Me Before You is about class differences, not about being disabled
Based on the best-selling book by the same name, Me Before You makes a not-so-subtle statement about upper-class entitlement that is incredibly shocking to this middle-class American. Do rich men really value physical pleasures and having a trophy wife over true love?
In Me Before You, we meet the debonair Will Traynor (Sam Claflin), a successful white-collar somebody with a hot, seemingly sexually satisfied blonde rolling around in his bed. Will is the type of guy who pushes himself to his limits and is irrevocably punished when he makes the one safe decision of his life: to ditch his motorcycle on a rainy day and — quelle horreur! — walk to work. He's hit by a scooter in the fog and finds himself on the sucky end of a tragic accident.
Sadly for Will, his wheelchair just isn't as sexy as his motorbike and the blonde dumps him for his best friend. Will is depressed and in physical pain, prompting him to make plans to end it all.
Enter Louisa Clark (Emilia Clarke). She's just been laid off from the local café and is under pressure from her working-class family to contribute financially to the household.
Louisa has a light, carefree attitude, evidenced by her colorful, eclectic wardrobe. If this movie were set in the 1980s, we'd see her at the local thrift shop buying funky hats and mixing and matching her plaids with polka dots. Instead, we hear her wax poetic about a pair of bumble bee-inspired tights from her childhood that would be almost too ridiculous for any respectable adult woman.
When Louisa is hired to be Will's caretaker, it doesn't take long for her to realize that she's actually being paid to be lead patrolman on suicide watch. Like Eliza Doolittle from My Fair Lady or Vivian Ward in Pretty Woman, lower-class Louisa naively thinks love will solve Will's depression and make him want to live. After all, isn’t love what makes the world go round?
Here is where book author/screenwriter Jojo Moyes and movie director Thea Sharrock really get into class differences.
Will lives at his family castle (shot at Wales' Pembroke Castle), which is literally a protected fortress that's stood for hundreds of years, symbolizing that Will, like his ancestors before him, lives a walled-off, guarded existence. In this life of power and wealth, love has little meaning for Will, unlike Louisa, whose only possession is the love she has to give.
Though Will's parents are desperate to keep their son alive, they have failed at teaching Will the value of life beyond extravagant vacations, hiking the world’s tallest mountains or amassing and displaying extreme wealth.
Beyond his parents' failure, Will's world of elite, beautiful white people who never stop achieving clearly reinforces that Will has little value from his wheelchair. His girlfriend Alicia (Vanessa Kirby) leaves him after the accident to marry his best friend Rupert (Ben Lloyd-Hughes), and the shame is too much for Will.
Louisa, wide-eyed and simpleminded, lacking any real ambition, truly falls in love with Will. It's precisely her lack of ambition that allows her to see the emotionally wounded man as a loveable human being and even a potential mate. She doesn't need flashy cars or a high social status to fuel her life. She needs the one thing money can't buy: love. But Will is too caught up in the facade of upper-class life to give it.
Various groups advocating for positive portrayals of disabled people have claimed that this film sends a negative message about disabled people.
Ellen Clifford, a disabled activist with Not Dead Yet, told BuzzFeed, "The message of the film is that disability is tragedy and disabled people are better off dead… It comes from a dominant narrative carried by society and the mainstream media that says it is a terrible thing to be disabled."
But I think that is incorrect. The fact that nearly the entire audience watching the film was in tears, myself included, is proof that the message of the film is that disabled people are lovable human beings and absolutely have great value in our society. If not, we wouldn't be sobbing.
Me Before You opens in theaters June 3.
Go see this movie. Then, let those around you, able-bodied or not, know that you love them, because love is the most valuable thing in the world. That's the point of the film.