Tuesday, September 13, 2016

2004 Winner, The Sea Inside

The Sea Inside

Director:  Alejandro Amenábar

Distributed by:  Fine Line Features

Released:  September 2004

Country:  Spain

Sometime prior to starting My BFF Project, I saw two movies from Spain that I found to be masterpieces of cinema—The Spirit of the Beehive, from 1973, and 2006’s Pan’s Labyrinth.  Both of these movies were odd little films that surprised me—I had no anticipation that I would like them at all as a caught them quite by chance (years apart) on Turner Classic Movies or IFC or whatever network that would show films like this.  Neither of those movies is a Best Foreign Film winner (rightly so, admittedly, in the latter film’s case, though it was nominated—it lost to Germany’s The Lives of Others).   This week’s movie, 2004's The Sea Inside, beat another movie from Germany, the captivating Downfall.  Downfall chronicles the demise of Adolph Hitler, and is the source of a thousand Internet memes (with der Führer ranting about everything from having to watch Adam Sandler's You Don't Mess with the Zohan, to how awful Rebecca Black’s "Friday" video is, to the length of time for a pizza delivery.  Google "Downfall Meme" if you haven't seen it).

Greg Louganis:  Dude's shorts held no secrets
I wish I were reviewing Downfall, or one of the other Spanish films, or even one of the Downfall memes, rather than The Sea Inside.  It’s not that this film is awful, but just that it’s so clichéd and tiresome.  The Sea Inside is based, fairly faithfully it seems, on the story of Ramón Sampedro, who as a young man, did a Louganis into a shallow sea he thought was deep, resulting in his becoming a quadriplegic.  Now he is 25 years older, having been cared for by his brother’s family most of his adult life.  Ramón is witty and charming to everyone and in fact, becomes the object of attraction to not one, but two women he encounters:  a local woman who is trying to convince him that life is worth living, and his attorney who is trying to legally allow him to kill himself.

Ramón, expertly played by Javier Bardem from the Coen Brothers' No Country for Old Men (and who is more interested in killing everyone else in that film) is indeed likeable and his situation naturally brings sympathy.  He feels that he should have the right to end what he considers is a unfruitful life, one where he is only able to envision what he loves in his mind’s eye, the Sea being at the top of the list.  Of course, the law, and even worse, that pesky old Catholic Church, are what stands in his way of guzzling down his hemlock and calling it a day.  The Church is personified by a crusty old priest who himself is confined to a wheelchair.  Naturally, the priest is depicted as an old curmudgeon, telling everyone suicide is wrong and putting his churchy morals on everyone.  What a killjoy.

Mean priest
I don’t mean to be too judgmental here, except to push back against the film’s hammer-over-the-head pro-euthanasia message.  In my early 20’s (in 1991), I spent a week in the hospital roomed with a guy about my age who, like Bardem’s character, had become a quadriplegic after a diving accident.  He was in the hospital for a longshot experimental surgery.  I don’t remember his name, nor did I ever see him again, but I do remember how we spent a significant amount of time that week talking and cracking each other up.  Once, while a well-meaning young nurse was shifting him in his bed, he cried out in pain.  Reacting to her surprised and apologetic expression, he began laughing, reminding her that he had no feeling at all below his neck.  I thought of my one-week roomie while watching this movie, and how much I admired the optimistic way he looked at things, if only for that one week we spent together.   

Conversely, in this film, there was little to feel uplifted about.  Honestly, while watching The Sea Inside, I think I wanted to end it just as bad as Ramón did. But for me, it was just the movie I wanted to end.

The Title:  Mar adentro—Enjoying the sea from inside one’s brain.  Not to be heartless, but if I ever lose use of my body by diving into the sea, I think the sea would be the last thing I will want to ponder.  I think I'd opt for imagining myself in a setting a little more to my liking, so my movie would therefore be:  The Buffalo Wild Wings Inside.

The Culture:  The only thing Spanish about this film was the language and the dying influence of the Catholic Church’s values on Western European.

Agenda Danger:  Are you kidding me?  Jack Kevorkian could have directed this.  Euthanasia must have been a hot trend since because the Academy also rewarded . . .

Best Picture that year:  Million Dollar Baby.
Rating:  Do I recommend it?  Nein! Nein! Nein! Nein! Nein!

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