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The International Writers Magazine
: Oscar for Best Foreign Movie 2004

The Sea inside- Directed by Alejandro Amenábar
James Skinner on the Oscar winner

Months ago I wondered how they would translate the Spanish title of the film ‘Mar adentro’ into its English version. The Oscar winning title ‘The Sea inside’ is more of a literal translation than the actual expression implied by its Latin version. I would rather have preferred ‘Beyond the shore’. Oh well, what the hell. Who cares! The film won the Oscar for the best non-English version film and that’s what counts.

All of us who live here in Galicia, Spain which is where the whole real life story of the main character took place, are overjoyed. I personally saw it months ago when it first hit the Spanish market and I knew from the beginning that it was a winner. It broke box office records competing against the usual Anglos-Saxon soap operas that fill the cavities of our local flea pits. Anyway, back to Amenabar’s Oscar.

Ramon Sampedro, a paraplegic who broke his neck whilst cavorting along the shores of Boiro, a small fishing village in the North West of Spain was paralyzed from the head down for over 25 years. Whilst his family and friends nursed him, fed him and made his life as pleasant as possible, Ramon knew that his life would eventually turn into torture. He did not want to die; all he wanted was to cease living. So; how do you begin describing the difference between euthanasia and the ‘right to a dignified death’? That is exactly what this film has done. With delicate balance, humour and complete avoidance of melodramatic over acting this crucial argument has been expertly brought to life with good script writing, conscientious production, unbelievable acting with the final touch of youthful direction. This is the story of a fight for death.

The plot is straightforward. As an energetic seaman, Ramon had first experienced overseas travel and later dedicated his efforts to fishing off the beautiful rocky and sandy coves of the northern tip of the Iberian Peninsula. Not yet thirty, on one of his outings along the shore he dived into what he thought was a deep pool and hit his head on a submerged rock. His life changed for ever.

From then on the film goes into the private lives of the humble inhabitants of this small village; neighbours, friends and immediate relatives who surround him and suffer his daily agony. Despite his efforts to fend for himself as much as possible (he learned to write with his teeth) the daily anguish of unnecessary survival begins to take its toll on this poor unfortunate creature. He wrote his memoirs and throughout the pages is his constant request to depart this earth in a dignified manner. His family helped him take his case to the Spanish courts as a genuine case of euthanasia. It hit the national tabloids. The judges didn’t want to know. The inevitable thought began to filter through his mind as hopelessness took over. He needed to say goodbye to his misery and to that of his closest loved ones. One day, a mysterious and recognised hand helped him drink a liquid concoction of sweetness and lethality. Ramon Sampedro achieved his life long ambition. The town mourned graciously.

It is a simple story with a known ending. Yet it has opened up the debate mentioned earlier with ferocity and what is more, with worldwide coverage. Those for and against euthanasia have never had the issue so well presented on a silver platter and in such dramatic and theatrical form for everyone to participate as defender and prosecutor.

Unlike Christopher Reeve, alias ‘Superman’ who suffered a similar fate and was confined to a wheelchair ever since, Ramon did not wish to live. ‘Superman’, however and thanks to his millions, began a fantastic campaign for the ongoing investigation of paraplegia. But this was not the point. When the film eventually hit the screens, both cases were used and torn apart as examples in the continuing fight for the eventual legalisation of euthanasia. Both human beings had lost their nervous system. One never lost hope of walking again. The other had given up years before. Reeve through his notoriety inadvertently fostered the ‘against’ campaign. Ramon was a John Doe, locked by the window of a shabby cottage overlooking the sea. Nobody had ever heard of him, that is, until the night of the 77th edition of the Oscars!

I’ve written about euthanasia in an earlier easy in Hacks. No need to bring up the whole subject again for a very simple reason. The debate on whether it should be legalised or not is not going to go away. In fact it is going to intensify. If the developed world has come to accept abortion as yet another commodity it stands to reason that one day, a terminally ill or incapacitated person will have the right to ‘be put away’. What this film has done is to take the argument one step further and pose the question which is the key to the argument. If a person requests the right to euthanasia, should it be considered as ‘assisted suicide’ or as a ‘dignified death’?
You decide dear reader. I have already done so!
© James Skinner. March 2005.

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