The book vs. the movie
Amazingly, the movie stayed (mostly) true to the book. Events unfold just as they do in the book and the same conversations take place. There were some things left out – Mr. Traynor’s infidelity, the estrangement of Will’s parents, the side story of Lou’s sister – and while those omission didn’t affect the flow of the story I was disappointed that they left out the entire episode of Lou getting lost in the maze. For me, that was a big moment in the book when Will, despite being confined to a wheelchair, becomes the hero when he rescues her, comforts her, and helps her to face her demons.
They could not have found a more perfect actress to play Lou. She was cute, funny, self-effacing, brave, loving – basically everything you imagined her to be. Really, all the characters were spot on. I especially loved Lou’s boyfriend (also known as Running Man) who, in his all self-centeredness, was oddly endearing. And if you think he reminds you of Neville Longbottom from the Harry Potter series, why, you would be correct. He’s all grown up, now. And funny.
Did you notice …
I’ve read the book three times. I’ve seen the movie. Here are a few interesting interpretations, insights, symbolisms, and ironies I noticed:
-Lou is caring for a man who cannot walk while dating someone who is training for a triathlon.
-It’s interesting that the author chose the name Will who, in the end, no longer has the will to live.
-The title, Me Before You, can be interpreted a variety of ways: Will before meeting Lou or, conversely, Lou before meeting Will – or more simply, who I was before I met you. But critics of the book have pointed out that the title can also be viewed as me before you (a selfish attitude) as opposed to you before me (a sacrifice).
-In the book, Lou’s mother is one of the most vocal against Will’s decision. Her viewpoint is strongly maternal, and in the movie it is not a coincidence that she is wearing a gold cross necklace.
When I first read the book I had never heard of Dignitas and so I googled it, thinking that the author, Jojo Moyes, had made it up. She didn’t. The Dignitas motto, To live with dignity – to die with dignity, highlights the association’s goal of providing counseling with regard to all end of life issues including accompaniment of dying patients and assistance with a self-determined end of life. In other words, assisted suicide.
As I browsed the website, everything that is Catholic within me was horrified. I know that over the years there have been countless stories of people choosing to end their life rather than be faced with a debilitating illness, such as Brittany Maynard who ended her life rather than succumb to brain cancer. But this … to make an appointment to die? To travel to Switzerland (where assisted suicide is legal), check in, say goodbye to loved ones, and then … check out of life? It just felt wrong on so many levels.
Dignitas in the movie
Now, I will tell you that the movie glossed over the Dignitas angle; in fact, other than a quick view of the name in a letterhead, it’s not really mentioned and never is it fully explained. Honestly, if I hadn’t read the book I don’t think I would have fully understood what Will was planning to do. Nor does the scene provide any insight as to how Will actually dies. One minute Will is in bed saying goodbye, and in the next scene he isn’t there.
There is no doubt that the movie sugar-coats Will’s decision. Maybe the producers backed off from an emotionally charged subject, or maybe they wanted to concentrate on the romance part of the story. Either way, there is much more depth in the book.
Yes, I know, they’re just characters in a book and actors in a movie …
Oh, the tears I shed (all three times I read the book). But for heaven’s sake! It’s a book. With characters. It’s a movie. With actors. And yet, that is probably one of the things that hit home for me because there I was, getting emotionally entangled in the story, but somewhere out there in this big world this is someone’s life. Somewhere out there someone isn’t reading a story … but living it.
What would you do …
In high school I had an English teacher who expected us to spend the first ten minutes of class journaling on a topic she had written on the board. One day the topic was this: “Do you think you have the capacity to kill?” I was emphatic with my answer: No. Killing is wrong. We are made in the image of God and to take another life is a sin. Mankind should strive for all that is good, pure, and holy. We are meant to protect our fellow brothers and sisters. I wrote furiously for ten minutes.
But afterwards our teacher offered some what if scenarios: What if you were in a kill or be killed situation? What if you were in a kill or have a loved one be killed situation? She wasn’t being dramatic (although now that I think about it she had set up a classic Hunger Games scenario); she was teaching us that we live in a world in which the lines between right and wrong are sometimes obscured by more than a little gray; that we can vehemently declare to know what we will do in a certain situation, but do we know? Really? How could we unless we are in the reality? And if we can’t truly know, how can we possible judge?
Why I loved the book (and liked the movie) …
I read the book long before I knew they were making a movie. The book does not glorify in any way the right to die issue, nor does it insinuate in any way that anyone with a physical disability is less of a person; if anything, it shows the incredible pain and devastation left behind with an individual's decision to end his/her own life. I thought the book did an excellent job of giving us a peek (and just a peek because we can never really know) of the incredible physical and emotional pain that some people face, and while I still emphatically disagreed with Will's decision (I was so ANGRY with him), for the first time I could come from a place not of understanding or acceptance, but of empathy and compassion.
Think about this: Will had the money for around-the-clock care. He could travel. He had excellent caretakers. He even got the girl. So why did he still want to die? How could he do that? We don’t know because he was in a place we can never be.
Over the past few weeks I’ve seen countless articles condemning the movie as “dangerous” because of how it ends; that it portrays assisted suicide in such a manner that it might be construed as morally acceptable; that “Louisa et al” should have helped Will sort through and address his problems and the fact they stood by and let it happen makes them murderers (although I honestly don’t know what else “Louisa et al” could have done). That’s why the book was so thought-provoking … there wasn’t a single character who knew what to do. And why should they? How can anyone be prepared for something like that?
In the end, Will's decision to die reverberated through the lives of everyone he knew, and anyone can see how most of it resulted in a lot of pain. So although the book didn't end the way I would've wanted it to end, there is a lesson in Will’s choice. Not answers, but lessons.