly stands in his position. To sum it all up, let the wise words of John Churton Collins be repeated, "Suicide is the worst form of murder, because it leaves no opportunity for repentance".

    DECEMBER 17, 2004

    Reader comments on The Sea Inside:

  • Yup   from Rich, Dec 19, 2004
  • [no subject]   from matiash, Dec 20, 2004
  • [no subject]   from Sand, Jan 5, 2005
  • [no subject]   from Isaac, Jan 10, 2005
  • Re: Isaac's comment   from Pablo Hernandez, Jan 12, 2005
  • Re: Isaac's comment   from Paula, Feb 11, 2005
  • Re: Isaac's comment   from Ross, Aug 31, 2006
  • the film isnt are   from James, Dec 11, 2005
  • The Sea Inside   from julianza, Feb 12, 2006
  • Re: The Sea Inside   from julianza, Feb 13, 2006
  • Re: The Sea Inside   from julianza, Feb 13, 2006
  • I disagree on the reviewers take   from Gail, Jul 22, 2008

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