By Catherine Daub
The movie’s title says it all. Where God calls us to put others first and to live a selfless life, Me Before You portrays selfishness as a virtue above all others. The movie’s theme could be written as: “A life lived for anyone but yourself is a life not worth living.”
The film, which has grossed close to $40 million this month, is a disingenuous portrayal of euthanasia and all of its deceitful trappings. Me Before You is brilliantly, and subtly, evil. The trailer would have filmgoers believing that it is a romantic comedy about a young lady who saves the life of a paralyzed man by giving him a new outlook on life. In fact, the movie is merely euthanasia propaganda intended to sway the young and old alike by romanticizing suicide.
Will Traynor is a vitally alive, athletic, successful young man whose life takes an almost fatal turn when he is hit by a motorcycle while crossing a busy street. The accident leaves him a quadriplegic, yearning for his former life to the point of being completely intolerant of happiness and anyone or anything that could possibly make him happy. He decides that a life in which he cannot be physically active is not a life worth living and he contacts the Swiss assisted-suicide organization Dignitas so that he can control his death. (Note that it is no coincidence that Dignitas—an actual organization which exists to help people commit suicide—was represented in the film.) Will’s parents hire a young, energetic, full of life, and a bit eccentric young lady named Louisa (Lou) to help him see life through a different set of eyes. Not for lack of trying, Lou, with her ability to love unconditionally, is unable to help Will embrace his new life as one worthy of living. Yet, in the process, she falls in love with him. It could be argued that he begins to love her too—as much as a self-centered man can love a woman.
Toward the end of the movie Lou begs Will to embrace his new life and allow her to love him. Instead of reciprocating her honest and selfless feelings, he explains that he made the decision to commit suicide long before they met and that nothing can change his mind, not even her love for him. She storms away in a fit of anger, but later comes to terms with his “choice” and joins his parents in Switzerland so that she can be with him when he dies.
Will opines during the movie that he knows this new life could be good, but it’s not the life he wants. He’s so focused on what he cannot do that he fails to see the beauty and good in what he can do. Lou must feel very insulted, as she is part of his new life. The Will before the accident lived a life of risk taking and self centered choices. After meeting Lou he begins to become a better version of himself, despite his physical limitations. His inability to see that life doesn’t have to be about traveling to exotic places, risk taking, and money is further realized when he chides Lou after he finds out that a typical day in her life consists of hanging out with her family, reading a good book, and taking care of him. He chuckles and comments that her life is more boring than his. The take away here is that unless you have lots of money and travel the world, your life is probably not worth living either.
Will seems to come by his selfish outlook on life honestly. His parents keep him tucked away in the old stable of their castle which they have had redesigned into an apartment with every comfort possible. They’ve hired the best help possible to care for him. But they are rarely present with him. He’s left alone to turn in on himself. I couldn’t help but wonder: What if Will had come from a family without so much money, but with time and love to give? What if he had had several siblings? Would he have felt so alone? What if he had nieces and nephews who visited him so that he could see the world and all its beauty through their eyes? What if his parents had spent all of their time helping him accept his new life and see the good in it instead of leaving his care to others? Would these things have made any difference at all?
Lou’s struggle about whether or not to support Will ends with her tolerating his choice. She joins him so that he won’t feel judged or alone as he takes his life. The film makes it seem as if she had no other choice. To stay away would have been rude and hateful, so she becomes complicit in his act/in his sin instead. This was a brilliant way for the producers of Me Before You to drive home the false idea of tolerance. We are expected to tolerate another’s sin lest he feels judged. Standing for the truth and not being present to witness and support Will’s mortal sin would have been the right way to act, but young minds will side with Lou and believe that she had no other option other than to support his “choice.” After all, who wants to be labeled intolerant, a hater, or a bigot? In reality, her presence at his suicide took the burden away from him of changing his mind and doing the right thing at the last minute. Maybe her absence would have been the wake-up call he needed to make him see the error of his ways.
At the end of the movie, Lou is visiting Paris, obviously sent there by Will. It has been two weeks since his death and she reads a letter from him in which he begs her to “live” her life. He has set up a bank account for her so that she can do just that and not be trapped in her small town with her family. Since Will killed himself because he didn’t feel his life had value, he is obviously not referring to “living” as being anything other than travelling and the ability to buy happiness. The gift of self is not something Will believed in or he wouldn’t have taken his own life. He would have let Lou care for him and love him by helping to carry his cross. Instead he encourages her to embrace selfishness and “live” her life for herself.
Me Before You is a dangerous movie for this generation of young people. Parents should be forewarned that there is nothing redeeming about this film. It is a slap in the face to anyone with a disability or anyone who isn’t rich. And its portrayal of suicide as romantic and selfless will do great harm to impressionable young minds.
Me Before You should be a wake-up call to parents and educators. With more and more movies and real life stories focusing on the right to die movement, parents must take the threat seriously. We must help form young consciences and arm people with the truth, because this world our children are growing up in is becoming more difficult to navigate every day.
Euthanasia is the next big topic in the fight to protect all human beings from creation to death. Euthanasia: An Introduction, from ALL’s Culture of Life Studies Program, offers high school students a glimpse at the twisted language of the right-to-die movement. This one-class unit study examines the complex topic of euthanasia by peeling back the layers of rhetoric to let students see what is really at the heart of end-of-life issues.
The lines between right and wrong are blurry and tolerance is the new buzzword. If we don’t educate our children and provide them with the tools they need to combat the culture of death, the consequences to their lives, their souls, and our world will be and are already devastating.
St. Anthony writes:
Christ who is your life is hanging before you, so that you may look at the Cross as in a mirror. There you will be able to know how mortal were your wounds, that no medicine other than the Blood of the Son of God could heal. If you look closely, you will be able to realize how great your human dignity and your value are. . . . Nowhere other than looking at himself in the mirror of the Cross can man better understand how much he is worth (Sermones Dominicales et Festivi III, pp. 213-214).
The ability and willingness to accept suffering is often extremely difficult. It takes courage—true courage. Courage, perseverance, humility, and reliance upon God are all ideals worthy of instilling in our children. None of them are found in Me Before You.
Catherine Daub is a proud wife and mother, and the director of American Life League’s Culture of Life Studies Program, which stresses the culture of life as an integral part of every academic discipline. CLSP is dedicated to helping students become effective communicators of the pro-life message. Sign up for our e-mail newsletter to see how we can help you foster a culture of life at home and in school.