Editor's Note

Hollywood Endings

Me Before YouThis morning, I got an e-mail from a PR agency for the new (as we go to press) tearjerker Me Before You. The film stars Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin as polar-opposite young adults. She’s quirky and fun-loving and beautiful. He’s melancholy and rich and beautiful. So they fall rapturously in love and live happily ever after in his beautiful country castle. The end.

Just kidding.

Because — gasp! — there's a twist: He’s in a wheelchair after an accident and is paralyzed from the neck down. She’s hired as his caregiver, her quirkiness having eliminated all other job prospects. Her joy for life is infectious, they fall rapturously in love and live happily ever after in his beautiful country castle. The end.

Just kidding.

He is in a wheelchair, she is his caregiver, but he has opted for physician-assisted suicide rather than stay in a wheelchair. She wins his heart, he wins hers, they enjoy adventures and…spoiler alert… he decides to die anyway so he can leave his fortune to her.

Oh, where to start?

How does a guy with such a high-level spinal cord injury — Claflin portrays him as unable to turn his head — drive his power chair with a hand-operated joystick? Why at one point is he sitting with perfectly upright posture in a standard slingback manual chair?

Why did Warner Bros. (or whoever was in charge of casting) choose an able-bodied actor instead of one who truly knows what paralysis is like?

But back to my e-mail. The PR firm generously offered me the chance to purchase a transcript of an interview with Mr. Claflin that I could fashion into a story. Among the talking points in the transcript is “how difficult it was to act as if he was paraplegic."

Well first off, it's clear even from the trailer that the character in the movie is supposed to have quadriplegia, not paraplegia. He can't even turn his head!

More importantly, why would a film portray using a wheelchair as a fate worse than death? Why suggest that people who use wheelchairs have lost all capacity for joy and are better off killing themselves?

When Claflin’s character, Will, says Paris is the most perfect place in the world, Clarke’s character, Lou, suggests they hop a train and go. But Will laments: “I want to be in Paris as me. The old me.”

Lou should have said, “Well, I’d like to go to Paris with a boyfriend who’s more than just a flat stereotype, but you’re what the screenwriters gave me.”

And to the PR firm, I said, “Multiple people who use wheelchairs have told me that if they could have one wish, it would not be to leave their wheelchairs behind. But they would spend more time with their kids, be more adventurous in their careers or travel, or try harder to make relationships work. Assistive technology isn’t who we are; it’s a tool we use, like a smartphone or a car.”

I suppose movie-goers would be bored by a film about a young man in a wheelchair getting on just fine with his life. But I shudder at Me Before You’s message. We all deserve a much more informed one.

This article originally appeared in the July 2016 issue of Mobility Management.

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at lwatanabe@1105media.com.

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