This is a cliché, the same trite and irresponsible stereotype we have seen time and again in movies including Who’s Life is it Anyway (1981, Richard Dreyfuss), Gattaca (1997, Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman), The Sea Inside (2004, Javier Bardem) and Million Dollar Baby (2004, Hillary Swank, Clint Eastwood).
In Me Before You, the protagonist, Will Traynor, has an added twist — he is dripping with extreme wealth. He will never have to deal with the everyday realities of finding attendants who will work for minimum wage, or being afraid he may make too much money to keep his benefits, or have to put up a GoFundMe to cover the costs of mobility equipment or medical care — realities that are lost in the tinsel town fantasy.
The takeaway I get from this is Will’s life has been so easy that he feels entitled, and so has no sense of self worth. He might be just as likely to take his own life if he woke up and found out he was broke.
This is articulately addressed in this must-watch film trailer commentary on YouTube, by writers and actors with disabilities pulled together by director Jenni Gold.
Hollywood Should Turn Kirk Kilgour’s Real Life SCI Love Story Into a Movie
A love story involving disability that Hollywood should turn into a movie is Lucky Break: A Love Story, by Belinda Begley, who fell in love with Kirk Kilgour.
Kilgour grew up a surfer in Southern California, and later became an Olympic volleyball player. He turned pro and competed and coached in Italy until he broke his neck, becoming a C4 complete quadriplegic at age 28.
His injury cost him everything, his job, his savings, his way of life and his wife. But Kilgour chose “to be the best quadriplegic in the world.” He became a computer expert, took up acting, poetry, went back to coaching volleyball and eventually became a network sports broadcaster.
Lucky Break chronicles Kilgour’s life, and Begley’s life with him, including when he traveled to Rome for a meeting with Pope John Paul II to celebrate a famous poem Kilgour had written. After the meeting the Pope asked Kilgour for his autograph.
Begley and Kilgour were inseparable until Kilgour’s passing at age 54. Now THAT is a story worthy of a Hollywood movie.
Claflin’s Knowledge of SCI is Woefully Superficial
But instead of having a realistic protagonist with an SCI such as Kilgour, Hollywood has served us up Will Traynor.
For me, the most disturbing part of the vortex surrounding Me Before You is viewing interviews with Sam Claflin, the actor who plays the protagonist Will. Despite talking with quadriplegics, Claflin’s understanding of being a quadriplegic seems superficial.
In an interview with Glamour, Claflin talks about going on a special diet to lose muscle mass in order to look weak and tired, “really not in a good place,” the movie’s idea of what a quadriplegic looks like.
At the end of the interview he says his character ending his life at the end of the movie was “a very selfless act, he wants to allow them
I submit that rather than a “selfless act,” Will’s taking his life was the ultimate in self-centeredness and fear. Instead of exploring the possibilities of his life, the character gives up.
Unfortunately Claflin is a victim of a script that reinforces this dangerous stereotype that it’s better to die than to live as a person with a disability.
This stereotype has consequences in real life.
Remember Tim Bowers, Who Died from Fear of SCI?
In 2013 I wrote about Tim Bowers, 32, the recently married father-to-be who was paralyzed from the shoulders down when he fell out of a tree while hunting. He was brought to the hospital, put in a medically induced coma and put on a ventilator.
The next day, at the request of his family, doctors brought him out of sedation and explained his situation. He asked that the breathing tube be removed, and said he didn’t want it back in, knowing he would likely die — which he did five hours later.
He chose death rather than see what might have been possible. Despite what he may have been told, he would have held his child, he even could have gone hunting again. But he had learned from movies and the media it is better to be dead than disabled.