Perversion Inherent in Me Before You
Since its premiere a few weeks ago, there has been a lot of discussion of the film Me Before You, an adaptation of the novel by Jojo Moyes. For those who do not know, the plot revolves around a man named Will Traynor who was left a quadriplegic by an accident and is now fixated on committing suicide. Conversely, his caretaker-turned-girlfriend, Louisa Clark, makes a heroic effort to show him that life is worth living, even confined to a wheelchair. As assisted suicide is a hot-button issue in today’s world, I heard my share of Me Before You talk. Being both disabled and staunchly pro-life, I thought I would find out for myself why the ideas presented in this story are so harmful. In hopes that my effort proves worthwhile, I present my findings in brief here. (Please note that since I have not seen the movie, my analysis may not be as applicable to it.)
They Can do Without Religion
From the beginning of the story, the basic principle of the main characters’ assumed atheism sets a precedent toward treatment of religion. First, Will’s sister is trying to convince her theist parents not to agree to his suicide plan and asks “What about your religion?” They do not answer, which might imply that they let their religious beliefs be superseded by love for Will. While some people might do this, the portrayal could easily give inaccurate ideas of the pious. In another scene, Louisa seeks advice concerning Will on an online forum for quadriplegics and reads a reply from a Christian only long enough to see that “[the Lord] decided to change your friend’s life, in His own wisdom,” and ignores the rest. Then, later, she lies to a man who comes to Will’s door because she thinks he’s a Mormon missionary. She then narrates (the book is written in the first person) that the Jehovah’s Witnesses who came to the door most recently said that Will “more than anyone should . . . look forward to the afterlife,” which Louisa seems to find crass.
These portrayals show well enough what Moyes thinks of the pious. However, they also show that Moyes seems not to understand religious faith. Specifically, she does not understand what life on earth means to the religious. She does incorporate that we Christians believe there is a reason for all suffering in the mind of God. What she does not realize is that, as there is a reason for suffering, so there is also reason to live life on earth doing more than just waiting for Heaven. Even in the midst of great trials, there can be some consolation in knowing one is doing God’s will. Another consolation is that Jesus, God made man, knew what it was to suffer just as we humans do, even undergoing supernatural agony to redeem our sins. Furthermore, He knows when we suffer and sorrows seeing our pain. Now, it could be easy to reject religion if one’s basic understanding of it is, “Shut up and stop whining; your pain isn’t really bad.” However, that is incorrect; a better summary would be, “It does hurt, but God is hurting along with you because He loves you.”
How Hard is a Quad’s Life?
Additionally, Moyes goes out of her way to show Will’s life as difficult. Early in the book, Will says to Louisa, “Everyone thinks they know what I need.” In other words, it is made obvious that no one before her had bothered to listen to what he really wants. Moyes also emphasizes how people look oddly at Will in public. He says, “every single place I go to now people look at me like I don’t belong,” and Louisa’s narration confirms that. This may be an exaggeration, as from my personal experience riding in wheelchairs I do not recall ever feeling particularly self-conscious about it. But, in fairness, I was always able to stand up and walk if I preferred, and I have complete control of my arms. True or not, though, Moyes’ particular emphasis on it is because it helps her show the life of a quadriplegic as terrible.
Master Neither of the Universe, Nor Himself
Next, and arguably worse, near the end of the book, Will says to Louisa, “This could be a good life. I get that with you around, perhaps it could be a very good life. But it’s not my life.” He continues, “You never saw me before this [wheelchair]. I loved my life, Clark. Really loved it. . . . I led a big life.” The back cover aptly describes him as “ex-Master of the Universe.” Thus, he would rather not live at all if he cannot be Master of the Universe. So, he is selfish and spoiled—no surprise there. But, there is one more issue here. In their last scene together, Louisa says “It has been the best six months of my entire life.” Will answers, “Funnily enough Clark, mine too.” No, Will is not just ordinarily selfish; he is so much so that even if his life overall actually becomes more worth living than before the accident, he does not care because he is too conceited to concede to live as a weakling in a wheelchair.
I once recall hearing something like, “If I am free from everything, even the right to bind myself, I become a slave to myself.” This describes Will exactly. Because he is an atheist, he puts what he wants before all else, and does not realize the far-reaching effects of that. Obviously, he is disregarding the feelings of his family and Louisa, the only person he specifically professes to love, but he also hurts himself. Though saying that Louisa has made his life amazing, he cuts himself off from experiencing any other earthly good through her. As Will says, any idea she could propose is “not enough.” Louisa’s mother, being anti-suicide, is portrayed in an unflattering light, but she is the only character who says that Will is ill, even though Moyes makes sure to point out that he “had no evidence of mental illness.”
Unless one were a practitioner of a religion that lauded suicide, there is no way a sane person could loathe life so much that he would refuse to live one day longer, directly after spending the best six months of his life. That same feeling might be understandable if he had just endured the worst time of his life. However, in Will’s case, he merely hates his quadriplegia more than he loves anything, especially Louisa. One of the book’s discussion questions asks, “What about his life did you find most difficult to understand or accept?” Well, his insistence to die after having the time of his life is my answer for understanding, but I refuse to accept it. I do not understand how a great joy entering into someone’s life would not fill him with a zest for life. Joy, by nature, lessens suffering—unless of course the person in question is determined to hate his life. The one rational possibility is that he is lying, but considering Moyes’ overall narrative style, I doubt it.