Today I watched the movie The Sea Inside about the life of quadriplegic, Ramon Sampedro, who decided to end his life because of his physical disability. In the movie he is brilliantly portrayed by Javier Bardem, one of my favourite actors. The director Alejandro Amenábar is a favourite of South African movie critic Barry Ronge, and when you see this film you realise maybe why he is the most respected Spanish director currently making movies in both Europe and America (The Others). This was a film I wanted to watch not in the least because he is my namesake – Ramon – but because I also had several bouts of depression, with at least two of them driving me to towards suicide. So I could see a part of me inside the main character of this film.
Ramon Sampedro campaigned for almost 30 years to be allowed to take his own life, also known as euthanasia, which is illegal in most countries. He believed he was not living with dignity and his the only thing he looked forward to was his death. His main argument rested on the fact that he was sure he wanted to die. Freud called this the Thanatos – or the death drive and is the opposite of eros. Before the accident he travelled all over the world, brilliantly shown by a collage of photos to his married lawyer, Julia (Belén Rueda). She herself has a degenerative disease, which reduces her capacity to walk and function after several strokes. At some point during their engagements there is moments of intimacy that develops between them, especially after Julia reads Ramon’s poetry. She insists that they must be published and that they would eventually jointly commit suicide when the first book is delivered from the printers. This never happens because she has the book sent to him and goes her own way to some extent. Towards the end of the film it becomes clear that her own health had deteriorated to such an extent she was not able to mentally function and follow through on the promise she had made to Ramon.
There is a constant battle between Ramon Sampedro and his brother who does not agree with his choice to take his own life. And he tries to assert himself from time to time, to no avail. One of the saddest moments in the film is when his brother accuses him of making everyone into his slaves. And how they both suffered by not living by the sea – I assume they grew up in a fishing village in Spain. The sister-in-law Manuela (Mabel Rivera) supports his every need with so much sympathy and it is clear that she acts more like a loving mother than anything else. Their son also becomes the son Ramon never had and one of the poems in book is dedicated to Javier. The family’s daily existance seems to revolve around the upkeep of Ramon and his visitors. As his reputation grows with a television interview and other coverage of his groundbreaking court case against the Spanish government various people are shown to visit him but we never get to know them.
One of the visitors, Rosa, clearly becomes infatuated with Ramon early on in their encounters. She is a troubled woman with two children from different men. Ramon accurately but with out tact describes her circumstances with her first visit. Later on after apologising to him on radio, where she worked as a disc jockey, she persists and a friendship develops between them. For a brief moment there seems to be some competition for his affection between Rose and Julia. Rosa gets her way with the family and after loosing her job almost completely dedicates her life to serving Ramon, like his sister-in-law Manuela. She wants him to live because he gives her a reason and purpose to live. Eventually she does come to see his way after his request is rejected by the Federal Court. She eventually changes her mind on helping him commit suicide, and eventually brings him to live with her and helps him take the final steps towards death.
The Indian mystic Osho has described our relationship with death as something we should love and embrace and not fear and run away from. Today we find an entire movement dedicated towards proloning life. Death is the final destination, the final checkout point from life. The moral questions raised in this movie is deep and profound and difficult for me to articulate. In fact it is more uncomfortable than anything else for me because of my own experiences with suicide. Ultimately life and death is like yin and yang. Two two go together and you cannot have the one without the other. When you are going through depression there are moments when you feel dead inside, dead emotionally, and that drives you to consider suicide because you believe, incorrectly, you can never feel again. For Ramon Sampedro I believe the strongest message in the movie is the one about dignity and not being judged.