The Sea Inside (review)

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I’ve never seen a sadder smile on a human being than Javier Bardem musters as Ramón Sampedro, a man who has “learned to cry” with that smile. In an extraordinary performance, this physically robust and bracingly brawny actor physically shrinks down into the body of a man paralyzed below the neck, bedridden for decades, who wants to die and won’t shut up about it, no matter how uncomfortable it makes everyone else, from his family and friends to complete strangers — including meddling, moralizing priests — who dare to scold him for his audacity. Sampedro was a real person, and he could not, of course, take his own life, and though compassionate euthanasia had been practiced in secrecy in his homeland of Spain, he didn’t want to be sneaky about it, as if it were something to be ashamed of. Alejandro Amenábar (The Others), working from a script by Mateo Gil, has turned his public battle into a private, remarkably alive story of hope and happiness, one that asks us to consider that, indeed, Sampedro had no reason for shame. Heartbreakingly, for Sampedro, even the devoted attentions of the people he loves and who love him, the people who willingly dote on his every need, amount only to torturous reminders of all he cannot do for himself, reminders of how truncated his world is. It may sound like a paradox, but Amenábar has given us an unexpectedly funny and passionate film full of a love of life in which suicide is neither a tragedy nor a cop out but an embracing of all the wonderful things that come with being alive.

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