Why I do — and do not — support the Me Before You backlash

I am such a sucker for romantic dramas, and after being unable to view the Me Before You trailer without dissolving into a puddle of tears (true story) I decided that I must witness stars Sam Claflin and Emilia Clarke’s characters fall in an ultimately doomed love. After seeing the film (and sobbing through the last 20 minutes like a baby), I would be lying if I said I didn’t have conflicting feelings about it. With the film receiving backlash on its stance on disability, assisted suicide and what it means to live a full life, it’s worth exploring what the film is truly trying to say — and while there are positive messages here, there are also plenty of controversial ones.

(Warning: major spoilers for Me Before You ahead!) Claflin’s character Will is living with quadriplegia following a car accident, and ultimately decides to end his life by assisted suicide, leaving behind his lovestruck caregiver Lou, played by Clarke. Disability advocacy group Not Dead Yet UK has criticized the film for promoting assisted suicide as a viable option for people with a disability, stating that the film suggests that the lives of disabled people “are not worth living.” So, is the advocacy group right? The group makes a very valid argument, but it’s worth noting that it’s not an argument that film itself seems to be making.

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In the film, which was adapted from Jojo Moyes’ novel of the same name, Lou tries everything she possibly can to get Will, whom she is falling for, to change his mind about his suicide. It’s worth mentioning that Will has serious money — his family is loaded, and therefore Lou is able to plan lavish vacations and excursions for both her and Will to attend. Though Will’s physical health fails multiple times during the course of the film, ultimately, he is able to enjoy himself alongside Lou. Though he can’t scuba dive or take surfing lessons, he’s certainly able to be present on these trips — something that Lou hopes will ultimately make him change his mind about wanting to die. Instead, at the end of one particularly wonderful trip, Will tells Lou that he is still going through with his plan, and, weeks later, does so with her support.

It’s hard not to be frustrated with Will’s choice — after all, much like Lou, I saw so much for Will to live for. Truthfully, I was a bit irritated at the film for completely ignoring Will’s obvious privilege of wealth — so many people living with a disability would love to have the opportunities that Will did, as ultimately he has the means to make his life as comfortable as possible while living with quadriplegia. I imagine that the choice the fictional Will made would be devastating to a person who has chosen to live — and live well, as the movie hammers home — despite their own disability. I know from the wonderful people I have met throughout the course of my lifetime that this is indeed possible. I applaud the men and women who don’t see their disability as a death sentence, but as a challenge that they must live with. The film, unfortunately, doesn’t allow Will to see his as the latter.

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Me Before You is far more challenging a film than I expected it to be. Was Me Before You making the responsible decision in allowing Will to go through with assisted suicide? Truthfully, I’m not sure. As someone who has long considered herself pro-choice when it comes to assisted suicide, Will’s decision made me question my own belief system. I wanted Will to fight for life despite its hardships. I wanted him to take the privilege afforded to him and do something with it. As a person living without a disability, perhaps this isn’t a fair statement to make — I don’t know what it’s like to be in Will’s shoes — but considering the backlash from people who do live with a disability, perhaps it is a valid one. I would like to say that I would fight for Will to decide whether or not he wants to live, but the message about his power of choice gets muddled when the movie makes it seem like it’s better to be dead than disabled.

What do you think about the Me Before You backlash? Sound off in the comments.

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