January 28, 2005

The Sea Inside

Directed by Alejandro Amenábar Starring Javier Bardem

Reviewed by Martin Tsai

The advertisements might give the impression that The Sea Inside is a stirring true story about transcending physical paralysis, but the life aquatic with Ramón Sampedro isn't exactly uplifting. The Spanish quadriplegic poet portrayed by Javier Bardem spent some 30 years trying to end his life, even though potential lifesavers such as poetry, imagination and love were within his reach. Here we get glimpses of his relationships with joyless family members, a lawyer (Belén Rueda) crippled by the degenerative CADASIL disease who fights for his right to die and encourages his writing, plus a laid-off single mother (Lola Dueñas) who makes it a personal crusade to find him a reason to stay alive.

This effort falls short of persuasively pleading its case amid the recent wave of films touching on the divisive subject of euthanasia including The Barbarian Invasions and The Event. They all seek to show patients drowning in misery and gasping for a way out, as well as illustrate the moral and ethical dilemmas of such a choice for their loved ones. But The Sea Inside trivializes the Sampedros' constant battles by not depicting their daily routine of suffering and sacrifice in graphic detail. Without witnessing first-hand the laborious process of washing, changing and cleaning up after bodily discharges, it's impossible for viewers to fully grasp the undignified aspects of Sampedro's existence and justify his pursuit of the big sleep. The film also curiously omits much of the legal proceedings that made him a household name in Spain, sparing viewers a generic courtroom drama but also skipping some big-picture perspective on the assisted-suicide debate.

Sampedro's poetry and Javier Aguirresarobe's sweeping cinematography supply the film's more memorable moments where viewers actually gain rare access to the poet's perspective. The most salient scene is a fantasy sequence in which Sampedro's imagination literally takes flight, out to the sea of his youth where he suffered the irrevocable injury. The rest of the film is somewhat suffocating and debilitating, with non-engaging stereotypical characters and pedestrian dialogue worthy of a TV soap.

Director/co-writer Alejandro Amenábar has capably fashioned mysterious atmospheres in Open Your Eyes and The Others, but here his cold and detached style doesn't really float a story that carries the weight of a melodrama. Unlike the third act of Million Dollar Baby, The Sea Inside merely splashes at ripples on the surface without reaching the emotional depths below.

Reprinted from WestEnder. © Copyright 2005 Martin Tsai. All rights reserved.