Ramón Sampedro stands on a cliff over ocean water. He’s the consummate lover of a life that takes him wherever he wants to go. The green-blue ebb and flow beneath him is shallow, and he knows it. No matter. With his fragile thoughts of immortality trailing behind, he dives. The rest is history, the true story of a man who would find himself a quadriplegic trapped in the prison of his own body, calmly but passionately struggling for a freedom he believes can only come through death.
It’s only fair to begin with the phrase, “The Sea Inside (Mar Adentro, as it is known in its native Spain) is based on a true story”. Of course, like any other ‘based-on’ scenario, the movie tends to be truer to emotions and ideals than to facts and principles. It’s a dangerous line to tread, especially when the real-world stakes depicted in the film are as sensitive as the debate over euthanasia. Despite that precarious position, director and co-writer Alejandro Amenábar leads his team of exceptional actors with poise and clarity on an amazing journey that is more than just the story of one man seeking the right to take his own life.
Sampedro’s world is one without hope and without love, however, it is not for a lack of those things that he goes without them. People who love him and who find value in his life surround him on a daily basis, yet he chooses to push the love and hope aside, trained instead on the tragedy and indignity of the life fate has imposed on him. With a rational mind he fights a slow battle to win the legal right to end his own life. On a more personal front, he struggles with friends and family as they debate whether helping someone kill himself is the opposite of or the definition of loving him.
Amenábar, who is best known to American audiences for directing the supernatural thriller The Others, proves his versatility as a director with The Sea Inside. His greatest gift to the film is the respect he shows to the stories of each of the characters. This is not a movie about euthanasia, but about the cost of loving someone and what happens when that love is confounded by conflicting views of life and hope. Amenábar graciously presents those costs, not just through Ramón’s eyes, but through those of everyone around him, whether they want to help him die or not.
(Those who have not yet seen the movie and don’t know how Sampedro’s story concludes may want to skip the next paragraph).
While Ramón may ultimately have achieved his goal and won his own personal battle against those who would keep him from ending his life, Amenábar does not allow that to translate into the idea that Ramón was right. You are given the chance to see the struggle from many points of view. You are left with the ability to understand the many frustrations and consequences of Ramón’s life and suicide, not just to himself but to everyone around him.
The cast of The Sea Inside is truly its greatest asset. Javier Bardem is riveting as the quadriplegic Sampedro, allowing all the emotion often expressed through the body to come pouring forth from his eyes and face. Belén Rueda plays Ramón’s friend and attorney Julia with a graceful passion that recalls the glory days of Audrey Hepburn. Julia’s story is as integral to the film as Ramón’s and Belén captures every essence of her character’s personal struggles. Serious applause goes to Mabel Rivera whose portrayal of Ramón’s caregiver and sister-in-law is fascinating and moving. It’s a shame she wasn’t eligible for an Academy Award for best supporting actress. She would have won, hands down.
The Sea Inside is a true piece of cinematic art. Unfortunately, with its limited American release, most US movie goers never had the chance to see it. If they had, they would likely agree with me in saying it deserved the Oscar it won for Best Foreign Language Film. It stirs the soul, moves the heart, engages the mind and challenges the concepts of love and hope. Some see this movie as a statement that those who wish to end their lives, but need assistance to do so, should be given that right and assistance by those who say they love them. On the contrary, I see it as a film that challenges us to look beyond the legality of the matter and consider the cost of losing hope and misunderstanding love. Take the movie on whatever terms you will; it is a beautiful piece of cinema that will stick in my heart and mind for a long time to come.
There’s nothing particularly spectacular about The Sea Inside DVD, but it comes complete with everything needed to make a satisfying experience of exploring the film.
The most impressive aspect of the disc is the feature that isn’t included: an English language audio track. Mar Adentro is a movie about a Spanish man. It was filmed in Spain, in Spanish with native speaking actors. It should be heard in its native language. I don’t care if you don’t like reading subtitles, the passion and nuance in the words and voices of the actors in this film deserve better than to be rolled over by unengaged English voice-overs. I’m grateful that Spanish is the only language you’ll hear spoken during the show. Have no fear, English subtitles are available and they’re present throughout the entire disc.
Director and co-writer Alejandro Amenábar provides commentary to the film. His reflections and thoughts are insightful and worth a listen, but the really good stuff is echoed in the “making-of” featurette so only those wanting every little tidbit need rewatch the film with the commentary on.
Speaking of the “making-of” featurette, in it you’ll find a treasure trove of behind the scenes footage, interviews and supplementary information. It takes a linear look at the film-making process, beginning with the two writers verbally sparring over the film’s script as it develops, going through pre-production and filming, and ending with post-production and cast reflections. It is an essential companion to the movie itself and deserves your attention for its duration.
The deleted scenes get my standard lament: why weren’t they in the film to begin with? They contain some very beautiful and almost essential moments. If you skip the rest of the features be sure to give these the meager five minutes it will take to watch them.
There are some photo galleries and trailers (none of which play automatically when you load the disc – thank you New Line!) to peruse if you’re interested. All in all it makes for a lovely companion to the movie.