Right. I wasn’t planning on doing this at all but let’s go for it.
Last year at big UK YouTube convention Summer in the City I auditioned to be host for the then upcoming Penguin publishing YouTube channel. I sat in a chair & talked to a camera about my favourite book for 60 seconds, and then was given a bag full of goodies including a free book they picked for me – which turned out to be Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. With the busyness of the weekend I didn’t get to start reading until a while later, but when I did it was finished in days. And it did make me cry when I was alone on the train home. By then the book had already been picked up for a film adaptation, and the back blurb informed me that in 2016 Emelia Clarke would be taking on the role of Louisa Clark, with Sam Claflin as Will Traynor.
While I did like the book, something was holding me back from wanting to go see the film. To be honest, I’m not sure if I would have gone to see it at all if I hadn’t just read the sequel to the book after finding a brand new hard book copy in a charity shop. I read After You cover to cover in less than a day, which did get me thinking about seeing the film; especially since it also lead me to discovering that the screenplay was written by the author. I am also a sucker for a good cry in a cinema.
There is a few, big issues with the film. Firstly, and most obviously, it’s followed the trend of Hollywood Able-washing, casting fully able Sam Claflin as quadriplegic Will. Yes I understand they needed to be able to shoot scenes of his pre accident life and running around to show how cool he was before being hit by a motorbike. His “before” life is a central part of his character I suppose. His character states on numerous occasions that he fully believes that to be the real him, and due to his injuries he will ever be able to feel like himself again. He feels totally disconnected from himself. But it is still an actor who at the end of a scene can get up & stretch his legs.
It also presented a lot of problems with the disabled community. Many took to Twitter & Tumblr to state that they were not ‘broken’ or living less of a life. And yes, saying that all disabled people feel their lives are of no worth would be a false statement, but to some few people, it may feel like that. In the book Louisa joins an online support group for quadriplegics & finds a whole diverse group of people all with different experiences & feelings. That’s not in the film – in fact there isn’t a single other disabled person in the film at all. So it really is only showing one small story, & definitely could have done a better job at making it clear he was a minority that felt this way.
It was because of those reasons that I had been hesitant to see the film, but I had a 50% off cinema voucher & nothing to do on a rainy day with a friend so I saw it for £3.95. And I did cry. I would have sobbed, had we not been in a near empty cinema that was very quiet.
I think Emelia Clarke is amazing. She is absolutely one of those actresses who totally becomes the character. It’s actually so hard to comprehend that it’s the same person who is mother of dragons every Sunday night on Game of Thrones. One thing about her in this role is that she might be a little annoying – but that’s the character & not her. My sister even said after seeing the trailer for Me Before You that she didn’t think she’d be able to watch her as this character, even though she absolutely adores Emelia Clarke after her role in Spike Island (which is a very good film that you should watch).
I think Sam Claflin was very… so so. He’s cute & charming & this may be because I’ve heard people in the biz speak not that highly of him, but he’s just a bit… average. He doesn’t really bring any extra depth to the character at all.
The script is alright, the cinematography is nice enough. But none of that really changes the fact that it’s an awful representation of a disabled person, or really a suicidal person. And those two do end up contradicting each other a little. Because a disabled person isn’t always “trapped” in their new life. But a suicidal person won’t suddenly love life by having a few good days.
It also gives the message that a disabled person even falling in love is something incredible & out of the ordinary. Will Traynor “finding love against all odds” is saying that it’s as if people with disabilities are unlikely to find love unless it’s in some ‘inspiring’ story.
It’s difficult to talk about. Because I did enjoy reading the books & I did enjoy seeing the film, & I really shouldn’t be able to just review a film & talk about how nice & lovely it was because I’m a completely able bodied person who isn’t suicidal. I shouldn’t be able to have my say because I couldn’t possibly understand. But Me Before You has presented itself to the public as entertainment with no real information behind it.
This is what’s held me back from writing a review of this film for so long. And to be honest, I don’t think I would have written it at all if I hadn’t stumbled across this post by a disabled tumblr user (which I’ve paraphrased a little bit)
I’ve been disabled all my life but about ten years ago, I walked into an operating room and came out in a wheelchair. (Well, technically I came out on a stretcher, but you get the point.)
And it took me a while to realize that my life was completely different. In fact, it wasn’t until about three years later, when I was about fifteen, that I really realized it. I don’t know if I was in shock all that time, if I was numb, if the medications that I was on limited any conscious thought, let alone emotion. But it was around the age of fifteen that everything came crashing down and I fell apart. I became extremely depressed. And let me tell you, no matter how hard you try, you never forget that feeling. It’s one of the worst feelings in the world. Depression is like being in a room where everything is pitch black. And people are screaming at you to turn on the light switch, but you can’t find it, you can’t see it, even though everyone else seems to know exactly where it is, you’re completely lost in this dark room with no way out. Depression is horrible. I would never wish it on my worst enemy. Even now, there are days when I struggle, though those days are nowhere as bad as the weeks, months, that I battled depression as a teenager. As a fifteen-year-old, too weak to put up a fight.
Now, I should mention that I never tried anything.
But believe me when I say that I know what it’s like to want to.
And believe me when I say that if you built a time machine, if you took Jojo Moyes’ infamous book, if you sent it back to 2009, and if fifteen-year-old me had read it…
I probably wouldn’t be here right now.
I’d be dead.
I would have lost my battle.
Because I would have picked up a book wherein the main character kills themselves because they think that their life isn’t worth living now that they’re disabled.
And I would have related all too well, and I would have done something that’s genuinely terrifying to think about. I know I would have. I was not in a good place at that time, I was not strong, and while I did survive, it wouldn’t have taken much for the scales to tip in the other direction.
And I keep going into the Me Before You tags on different websites and I keep seeing teenagers who are in the same place that I once was, who are saying that they were sobbing in the movie theaters because they didn’t expect the ending and they genuinely don’t know what to do.
I would have been one of those teenagers.
I dodged a bullet.
And I know that the author probably didn’t mean for any of this to happen, she didn’t expect the huge backlash from the disabled community, she didn’t expect a very tired college student to be revealing something very personal at 1:06 AM.
She just wanted to tell a story.
I can respect that.
I read an interview a few days ago where she talked about how she had seen a few debates over assisted suicide and she felt compelled to write a story, to give a perspective, to give a voice.
And whether she meant to or not, that voice is a single mantra:
“It’s okay to die.”
And I keep seeing people defend the book, defend the author, defend that voice, by saying that it’s just one perspective, it’s just one voice.
But it’s not.
It’s not okay.
And it’s not just one voice.
You see, we didn’t need Jojo Moyes to be that voice. She thinks we did. But we didn’t.
We hear that voice every single day.
We hear that voice every single day.
Every single day.
We hear people talking about how it’s okay for the disabled to die.
Every. Single. Day.
(Note: I was actually going to make this a video but at this point, I started crying and couldn’t finish, so I’m typing it all out instead.)
And we hear our own inner voice, whispering to us at night, urging us that it’s okay to die.
We hear the voices. We hear them. We hear them every single day. The voices that say that it’s okay to die.
We hear them.
I heard them when I was fifteen. I heard them loud and clear. And I believed them. And had I read Me Before You, it would have been the voice to break the camel’s back. It would have been the voice that I listened to.
This book would have killed me.
This book is going to end up killing someone else.
And I don’t think Jojo Moyes understands, I don’t think that the abled community understands, I think they have the privilege of not understanding just how loud that voice can be and how damaging that voice can be. They don’t hear those voices every day.
But we do.
Whether we want to or not.
And you know what?
For the amount of people who say, “It’s okay to die.” there are very few people out there who say, “It’s okay to live.”
You can read the full post from marauders4evr here.
And that’s why I don’t think I should have a say in reviews of Me Before You. Because although it centres on disability, it’s totally aimed at able people who will have no understanding on what it means to the disabled community.