DIRECTOR: Thea Sharrock LEAD CAST: Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin, Janet McTeer, Charles Dance & Brendan Coyle SCREENWRITER: Jojo Moyes PRODUCER: Alison Owen & Karen Rosenfelt EDITOR: John Wilson MUSICAL DIRECTOR: Craig Armstrong GENRE: Drama CINEMATOGRAPHER: Remi Adefarasin DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Bros. Entertainment LOCATION: United Kingdom RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes
Technical assessment: 4
Moral assessment: 2.5
CINEMA rating: V14
Me before you is about the relationship between Will Traynor (Sam Claflin), a rich, high living bachelor who gets paralyzed when hit by a motorcycle, and Louisa Clark (Emilia Clarke), a bubbly 26-year-old pastry shop waitress who has just been fired and is looking for a job, any job to help support her family. As luck or fate would have it, the employment agency finds her the perfect job that requires no skills and pays “excellent money”. Interviewing her, Will’s mother Camilla Traynor (Janet McTeer) hires the chatty but winsome Louisa on the spot, to be a caregiver-companion to Will. Days into her new job, Louisa overhears Camilla and her husband, Will’s father Steven (Charles Dance), arguing over Will’s decision to end his life at the conclusion of a six-month waiting period he has promised his parents. It is to be done at a facility for assisted suicide in Switzerland. Steven fully supports Will’s determination; Camilla is against it. The awkward adjustment period between the quirky Louisa and the depressed Will turns into acquaintance, and then friendship, and then something more.
There are two outstanding features of Me before you: impeccable performances and respect for the intelligence of the audience. Given the theme—end-of-life issues—this drama could have easily slid into melodrama, and the romance could have been steered to titillate viewers looking for happily-ever-afters, but it does neither. Instead of passing moral judgment on the idea of assisted suicide, it lays out the pros and cons of it through the characters’ viewpoints and interaction, leaving viewers free to think for themselves or to take sides to affirm their own convictions. The romance part grows out of the breath of the protagonists whose performances make their characters alive and real, not like props that must keep the plot up until it reaches a Nicholas Sparks ending. In this romance are a man paralyzed from the neck down but has an unbending will to die, and a woman believing her pledge of undying love can make him change his mind. The biggest surprise in the cast is Clarke playing Clark, a complete and absolute U-turn from her role as the queenly Mother of Dragons in the HBO blockbuster Game of Thrones. The girl can act.
Viewers tend to think the title “Me before you” smacks of selfishness. But as the story unfolds “Me before you” takes on different colorations. By her own admission, before she met Will Louisa was a nobody, especially as her family compared her with her younger sister, “the brains in the family.” But having caused Will to talk, laugh, and eat again (to his mother’s delight), Louisa finds meaning in giving care and being needed, and is empowered to improve herself—for Will. Before his accident, Will was the envy of his friends—there was nothing the sporty good-looker couldn’t do in any setting—land, snow, sea, and air. Before he met Louisa, he was slumped in deep dejection, a condition aggravated by the subsequent affair between his girlfriend and his best friend, but the unsinkable Louisa let the sunshine in with her candor and total self-acceptance. So—are they being selfish or selfless in the end?
As for the issue of assisted suicide, pay very close attention to the dialogue. Only one character wants it, another supports him; all the others are against it. Take note, too, of where Will and Louisa are coming from—high society, working class—and compare the family dynamics in both backgrounds. See how the consciousness of God’s presence and providence affects people’s dispositions. CINEMA could have given Me before you a moral assessment score of 3 (Acceptable) for the film’s mature handling of the subject, but lest people mistake it as accepting of suicide, prudence dictates that the score be 2.5, which means guidance is imperative, whatever the age of the viewer. Me before you makes for an excellent discussion in school, parish meetings, or at family dinners.