(Please be advised this blog contains spoilers about the book and the film)

A few of us at Aspire managed to get tickets for a preview screening of the film Me Before You ahead of its release on 3rd June.  We were keen to see it because it is based on the bestselling book by JoJo Moyes about a young girl, Louisa (Emilia Clarke), who is employed as a companion to Will (Sam Claflin), who has been paralysed by Spinal Cord Injury (SCI).  Interestingly, it is one of two films in UK cinemas this summer featuring a spinal cord injured person, the other being Professor Charles Xavier in X-Men: Apocalypse.

Those of you who have read the book will know that it does go into a few details about some of the challenges that people with SCI face, such as needing adapted housing, how they can use a computer and bowel and bladder management, but as a romantic drama it was thought unlikely that the film would go into much detail about living with SCI.

Me Before You film poster

Of greater importance to the work of spinal injury charities such as Aspire is the ending of the film, which sees the lead character Will going to Dignitas in Switzerland to end his life.  As viewers we only see Will briefly before his accident and then see him through Louisa’s eyes when she goes to work for him.  Therefore we don’t see what Will goes through and to what extent he has tried to come to terms with his injury, and only get to know him once he has already made the decision to go to Dignitas.  We find out that he has previously attempted suicide, following which he made a deal with his parents that he will give them six months but if he still feels the same after this time they will take him to Dignitas. 

The film is more than a regular rom-com as it does raise issues about disability and euthanasia that will make the viewer think.  However, from Aspire’s perspective the film portrays a skewed view of life after SCI in a variety of ways: 

  • Will comes from a very rich family who own a castle so following his injury they are able to adapt the stables as ground floor accessible accommodation for him to live in. In reality, most people cannot afford to adapt their home so have the additional stress of arranging a new place to live.
  • Will seems to have no interest at all in living or finding out how he could move forward with his life, he just sits in a mood staring out the window all day or watching dvds. There is no real discussion about his options and how it would be possible for him to live an independent life and whether he could go back to work.
  • Will does not come into contact with anyone else who has a spinal cord injury. As we do not see him in the months immediately following his accident, we do not know what level of support he received whilst in hospital.  The Spinal Injury Centres around the UK all offer support to people following their injury and there are plenty of opportunities to speak with people who have gone through it themselves, such as Aspire’s Independent Living Advisors.
  • The film makes it very clear that Will wants to go to Dignitas because he cannot accept that his life will not go back to what it was. He clearly had a fabulous life, which you get brief glimpses of during the first scene of the film which shows him with his beautiful girlfriend in a fantastic flat just before he has the accident.  Through a film made for him by his friends we also see that he had a great job and went on fantastic holidays, being a bit of a daredevil and living life to the full.  It is true that life changes dramatically following SCI but this does not mean that suicide is the only option.
  • At Aspire we believe that people with high level injuries are able to lead full and independent lives. Will has pushed all his friends and girlfriend away but on a daily basis we meet  people who have successfully carried on with their relationships, have children after their accident, fallen in love since their accident, gone back to work, started their own business etc etc.

It is extremely disappointing that the moral of Me Before You is that life for a disabled person must be so awful that the only option is to end it.  Despite Will being shown that he is able to travel the world and falls in love with a girl who clearly wants to build a life with him, he still goes through with ending his life.  For many people this film will be the only insight they ever get into disabled people’s lives and for that reason it’s a shame that the ending wasn’t changed to a more positive one, or even left ambiguous leaving viewers with more to think about.

Leading up to its release the film has been getting a lot of backlash, with protests by disability rights campaigners at the London premiere and many blogs written by disabled people who have taken offence at the way they are being portrayed.

The hashtag being used by the film company is #LiveBoldly and yet in the film Will is doing the complete opposite and not living at all, let alone living boldly.  An alternative hashtag #NotDeadYet is now being used and disabled people are using this to protest against the film. 

We would welcome your views and opinions, particularly if you have read the book or seen the film. Me Before You

The new book by JoJo Moyes, After You, is a sequel to Me Before You and is available now.