Will Traynor (Sam Claflin) is thirty-one years old, handsome, witty, and mischievous. He is the classic leading male in an American chick flick. Except, that is, for one thing: Will has been a quadriplegic since two and a half years ago, when he was struck by a motorcycle while crossing the street.
Me Before You challenges viewers with some of the most common, deeply felt questions of the human heart.Louisa Clark (Emilia Clarke) is twenty-six years old. She is awkward in the “I-bet-she-would-be-really-pretty-if-she’d-fix-her-hair-and-learn-how-to-do-her-makeup” kind of way. She is the classic leading female in a girl-next-door movie, a pre-blossomed flower waiting for the perfect prince’s kiss to cause her to bloom.
Will and Louisa are the protagonists of the newly released Me Before You, a film based on the 2012 novel by Jojo Moyes. What begins as an uncomfortable employer/employee relationship (Louisa has been hired by Will’s mother as his nurse) soon becomes a friendship, which evolves into a romance.
But under the surface, a dark tempest brews. Louisa has recently overheard Will’s parents discussing Will’s plans to travel to Switzerland. Once there, he will check into a facility called Dignitas, where he plans to breathe his last, leaving this world by way of physician-assisted suicide.
Armed with the blessing of Will’s parents (and the seemingly never-ending resources of their bank account), Louisa pours herself into giving Will experiences that will show him how beautiful life can still be. Just when she thinks she has convinced him, however, he tells her that there was never a chance. He cannot experience life the way he once did, and life is therefore no longer worth living. Louisa is resistant to Will’s plan, but she eventually becomes convinced that it’s an act of love to stand by Will as he carries through with his decision. She travels to Dignitas and joins Will’s parents at his bedside as he dies.
The final scene of the book and movie depicts Louisa sitting at a Parisian café, a favorite place of Will’s. She is reading a letter in which Will wrote that he has left her enough money to start over with her life, that he doesn’t want her to be sad, and that her life is full of possibility. She smiles and nods, while wearing a beloved pair of tights Will had given her. She carries herself with the air of someone who is experiencing the world afresh.
Me Before You is clearly riddled with unchristian themes. The story is indulgent and often incorrect in its depiction of disability, confused in its definitions of love, life death and sacrifice, and diametrically opposed to the premise of a sovereign God who created people in His image and therefore is the only One appointed to make decisions of life and death. These facts and their many implications have led some Christians and conservatives to call for a boycott of the film.
I am in absolute agreement with Christian opposition to euthanasia. As the mother of a child with a disability, I am vehemently opposed to any sort of messaging that communicates a lesser value of life for a person with a disability. I reject entirely the idea that love is equivalent to supporting a person’s decision to cause his or her own death. I am also opposed to the overused and rarely questioned storyline of the floundering female who is forever indebted to the strong male who launched her into the world. These themes, and many others presented in the film, are misguided.
The themes in Me Before You lead me to think about the fact that, over the next few years, my son Gabriel will start to recognize the differences between other children and himself. He will watch his peers run with agility and look down at his own braced legs that cannot do the same. He will be able to read the paperwork sitting next to him at the doctor’s office. Will the word “deformity” take his breath away the way it did mine the first time I saw it? Gabriel will recognize his weakness, he will become familiar with the word “disability,” and he will look to the adults in his life to tell him what that really means, what the definitions are, who he is.
Me Before You makes promises about human relationships that the world simply cannot keep.And that is exactly why I hope that God-fearing people whose consciences allow them to see Me Before You will do so, or will at least take the time to read, learn, and dialogue about it.
It will gain my son nothing for a Christian world to tell him that he is “beautifully and wonderfully made” if that statement is not backed up by a robust counterargument to the message of the world which tells him that his life is worth less than that of an able-bodied person. What my son needs is not trite affirmation, and it is not encouragement to ignore the messages telling him that his life is less valuable. What my son needs (what every person, whether able-bodied or differently-abled needs) is a deep understanding of what it means to be made in the Image of God. We need to learn about physician-assisted suicide, and to do the theological and cultural study required to speak hope in hopeless places.
We read in Scripture that we “are not of the world” and that we are to “keep ourselves unstained” by it. We are to dwell on “whatever is pure, lovely, admirable, praiseworthy” and are instructed to “not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” These verses and many others are often employed when Christians seek to encourage one another away from the grislier parts of the world, away from the agendas and messages that stand in opposition to Scripture.
And yet we look to the person of Jesus, and we see him touching the shamed and scorned, looking with love into the eyes of those marginalized by society. Perhaps His example, perhaps the truth that the Spirit speaks to our hearts and the light by which He illuminates our eyes, is the “pure, lovely, admirable, praiseworthy” that we are to dwell on as we move toward the hopeless.
Me Before You challenges viewers with some of the most common, deeply felt questions of the human heart.
“What gives life its value?”
“What is true love?”
“Who am I to judge another person’s decision?”
For the person who lacks the spirit of God, the answers to these questions are incomplete at best, evil at worst. Physician-assisted suicide can easily be understood as justifiable in the eyes of the world. It seems compassionate, not murderous.
And so it becomes our call to look to Scripture and to the body of believers for the true answers to the world’s questions questions. We find that the Image of God within each person is what gives life its value. We find that Jesus Christ’s sacrifice is the fullness of true love, and that His redemption of us is the only thing that sets us free to love unconditionally. We find that we do not need to operate from a place of judgment nor a place of removal, for a sovereign God offers us wisdom and love that sends us into the world as ministers of reconciliation.
This world is filled with pain, and most people dedicate their lives to alleviating it. They believe, as Will Traynor did, that “You only get one life. It’s actually your duty to live it fully,” and that human beings get to decide for themselves what it looks like for that life to be full—and what to do when fullness is no longer an option.
As Christians, however, we know that Will is wrong. We know that we do not get only one life. Because of the perfect life, shed blood, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we receive eternal life through faith. We are at once gripped by and clinging to the hope of the ultimate alleviation of our pain brought to us by the only One sufficient to fulfill our longings and extract us from our “bondage to decay.” We know that death is not truly an end, and that there is only one death that provides us with what we are looking for—the death of Jesus Christ on our behalf. And we rejoice that the only difference between Christ’s resurrection and the resurrection of those who trust in Him is that Christ’s has already happened. This is what will give me hope when I explain brokenness and redemption to my son, and this is the glorious reality that we offer in place of the culture’s despair.
If our desire is to articulate a robust pro-life position that honors all people, then a boycott does not serve to bring about the type of purposeful dialogue that engagement (whether reading the book, seeing the film, or reading about the topics) would provide. The message of hope that we bring announces that Jesus is the only perfectly-abled human ever to have lived, and that the “Imago Dei is about who you are, not what you do,” or are capable of doing.
Me Before You makes promises about human relationships that the world simply cannot keep. In the novel’s sequel, After You, Louisa is now depressed, drinking too much, working in an airport bar, and grieving without hope. Though she finds blue skies by the end (because this is chick lit), the story still echoes cavernous. The tale of Will and Louisa is still an ode to brokenness.
A suffering world still cries out for comfort.
Equipped with truth and hope, may we live as those who are unafraid. May we compassionately share the words of life with those who wonder if physician-assisted suicide is an answer to pain. May we extend grace to those who still grope about for answers to deep and probing questions, pointing them to the One who looked upon us in our sin and did not run away, but rather looked to “the cross, scorning its shame,” and in a way entirely counterintuitive to the world, said, “Me instead of you.”