Life Worth Living – Me Before You Missed the Point

I was not even sure I was even going to discuss this film, because I had not seen it or even read the book it is based on. But I felt it was important to express my thoughts due to the recent attention it has been getting on the internet lately. Before I go any further I realize that some who read this will disagree with what I have to say, but I feel that this debate is important because awareness is better than ignorance even if it seems easier.

First a little background; I saw trailers for Me Before You a few months ago back in 2015 and at that time I thought that it was would be a nice romantic film that tackles what it is like coming to terms with the loss of mobility and how unconditional love triumphs. When I discovered it was based off of a book, curiosity got the better of me and I decided to read the summary on Wikipedia. When I read how it ended, it broke my heart. I am not kidding when I say this.

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Characters Louisa Clark and Will Traynor from Me Before You.

After reading the summary, I debated whether or not I go to see the movie. I thought if I watched it in context maybe it would at the very least help me to understand it better. But the more I thought about it and the more I researched a number of disabled individuals’ views of the book as well as the movie, the more I realized that going to the theaters would only support the misguided belief that a disabled life is not worth living.

Also it appears I am not alone in this view, for a lot of people especially those with disabilities criticize the film for implying that who suffer from a loss of mobility can never live life to the fullest. While there are those who defend that physician-assisted is a private decision by calling it “death with dignity,” Breakpoint commentator John Stonestreet explains,

An individual’s decision to commit suicide in the midst of an illness or disability – whether that individual is real or on the silver screen – shapes how our culture treats others in the same situation.

Despite the romanticization of physician-assisted suicide in Me Before You, its marketing campaign proclaims #LiveBoldly to which one Twitter user with a disability retorted “Do you really want us to #LiveBoldly, or…just…#DieQuickly?”

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Francesco Clark, author of Walking Papers and founder of Clark Botanicals.

Franceso Clark whose book Walking Papers chronicles his life after suffering an accident as young man that left him paralyzed, criticizes the film especially since they referred to his book without his knowledge,

I was never asked if my book could be included in the movie, nor was I ever told that it would be included…While I understand that this movie is based on a work of fiction, my book – and my life – is not.

I’ve worked tirelessly to show people that being quadriplegic isn’t the end of your life, it’s another beginning…While I am by no means taking a stance on the issue of assisted suicide, I feel compelled to express that I am angry to be unwittingly associated with a storyline that suggests the only option for those who sustain injuries like me is death.

Life for  Francesco Clark has not been easy, but he chose to move forward and is making strides to regain some of his mobility back, all the while running his skincare company Clark Botanicals.

In the movie and the book, the quadriplegic character Will says to his love interest and main character Lou, “I don’t want you to miss all things someone else can give you.” However by taking his own life he in essence took away what she wanted most…himself.

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Joni Eareckson Tada with her husband Ken.

This is in complete contrast to Christian author and radio host, Joni Eareckson Tada who herself is a quadriplegic and a married woman. In her statement she released addressing the movie she said,

As a quadriplegic who’s been married for nearly 34 years, I can say for certain that my husband and I have a deep and satisfying relationship, mostly because of – not in spite of my severe disability. It teaches us both patience and self-sacrifice; endurance, respect and joy, even when – especially when – times are hard. The Bible says God’s power shows up best in weakness, so any marriage that has a disability can potentially be a powerful blessing to both spouses.

The difference between Will and Joni is that despite the difficulties Joni’s strength lies with God.

Instead of reading or watching Me Before You, I recommend you read instead Joni: An Unforgettable Story (1976) or watch the movie Joni (1979) if you want to see the true story about her struggle with her lifelong disability and how she started down the path of living a fulfilled life in the midst of it.

Sources:

“‘Me Before You’ People with Disabilities Aren’t Better Off Dead” by Jon Stonestreet

http://www.breakpoint.org/bpcommentaries/entry/13/29399

“Quadriplegic author ‘angry to be associated’ with Me Before You” by Henry Barnes

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/jun/15/quadriplegic-author-francesco-clark-angry-associated-me-before-you

“Joni’s Statement on the Glamorization of Physician-Assisted Suicide in the New Film Me Before You” by Joni Eareckson Tada

http://www.joniandfriends.org/blog/me-before-you/

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Keeping it Fresh? Reflection on Star Wars: The Force Awakens

As I was debating what should write about for my first blog post, my mind went Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens which I went to see the movie in theaters with my brother and another friend in early January. I was not as hyped to see it (I was keeping my expectations low) but I still was curious whether or not J..J. Abrams could move the Star Wars Saga forward. Now I have to admit when I was watching the movie I was elated and upon leaving the theater I was excited about what I saw. But as time past and my rush was gone and I began to think about what I watched, my perception of Episode 7 changed.

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When I realized that a lot of the characters, locations and plots from the Original Trilogy were used beat for beat in The Force Awakens with very little difference, any respect I had for the movie vanished. People bash the prequels for being among the worst Star Wars movies, but I would argue that they at least incorporated new characters, locations and plots. Sure a few of these elements…a lot of these elements that were not executed well but at least they tried.

The Force Awakens unfortunately decided to play it safe doing the same story of A New Hope with an underdog ragtag group of main characters going up against an evil and mean galaxy conquering war-machine with tweaks here and there so that the similarities would not be so easy to notice upon the first viewing. Star Wars Episode 7 is a reboot passing off a sequel and considering J..J. Abrams the director of the successful rebooted Star Trek series was involved just makes it all the more disappointing.

Now I know many people, young and older, like this new Star Wars movie but I respectfully have to disagree. Best way I can describe my view is that I feel cheated out of what could have been an amazing new story. This became more apparent when I heard about some the ideas that were dropped from The Force Awakens. While it is entitled “10 Crazy Ideas Dropped From THE FORCE AWAKENS” some of them were not that crazy; some were actually really cool. It would have been amazing if these ideas had been incorporated into the movie and it would have made the story more unique.

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Click image to watch the video.

I really wanted to like this movie, unfortunately I feel the originality that characterized with the earlier movies in Star Wars franchise took a backseat in order to cater to people’s nostalgia of them so that more money could be made for those who produced it. And Star Wars is not only franchise that film companies are capitalizing on. Of the top 10 grossing movies of 2015 only 2 were original stories. The remaining 80% consisted of sequels, reboots or spinoffs of previously existing franchises with The Force Awakens at the top of the list. From sequels like Avengers: Age of Ultron to reboots like Cinderella to spinoffs like Minions and everything in between nostalgia seems to dominating the box office and looking at the line up of movies for this year that is not about to change anytime soon. And to be honest despite my enjoyment of Star Wars and some other franchises like it, I desire to see filmmaker come along with movie based on an original idea.

Box Office 2015- Top 10 Movies
Original movies like Inside Out and The Martian did not even make it into the top 3 of the Box Office in 2015.

So the question becomes why are people afraid of trying something new? In a paper entitled “The Art of Originality,” it’s author Timothy Ryan attempts to answer this question using art of Vincent van Gogh as an example:

“It is also van Gogh’s originality that prevented him from being successful among the masses initially…It would appear that this often goes hand in hand with originality. The lack of acceptance, severe criticism, and the failure of the masses to understand original works because they do break with established and accepted traditional forms….So when something original comes along or something that departs from tradition is presented, it doesn’t always get the appreciation initially that it may garner later once people have had time to adjust and absorb what is really being placed before them.”

Producers at the time of its release viewed A New Hope much the same way. It was so different from the norm and many believed it wouldn’t do well. Now 40 years later, it is the one of the most well-known sic-fi franchises right alongside Star Trek. But it’s success has also come with a price, because with a large fan base there are both hardcore and causal fans who would be willing pay money to see a sequel series and this demand is catered by film companies because they know now that Star Wars sells. This also explains the prevalence of movies based off of nostalgic films, tv shows and comics because those who grew up with them would be interested in seeing them on the big screen. While this makes it easier for film companies to find something the masses will approve of, it prevents new stories from being created. Samuel James mentioned the same concern in his blog post:

“Nostalgia, if unchecked, runs opposed to creativity, freshness and imagination…making it less likely every year that new storytellers with visions of new worlds, new characters and new adventures will get the financing they need to materialize their talents.”

This cycle must be broken and aspiring filmmakers should be at forefront, especially those who profess to be Christians. God is the original storyteller and the story that He started back at the beginning of time is still continues to this day. He never lacks for creativity and that is a trait He instilled us as humans. Throughout the Bible the phrase “sing a new song to the Lord” is mentioned 9 times, 6 from the book of Psalms alone. Unfortunately with kind of movies Christians are producing they are not reaching out beyond its Christian audience, in fact they are mocked in mainstream media. Eric Metaxas from Breakpoint argues,

“We should be, as C.S. Lewis once wrote, the best storytellers in the world. But lately we’ve earned a reputation for producing corny, preachy, and low-quality art. It’s time to turn that around.”

Maybe filmmakers both Christian and Non-Christian should take the advice from author Herman Mellville: “It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.”

Sources:

“The Art of Orginality” by Timothy Ryan

“‘The Force Awakens’ and Getting Trapped By Nostalgia” by Samuel D. James