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‘Me Before You’: How did I not notice its problematic nature before??

Hazel's picture

Right in the middle of our class conversation about ‘cure’ the week before last, I was suddenly struck by a realization that the movie I loved so much, Me Before You, promoted such a problematic narrative.

(Spoiler alert!)

The main character, Will Traynor, was a wealthy young man that was injured in a road accident and became quadriplegic (had partial to full paralysis of all four limbs). Two years later, after countless procedures, surgeries and therapies, he has not gained more control over his body. He decided to pursue euthanasia because despite having just met his love Louisa Clark and having many more privileges and opportunities than an average disabled person, he believed his life was not worth living due to his condition. I want to unwrap both nuanced and clear-cut issues with this movie.

Of course, there is absolutely nothing inherently wrong with Will making this decision for himself. It is great that he had autonomy over his body and life. However, Will is not a real person. He is a character in a pretty popular book and movie, media that have profound influence on the public. Creating a narrative like this that is most likely rooted in pity, ableism and the known ‘quality of life’ concept, hiring an able-bodied actor to play that role and putting the film out there is very harmful for the real disabled community. What did people who were not exposed to the disabled community and culture think after watching it? How could their perception of disability and ‘quality of life’ have changed? I doubt that the next time they see a person using a wheelchair they will think anything but ‘poor thing, their life is wasted’.

There are simply not enough movies out there representing real disabled people’s experiences, their nuanced lives full of ups and downs, their desires and dreams, their work and art, just like any other person’s presence in the world. There are simply not enough of them to override the popular Me Before You that subtly reminds disabled people that their lives are apparently not worth living, no matter how fulfilling, long and interesting they could be.

I love the autonomy and dignity that was given to Will in the movie, and I fully respect his pain and his choice. I love how Louisa put so much effort into giving him such enriching and beautiful experiences that brought him happiness and joy ‘despite’ his disability. But it really does not sit right with me that one of the only movies with a disabled main character I have been exposed to shows a man that pursues euthanasia because his life with disability is so unbearable. We desperately need better representation of disability in popular movies, otherwise people around us will always believe that disability is close to a death sentence.