This film purports to utter a resounding “yea” to life but it also utters a resounding “yea” to death, or rather to the idea of ending a life that doesn’t work out as one might have wished.
Will Traynor (Sam Claflin) is a handsome young Englishman who had everything going for him in life as a successful banker before a cruel motorcycle accident rendered him quadriplegic. Deciding that he doesn’t want to live anymore, he applies to the organisation Dignitas for an assisted suicide in Switzerland.
Louisa (Emilia Clarke) isams the jolly carer employed by his parents to cheer him up, if not derail him from his plan. He resists her good cheer initially but then they fall in love. She revives his joie de vivre and we wonder if he’ll cancel the trip to Switzerland. If this film was made 10 or 20 years ago he might well have but this being the age of “freedom to choose”, be that the practice of playing God at the beginning of life, as in abortion, or at the end of it, as in euthanasia, a different scenario ensues.
Even if we disagree strenuously with this zeitgeist, it’s played out impressively by a strong cast. Claflin convinces as the sullen victim hiding a kind heart while Clarke – a young lady with the most amazing eyebrows in film – is more vivacious in a kooky way.
Because of such vivacity, it’s a pity the film didn’t choose to embrace this as a possible way out of Will’s depression instead of giving us what amounts to a kind of mission statement for Dignitas.
We’re led to believe Will’s love for Louisa will lead him towards emotional rehabilitation in the middle section but this proves to be a false dawn.
Charles Dance and Janet McTeer play Will’s rather distant parents. Indeed, as Louisa’s mother remarks, they seem almost complicit in his wish to end his life, acting more as enablers than deterrents.
We’re led to believe Will’s high suffering can brook no interference from God or man – and still less from Patrick, the boyfriend of Louisa, who’s satirised for having the nativity to think Will could help his situation by exercise. Within the film’s intellectual ambit, Patrick is the dunderhead whose love of running is seen as simplistic.
While not denying Will the right to be suicidal, it’s a pity the film, after leading us up the garden path of romance, then chooses to backtrack to its original negativity. It gives out the message that anyone assailed with his kind of depression is justified in seeking out the tender mercies of Dignitas.
But what about Christopher Reeve, who had more profound injuries than Will and went on to become a role model for paralysed people the world over? Or Simon Fitzmaurice, who, as I mentioned recently, can only move his eyes and still went on to direct a film?