The BLOG: Culture

The sadness and selfishness of putting ‘me’ before ‘you’

Warning: This article contains spoilers

Sometimes when I have a bit of time (?), I like to take in a movie. My favorite kind of movie involves stories of personal triumph — stories of those severely challenged by life, but beat the odds; those who refuse to give up.

Friday I went to see the movie “Me Before You” – a movie whose review I had read suggested these themes. It is the story of an unlikely couple: a handsome wealthy young man, who has become a depressed quadriplegic after a tragic accident, and an upbeat but economically struggling young working girl who takes on the job of being his companion.

What unfolds is a romance, and the maturing of both lives. The young woman becomes enriched by her relationship with him, and the experiences his wealth can provide; he learns to laugh, finding joy in her laughter and innocent ways, her care for him. I was reminded of the movie “The Theory of Everything,” and the triumph of Stephen Hawking; and the life of someone like Charles Krauthammer, who has found fulfillment, love and even given life to a child despite his quadriplegia.

However, halfway through the movie, we learn that the young man plans to go to Switzerland in six months to be assisted in committing suicide. His mother had hired the young woman as his companion to help him recover the will to live.

Watching this movie, I kept looking for the triumph, the inspiration we need in a world so desperately needing hope. In the end, however, what was provided was shallow propaganda for Doctor Prescribed Suicide – the triumph of self pity, defeat and despair.

Despite the love of parents, friends, and this young woman – “sparing” her a life of caring for him — he abandons them all and breaks their hearts.

Perhaps the title of the movie was unintentionally apt – “Me Before You” — which when lived as a total preoccupation in life is the definition of selfishness. I guess I had been looking for a movie entitled “You Before Me,” which, when lived by people in the give and take of their lives is the true definition of love and gives meaning to life.

I do not wish to minimize the challenges this young man faced. But, I think of all those who persevered after their injuries in the Boston Marathon bombing, those who fought back and rose to life’s challenges. What a contrast with a movie that celebrates defeat and despair.

One final and serious thought in a different context. We live on the cusp of great medical breakthroughs. In 10 years, we may actually have treatment provided by adult stem cell research that repairs damaged spinal cords. What would the young man in this movie have likely thrown away?

Linda Thayer is the Vice President of Educational Affairs for Massachusetts Citizens for Life.