Paralinks: The Worlds Wheelchair Culture
02.07.05 Point Of Views

Two films, "The Sea Inside" and the "Million Dollar Baby" are getting a lot of press lately. Paralinks will be posting or linking to published articles on the Internet. We welcome your Point of View.

"Of course, we did not make a film to encourage quadriplegics to kill themselves," says the 32-year-old Amenábar, speaking fluent English, from Los Angeles. 

"We were very careful to state that this film does not speak for all quadriplegics. It is not intended to insult disabled people. The big question was always whether this man was right to say that his life belongs to him and nobody else, and that he had a right to do what he wanted — to die with dignity... 

When I first saw Ramón on television, I asked myself what I would do if I was in his condition. I decided for myself that I would get over it somehow, that I would move on. But I also couldn't help thinking that Ramón was right — that the decision to live or die must be one's own. I thought that if I'd ever met him I would try to cheer him up and talk him out of it, as others had. But I also thought that could be a nightmare — to want to die, surrounded by people trying to cheer you up, in a society that says 'Your life doesn't belong to you.' " By Jeff Shannon Special to The Seattle Times Read full article

Javier Bardem Shines as a Paraplegic in "The Sea Inside"
By Bruce Newman Mercury News

Without lifting a finger, Javier Bardem gives the most stirring performance of the year in "The Sea Inside,'' which is based on Ramón Sampedro's nearly 30-year struggle with the Spanish government to be allowed to die. Sampedro broke his neck while diving into the sea, leaving him paralyzed for life. And ready for death.

Sampedro only asked for one thing: a death with dignity. And though Spanish authorities refused for decades to give it to him -- probably to avoid upsetting the Roman Catholic Church -- Bardem's astonishingly empathetic performance confers dignity not only on Sampedro's death, but also on the life he lived flat on his back.

It appears that the only thing Sampedro couldn't uplift following his accident was himself. A quadriplegic who was unable to move anything but his eyes, his mouth and his nimble mind, he wrote poetry with a pen between his teeth and published a memoir of his confinement called "Letters From Hell.''

By the time the movie picks him up, he is in his 50s and has sought the help of a lawyer from a group that believes in assisted suicide. The attorney (played by Belén Rueda) is herself suffering from a degenerative condition that she tells Ramón will one day leave her "a vegetable.'' Still, she needs to be convinced that he isn't just feeling sorry for himself.

It's not uncommon for actors who are playing characters with disabling or disfiguring diseases to get lots of attention during the annual award season -- as if the actors were the ones fighting for their lives, or, in this case, death -- but it's Bardem's tenacity in refusing to sentimentalize Sampedro's condition that makes this movie so special. The acclaim Bardem received for his portrayal of the similarly doomed Reinaldo Arenas in ``Before Night Falls'' four years ago -- all of it well deserved -- soon will pale by comparison to the excitement he arouses with his acting chops in ``The Sea Inside.'' This time, his chops are about all he's got to work with.

Ramón explains to the lawyer that there is no dignity for him in life as a quadriplegic. He knows that it upsets other quadriplegics for him to say so, but he clearly isn't interested in living what he considers a useless life to avoid hurting the feelings of strangers. The only time he loses his temper is when people stop by his bedside to tell him that, no matter how awful, life is worth living. These people usually speak to him as if he were a potted plant.

The first visitor like this is Rosa (Lola Dueńas), who is miserable about her own life, but doesn't want Ramón to give up his. He's patient with her because he can see the pain in her eyes, but when she starts to remind him about all that he has to offer the world, he chases her off. And that's the thing about ``The Sea Inside'': Bardem makes Ramón's charm and intelligence so palpable that you root for him to go on living, which is exactly what he doesn't want. That was the dilemma Sampedro faced.

When Julia, the attorney, inquires about his childhood, he tells her he prefers to look to the future. "What do you see in your future?'' she asks him.

"Death,'' he replies.

Writer-director Alejandro Amenábar, who demonstrated his deft touch dealing with death in the ghost story "The Others'' avoids the opposing traps of mawkish sentimentality or transforming Sampedro into a grim reaper of death. And Bardem never forgets that Ramón was not a saint, just a man. In the end, you can't ask for more than that. -Bruce Newman

Check out Bruce's Blog:

Permission to post on Paralinks granted by author

The Sea Inside *** 1/2 Rated: PG-13

Cast: Javier Bardem, Belén Rueda, Lola Dueńas

Director: Alejandro Amenábar

Writers: Alejandro Amenábar, Mateo Gil

Contact Bruce Newman at or (408) 920-5004.