‘Me Before You’ – concluded

I can testify that there are few things more soul-destroying than the awareness that one cannot do physical, active things one yearns to do; a realisation that dogged me for decades and which frequently left me suicidally unhappy, burdened as I was by so many conflicting hopes and realisations, dreams and disappointments. That I am still alive today is testament to the love of those around me, and to my writing, which have enabled me through the years to gain and keep a kinder perspective on life in general and my good fortune in particular.

That Will Traynor chooses to end his life while he was still young may be considered a pity. Perhaps if he had grown old, he too would have become reconciled to his limitations. But there are shadows all around him: His life is endlessly monitored, his health is fragile and I gain the impression that, if Will is lucky, he may manage to claw his way through a few more years of precarious life in considerable pain. Some commentators object that the story portrays impairment as burdensome, bothersome to families and in such a light that it might encourage others to think of suicide as a way to escape. Actually, I sincerely doubt whether the film is this powerful. Nor do I think that life and its lessons are so easily snuffed out.

Two of my close family members opted for euthanasia, my brother in his final hours finally succumbing to his illness so that euthanasia proved un-necessary. It does seem to me that, where one has endless choices to make and is free to make them, the rest of us will do well to look with compassion on the complex dilemmas that euthanasia presents us with.

In ‘Me Before You‘, in both the book and the film, Will’s physical pain – and indeed the unattractive aspects of being wheelchair bound – are somewhat glossed over. But why should the characters not keep their dignity? There may be a patina of unreality in the whole story too – The Traynor Family own a castle, for goodness’ sake, and are described as very wealthy, so we don’t have to witness any grubby realism, the poverty that so often accompanies disability. And I have wondered, if Lou Clark’s family so need her income, where does she find the money to dress with such panache?

I’ve read literally hundreds of novels and seen dozens of films based around novels, in which the characters are all unfeasibly rich, beautiful and extraordinarily talented, able to pick up prestigious jobs and an amazing array of abilities with consummate ease… And that, I conclude, is all in the nature of novel writing and film-making. ‘Me Before You’ does at least offer us the reality of Will’s spinal cord injury which will never mend. I think – though I may be wrong here – that few of us often question the able-bodied world’s embrace of dreamy unreality that often stretches credibility to the max. The community of the differently-abled also deserves some escapism.

Not all portrayals of impairment are duty-bound to be ‘gritty’, ‘true-to-life’ and ‘inspiring’. If Will Traynor and Lou Clark can offer me a thoughtful view of life lived well on a small canvas, I accept it with open arms. The best thing about this story is that Lou actually does love Will and hardly considers his disability when dealing with him. She holds him up to the same standards of decent behaviour as she would anyone else, and her blindness to his impairment is what finally gives Will some zest for living: Yes, he can be kind, he can be courteous even when he is depressed and even though he may be in a lot of pain. It is heartening indeed to see a Will and Lou fall genuinely in love; and however Will’s impairment is – or is not – portrayed, that simple message of hope is worth a lot to me.

Thanks for reading.

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