There’s nothing that screams “date movie” like a flick about a quadriplegic’s nearly lifelong attempt to commit suicide. Don’t laugh. Spanish director Alejandro Amenábar’s poetic, devoutly humanistic and ultimately life-affirming film The Sea Inside is just about the most romantic film I’ve ever seen. Not in the Julia Roberts-meets-an-eccentric-Englishman kind of way, but in a way where real people with real hearts and real passion experience “love” in all its unpredictable and sometimes-painful guises. Yes, this is a movie based on one man’s struggle with the Spanish government to win the right to die peacefully, without getting his friends or family arrested. But it’s not about death. Yes, we watch a man suffer through the indignities and loss of independence that’s inevitable with his condition. But we also watch him soar, literally and figuratively, with dreams and words and an unstoppable conviction and bravery.
Ramón Sampedro (Javier Bardem) lives in his brother’s house, along with his family. He’s imprisoned in his room, lying on his bed, being attended to by his family. He’s occasionally visited by activists who want to help him change the law in Spain that forbids him the escape he so desperately wants. He lies in that bed, waiting, with occasional forays into the gorgeous Spanish countryside courtesy of his imagination and lots and lots of time. Through flashbacks, we see why Ramón is in that bed. We see a sailor traveling the world, photographs of a man who’s the very embodiment of freedom and wanderlust and adventure. And we see him again in that bed, and — whatever our personal feeling about euthanasia may be — we understand why he fights so hard to end his life. We may not agree (and many in the film fruitlessly try to get him to change his stubborn mind), but we understand.
Through one of his activist acquaintances, Ramón is introduced to Julia (Belén Rueda), a lawyer with a very personal reason for helping Ramón win his battle in the courts. She’s a sophisticated, complicated creature who falls heavily for Ramón’s poetry and his soul. Then there’s a local girl, Rosa (Lola Dueñas), who also becomes smitten with the headstrong Ramón and is desperate to change his mind about killing himself, a pet project that speaks more to her loneliness than anything else. Within this somewhat offbeat love triangle is the real heart of the movie: the painful paradox of giving a lover what they want and what they need, even if it is death.
In Spanish with English subtitles. Showing at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills); 248-263-2111.
Dan DeMaggio writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.