The Sea Inside is out for rental and I’ve been looking forward to seeing it – Javier Bardem is a phenomenal actor. It was in theatres at the same time as Million Dollar Baby (which I saw), both about the same theme. My impression of Baby was… less-than-stellar. I think it’s only “inspiring” to able-bodied people. NB: SPOILER AHEAD! I’m very supportive of the right to do what you want with your life, including ending it if you think it necessary (not on a whim, please), but when you have a disability, watching someone choose to die merely because they can’t walk anymore, hits a nerve.

While waiting for Sea to come out on DVD, I’ve been playing with writing something about how sick I am of creative media using disability as some sort of twisted cripple version of the madonna/whore metaphor. The person with the disability tends to be portrayed as saintly and inspiring or conversely, the disability is an outward symptom of evil. I’m also sick of how playing someone with an illness or disability (and They – the They in charge of greenlighting such dreck - seldom differentiate between the two) is the surest way to get an Oscar nomination. Or how offended I am that this year, three(able-bodied) actors were nominated for playing people with disabilities and only one of the movies (Ray) was about the person’s life and talent. The other two were – as is usual - all about the Tragedy of being unable to walk and how Profound and Uplifting and Brave these people were for choosing to die, rather than spending the rest of their lives in this non-life, this hell.


When I’d only seen Baby, that was what I’d planned to say. Then I watched Sea and…. it’s different. It’s not perfect, but it is based on Ramon Sampedro's real story. It had “been there” credibility, instead of being some able-bodied writer’s idea of using the disability as a plot point leading to someone else’s journey towards redemption. Whereas Baby left me enraged at its presumptions about disability as a Fate Worse Than Death, Sea made me argue both points furiously. With myself. Alternating rapidly. One moment, I defended Sampedro’s right to do what he wished with his life, the next I was yelling about how maybe if instead of lying in bed on the third floor of an ancient farmhouse for almost 30 years, the man had gotten some accessible housing, attendant care and a good counsellor, he might have been able to find meaning in life again.

And maybe I’m as judgemental as the people who think they’d have to kill themselves if they lost the use of their legs. Partly for thinking that Ramon Sampedro’s desire to die was somehow more valid than Maggie Fitzgerald’s. Why? Because he’d wanted it for a longer time. It takes time to adapt to losing the way things were and after 30 years, I think he’d given it enough thought. Which brings me to the other part – the one where I don’t understand the willingness to give up, to not try. Sure, I’ve got my own theoretical scenarios where I can imagine saying “I’m done with this crap”, but I’ve used this chair long enough to know that eventually, you tend to adapt and life gets good again. For me, it’s about fighting tooth and nail to create a meaningful, joyful life. It’s about dusting yourself off and getting back on the horse that threw you. About not letting the bastards get you down.

“Resolved: To take Fate by the throat and shake a living out of her”
- Louisa May Alcott


Anonymous said…
Best book on the subject nomination would go to A Whole New Life by Reynolds Price. Since he's also a poet and novelist, he can achieve levels of vituperation for impersonal doctors, badly designed facilities and other camel's-back-straws that most of us, "temporarily abled" or not, can only dream of (and since he's a pithy, the book is slim.) But he also addresses attitude and adaptation so insightfully that really the only person who wouldn't find A Whole New Life useful would be someone to whom nothing bad is ever going to happen. (rams)
Michele said…
kendall said…
I don't remember how I found your blog, but I'm glad I did. Judging from your writing, and your favorite things in your profile, I think we would get along well. I really like your reaction in this post. I'm so tired of the attitude that a person is the sum of their physical parts. We revere the people in our history like Helen Keller who overcame great obstacles to live an amazing life, and yet we also look down on the very obstacles that she overcame. Thanks for putting that in better words than I ever could, and doing it from a greater vantage point than I have.
Michelle T in Oregon said…
Thank you for your musings. My son has autism. I am tired of the whole thing around Hollywood making people with mental disabilities look like mascots or "cute;" insignificant.(Re: The Other Sister, and MANY others) Yes, my son IS cute, charming, and I couldn't imagine my life without him. But he's a PERSON. Complex, complicated; with wants, needs, and dreams.
Janine said…
Bravo! I couldn't have said it better. Have been reading your blogg for a while now and if only the powers that be spoke as much sense perhaps the world would be a better place.
Carol said…
Lene, I saw The Sea Inside this spring. I also found myself arguing vehemently both sides of the argument. Vehemently. Understand, please, that my mother had polio in 1954 and dealt with the after-effects all the days of her remaining life. Like you, she maintained the mindset that "life is for living" and by golly, she did. Every minute of every day, right up until the day she died from acute leukemia, osteomyelitis and pneumonia. The pain was incredible. But she never gave up. Keep fighting the good fight -- one day I believe those of us who feel that disabilities are not for exploitation will win.
Trevor said…
Hey there!
Enjoyed the spoilers. :)
I haven't bothered to watch either movie, but knowing the storyline of The Sea Inside, I thought to myself - he spends 30 years fighting to die? Huh? Surely at some point he should have realized that he was managing life.
Having schizophrenia, I agree that too often mental illness is either a defect, or a mark of evil, or both. Apart from the usual portrayal of schizophrenia being some sort of split personality disorder (it's nothing like that), it usually involves someone on a killing spree. And don't get me started on the way that psychotic and psychopathic are used interchangibly in movies and tv shows.
Some people wondered why I enjoyed Me, Myself, and Irene, starring Jim Carrey (as I move the topic back to movies). I liked it, partly cuz I like stupid/silly movies, and despite referring to his split personality disorder as schizophrenia, it was great seeing that the character was not a serial killer or rapist. I mean, seriously, how many mainstream movies have the main character being mentally ill and not being a killer or being pitied by everyone around them.
There's my rant.
Mor said…
Very well put my darling daughter.
As always I do agree with you on this subject. I loath the versions Hollywood spit out about disability. They have no clue do they?
dawn said…
Like Trevor I haven't seen the movies so can't say much on them.
I do know that I am so terribly tired of seeing people portrayed as the stereotypes. It worries me that they are still making money doing this same old shtick. Does that mean that most people are happy having their same old perspectives reflected back in their faces? Or is it just that the media machine is slow to catch on? Or is it that I am just getting older and crankier and what used to pass as entertaining now seems like drivel.