One of the most touching and mesmerizing movies of 2004, "The Sea Inside (Mar adentro)" is an amazing film by Alejandro Amenábar, the director of "The Others" and "Open Your Eyes" (a.k.a. the original "Vanilla Sky"). The winner for Best Foreign Picture at this year's Academy Awards, it is a powerful tale that should not be overlooked despite its controversial message.
"The Sea Inside" examines the true story of Spaniard Ramon Sampedro, who as a young man broke his spine and became a quadriplegic. For the next three decades, bedridden and unable to move or feel anything below his neck, he fought for legal euthanasia and the right to die.
Javier Bardem, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in "Before Night Falls," stars as Sampedro and delivers what has to be his finest performance to date. Of course, I've only seen him in a few movies, but compared to those movies this is far and away his best role yet. Cloaked with incredible makeup that should have garnered an Oscar in that category as well, Bardem is almost unrecognizable as the bald, aging Sampedro, but it's his performance that speaks louder than any visuals.
Along with the other great performances in the movie, "The Sea Inside" works on a technical level as well, featuring a wonderful script and almost dream-like direction from Amenábar. The dream sequences where Sampedro flies out the window and glides over the mountains to the sea make your hair stand on end, but even the simplest of scenes sparkle with energy. "The Sea Inside" does begin to feel long toward the end as Amenábar attempts to detail the slow process leading up to Sampedro's death, but Amenábar makes up for it with a powerful, tragic and saddening conclusion.
Most interesting about the movie is the contrast of its message and Sampedro himself. Amenábar is clearly in favor of euthanasia and whether it is through the words his or Sampedro's, the movie makes very good points in favor of assisted suicide. The scene between Sampedro and the quadriplegic priest is classic, as are several other parts of the film where Sampedro, with simple rationale and logic explains why he should have the right to die. On the other hand, Sampedro seems happy much of the time, mainly thanks to the love of his family and friends. He is able to write and speak and seems to make the most out of his days - but that's the point, isn't it? He can only make so much out of his days. Furthermore, Sampedro is (was) obviously an intelligent man, and despite the fact he had close friendships with so many people he still fought for the right to die. Doesn't he have the right? Does the government have the right to keep him trapped in his own useless body? Aren't the government's rules on euthanasia based on religious foundations, when the government is supposed to be secular?
"The Sea Inside" is an impressive, beautiful and well-acted film that is most deserving of its Oscar. Regardless of your beliefs on euthanasia, this is a movie that should be watched even if only to debate over.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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