Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Telling People How to Live and Die: The Political Response to 'Me Before You'

Over the years I've explored in writing what it is like to hate being disabled: to question why people in similar positions love their disability, the lack of tolerance when it comes to diverse opinion in the so-called 'disability community', and my general dislike of many who try to teach others in the 'disability community' 'the right way' to experience their own disability. So here I am making a brief return to this blog after a long hiatus to once again call bullishit on those same folk yet again.

The movie Me Before You has been on my radar screen for a while, mainly because some fellow crips, (some of whom have yet to, or refuse to see it) say it sends the wrong message, because the male protagonist with a severe spinal cord injury wants to die. He then meets the girl of his dreams, who through her love convinces him to 'live boldly'? It is a shitty premise, but that is not because he wants to die.  The protestors disagree however, suggesting the plot is a 'disability snuff film'. Crips should not want to die, merely because they are crips, their argument goes. Typically their perspective misses some crucial and nuanced points.

No crip would tell you that their life is easy, especially (I imagine) those who have become a crip later in life, because they have had an accident, or contracted an illness. Some crips embrace their disability, others loathe theirs, and wish they could die rather than be disabled.

Long time readers will know that not so long ago, I did indeed want to die because of my disability. I've been very open about that since. Of course some people with disabilities might want to die, and they are right to (individually) feel this way. Of course some won't, and their perspective is valid too. We're talking about one movie, from one perspective.

The protestors did the opposite of what they intended to do, and made me interested in seeing a movie that I would otherwise would have had no interest in seeing. It was nowhere near as offensive as, for example, the 'inspiration porn' of The Theory of Everything. Me Before You is essentially Love Story with the genders flipped, and the male character having a different form of terminal illness.

Instead, the most offensive thing in Me Before You is not that the crip wants to die, but rather that the girl spends the entire movie trying to convince him otherwise. Let's be clear here. Me Before You is more fantasy than romantic drama. The characters inhabit a world where a C4 quad who uses a powered wheelchair, and is able to travel in a private lear jet with no explanation as to where his wheelchair is stored. This quad is also magically able to enter a tiny English flat with a three step entry way through sheer telekinesis.

However in order to understand how I felt in my 'dark period' (2010-2012) you will get no clearer picture of my self loathing and suicidal tendencies. I'm sure I'm not alone either.

The female protagonist in the movie is a cross between a Manic Pixie Dream Girl (MPDG) and Mary Poppins. In the real world these two would never get together. She's too self righteous by insisting her perspective is the only way to look at life (Much like the protesters who also share her view). His character is not really fleshed out, besides the stereotypical 'redeemable' hero. He's a douchebag (on wheels), who through the intervention of his MPDG looks at life a different way. We've all seen this character before... The only difference is that the actor in this movie is pretending to be a crip. Here's an idea protesters, maybe focus on that instead?

Does the movie suggest that people with disabilities don't lead meaningful lives? Possibly. However, for close to 28 years, I didn't think I lived a meaningful life either (as hard as that is for people close to me to read). But I think those who have a disability that protest this film's message are fortunate, because they don't seem to loathe their disability; they don't know what it's like to live in the strange hypocritical world where you want to kill yourself because you are disabled, only to realise that you are too disabled to actually do it on your own. Good for them.

Protestors with disabilities should know almost better than anyone else that nobody has the right to make sweeping generalisations about a particular group of people. They might think that it's wrong that some people with disabilities want to die, because they are sick and tired of living what they consider to be a shitty life. Too bad. The general public need to be aware that some people love their disability, others want to die because of theirs, and more still lie somewhere in between these extremes.

Make no mistake Me Before You is not a good movie. It flaws outweigh its strengths considerably. But if you want to know what it is to like to live mental anguish because of a disability, I recommend that you see it. Like all movies, this not a universal story that will apply to every experience. For a time however, it represented how I felt as a person with a disability. To deny an audience this perspective is a disservice.