Sea Inside, The (El Mar Adentro) (Spain, 2004) ***1/2
Directed by Alejandro Amenábar; written (in Spanish, with English subtitles) by Mr. Amenábar and Mateo Gil; director of photography, Javier Aguirresarobe; music by Mr. Amenábar and Carlos Núñez; production designer, Benjamín Fernández; produced by Fernando Bovaira and Mr. Amenábar; released by Fine Line Features. Running time: 125 minutes. This film is rated PG-13. WITH: Javier Bardem (Ramón Sampedro), Belén Rueda (Julia), Lola Dueñas (Rosa), Mabel Rivera (Manuela), Celso Bugallo (José), Clara Segura (Gené), Joan Dalmau (Joaquín), Tamar Novas (Javi) and Francesc Garrido (Marc).
Judgments and opinions come from knowledge and experience. For this movie, I wonder how many movie-viewers under a certain age know who Dr. Kevorkian is and that, at this writing, he is still imprisoned for practicing euthanasia. Or how many have heard of the filmmaker Alejandro Amenabar?
He was born in 1972, in Santiago de Chile, to a Chilean father and a Spanish mother. Alejandro was not yet a year old when the despicable General Pinochet led a coup d'etat and killed democracy. Luckily, the Amenabar family fled to Madrid in the nick of time. In Spain - I skip details -Alejandro studied what we call "communications" at the university and -more skips here-eventually became a leading filmmaker in what amounts to the Spanish New Wave.
An early success was directing "Abre los Ojos" --script by him and his friend and collaborator Mateo Gil , a Spaniard born also in 1972. (It was remade by Cameron Crowe as "Vanilla Sky," starring Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Kurt Russell.) Then came other movies culminating with the 2001 Nicole Kidman vehicle "The Others." "The Sea Inside" -a rather gauche and cryptic title in my opinion-is a true story. It revolves around Ramon Sampedro, a paralyzed man (played by the highly popular and esteemed Javier Bardem) who used to be a sailor, until, in his late 20s a swimming accident made of him a quadriplegic. Interesting is the fact that Ramon took to the seas in order to see the world.
Fully able to think, Ramon, at some early point, wanted to die -but a suicide (or euthanasia) were prohibited both by the laws of the nation and those of the Church. By age 55 or so (convincingly played by 35-year old Bardem), Ramon is a "cause celebre" in Spain. Ramon, whose thinking is perfect, and who somehow manages to write a book (don't ask how) has allies in organizations of the To Die with Dignity type, but these cannot help.
Even so, in the last period of Ramon's life, such a group sends him Julia, a beautiful lady-lawyer to help his cause. (I had a certain fleeting glimpse of a Sharon Stone lookalike.) Odd but true there is a love-affair of sorts. Odd too is the non-revelation of a fact (medical) about her that comes out later on. Odd again, and true again, there's a second woman (so to speak) involved, but not in ways you can guess. She is a proletarian single with two boys.
Ramon lives (if that term is not too devious) with his mostly peasant relatives. He is not lacking affection. But that man whose only contact with life is a thinking head -a head that cannot move, mind you-and who is possessed by, believe me, a very special sense of humor, is hell-bent on being allowed to die. He also has visions of freedom from his situation(s). He also fights -in very specials ways-for his right to choose. He is a clever person, with -alas!-plenty of time to think, indeed to plot and re-plot ways to kill himself with the help of others, and at the same time protect those others from legal accusations.
This is -I'll say it again - a true story, and it is most definitely not handled by Hollywoodian simplicities, goodie-goodines, simplifications.
I cannot think of any other film that can reach such high levels of acting within the main player's horrible limitations. Or of a movie that can so solidly meld tragedy with humor. Talk of a "tour-de-force!" All that with a very strong avoidance of heavy sentimentality, at least, in Movieland ways.
I was told that the film's distributors declared (or at least hinted) that this is a feel-good picture. It ain't. But it is not a feel-bad work either. And the movie is unusually free of manipulating its viewers-listeners