Another film about Polish nuns and World War II! (See "Ida.")
There's a new film out about nuns. And we can never have too
many films about nuns, of course. The film "The Innocents" is about a convent in Poland in 1945, at the end
of World War II, where horrors have occurred. Horrors not just from the war and
the Nazi occupation, but from the newly-occupying Red Army. I won't be able to
go any further in this review if I don't tell you more. SPOILER ALERT: The
whole film is about the fact that many of the Sisters were raped by Russian
soldiers and are now pregnant. Each Sister, from the Mother Abbess to the
youngest novice, deals with it in her own way.
A SENSITIVE, NON-SENSATIONAL FILM
Why are filmmakers so fascinated by nuns and sex/pregnancy/babies?
And most specifically: pregnant nuns? Do they see it as the ultimate oxymoron?
The ultimate contrast? The ultimate conflict? (And in some cases, the ultimate
joke?)* Thankfully, "The Innocents" is none of the above. This is a
very sensitive, non-sensational film of based on actual events (and many nuns have been raped and gotten pregnant
during other wars as well) that manages to wrap itself around and enter deeply into the
psychology of this very pointed and specific trauma.
A young female doctor working with the French Red Cross is
summoned to the convent to assist in the several births that will be occurring
all around the same time. She does so at great peril to her own life and risks
being penalized by her superiors. The
Mother Abbess' main concern is to keep the "scandal" and
"secret" quiet. Her utmost concern is the "honor" of her
convent (as if they were at fault somehow!) The babies will be quietly given to
relatives of the Sisters to raise.
There are many nourishing conversations about doubt, faith in
God, the problem of evil, "God's will," and happiness, both among the
nuns themselves and with the young doctor. Over time, most of the Sisters are
able to accept and embrace the life within them (without accepting the heinous
and harrowing violation).
Without a working knowledge of the Catholic Church at this
point in history (and the ancient, entrenched subculture of religious life):
the nuns' attitudes toward the will of God, the vow of chastity, the body, sex,
the vow of obedience, authority, Providence, sin and modern medicine will
definitely throw you for a loop. What???!!! The Church teaches that???!!! No.
And the Church didn't even teach exactly that THEN. The good Sisters were in
dire need of some Theology of the Body (fortunately, seminarian Karol
Wojtyla--within the borders of their very own country, ordained 1946--would be
working on that...). And who knows what kind of a life some of the Sisters had
before entering the convent? How many were already physically or sexually
abused? What if they had already been shattered by the War? But tucked in between all the horror is the subtle or not so subtle truth that these nuns--all such different personalities--love their religious life. These nuns know who and where they're supposed to be, and Whose they are.
I would think that any sexual abuse or rape survivor would
appreciate this film. The perspective is fully a feminine one (female director and screenwriters--along with male screenwriters) and the aftermath of rape and rape/pregnancy is explored in multivalent ways. One of the most poignant is that of a woman suddenly (or now in a new way) feeling terribly alienated from her own body. Never is the nuns' ordeal downplayed or shown for anything
other than the egregious, monstrous crime it is. And yet, a sisterhood of
solidarity and trust develops, which includes the young doctor, and they are
able to support each other and even find joy in the tiny beings (of whom they
are truly mothers now) who are soon to emerge. What transpires from here I will not spoil.
"The Innocents" is styled in a strongly European
strain, which is positive if you like slower-moving films, unfolding and
reflective in real-time (especially at the beginning) that are not afraid to
examine the human condition in its stark interiority. American films are afraid
to do this, but excel at showing stark exterior realities.
"The Innocents" is a truly religious film. Religious
films are about God, not the trappings of God or His human mouthpieces. The
nuns are three-dimensional characters with backstories, and even the most
fearful nuns are genuine in their timidity. And for all their skittishness
about the body (and not just because of the rapes), these nuns are very demonstrative and huggy.
No one has an easy
life or easy answers in "The Innocents." A Jewish doctor who plays
the Red Cross doctor's minor love interest is delightfully honest and
unvarnished in the face of his own tragedies.
Thank you to whoever made this film: for caring about rape
victims everywhere--and the lives of nuns. Thank you to whoever made this film: for telling yet one more of the millions of stories of suffering from "The
Good War" and Communist oppression, dying to be told.
*See "Agnes of God," "No Men Beyond This Point," "Not
of This World," "Philomena," "The Magdalene Sisters"
--"The only truth is His love."
--"Faith is 24 hours of doubt and 1 minute of
--"When you're little, your father holds your hand. But
at some point, when you grow up, he lets go of your hand--you cry out and no
--This film is partly a study of fear....
--This film is party a study of the via negativa....
--This film is partly a study in what happens when we have
the wrong priorities....
BIG FAT SPOILER WARNING:
IN THE NEXT SENTENCE I AM GOING TO TELL YOU HOW THE MOVIE ENDS.
Due to the serious subject matter of the film "Me Before You" (euthanasia), and the fact that most people already know how the movie ends (euthanasia), combined with the fact that the film is based on a novel by the same name that came out in 2012, this entire movie review will be one big spoiler. Advance at your own risk.
PRETTY IN DEATH
This British film maintains the light air of a romantic comedy throughout, overlaid with tear-jerking moments and the sweetest violins. Unlike a Jodi Picoult story that explores controversial issues as serious dramas, "Me Before You" more or less accepts assisted suicide as a valid option and a part of life (irony intended). Suicide, in fact, is sexy and sweet. As sexy as a gorgeous, wealthy, young quadriplegic, Will (Sam Claflin from "Hunger Games"), and as sweet as his new, bubbly, Kimmy-Schmidt-like caretaker, Lou (Emilia Clarke from "Game of Thrones"). And it's not just our main characters that are comely, the actual moment of Will's demise is preceded by jokes, kisses, smiles and lots of sunshine pouring in the window--all set to swirling, swelling strings.
The film starts off in a sort of saccharine, almost overly simplistic way: from Will's insanely perfect life with his girlfriend to Lou's insanely ditzy existence. But this caricature-ish, one-dimensionality never quite inflates into two or three dimensions, even at the most poignant moments.
BUTTERFLIES MEETS BITTERFLIES
Lou eventually gets under the embittered and sarcastic Will's skin with her perpetually cheery, optimistic and endearing demeanor, coupled with her highly original fashion choices. The dialogue and gentle sparring is genuinely witty and charming. The plot machinations are funny. At one point, while the "superior" Will is trying to school Lou about life, Lou comes back at him with a knowing description of how the type of upwardly mobile woman Will is encouraging her to be actually fares in the end. Lou is not as dumb as she looks.
Lou finds out about Will's plan to undergo euthanasia in Switzerland in only six months' time. She and his mother (who also is hoping along with Lou that he'll change his mind) put their heads together to try to get Will to enjoy life again, get out and do things as best he can in his motorized wheelchair. Will obliges, but more for Lou than for himself. However, he is thoroughly enjoying her company.
THE SELF ABIDES
When Will finally tells Lou about Switzerland, she tells him she already knows. Will then begins to lay out before her his reasoning. He liked his old life. A lot. (He was also very athletic.) Is Will trying to say what is said of dementia patients in order to euthanize them? That he's not really "himself" anymore? Sorry. The "self" remains till the last breath--no matter what condition the mind or body is in. Will doesn't mention his prognosis as part of his justification for ending his life, but Lou gets that information from others: Will's main problem is his spinal cord which can't be fixed. He's on lots of medications and is weak and vulnerable to infections. He has recurring pneumonia. He is often in pain. In his nighttime dreams he is active once again, but wakes up screaming when he realizes he's paralyzed.
In "Me Before You," quality of life is more important than life itself. Will wants his old life back. He resists change (as horrible as the changes in his life are) and moving forward. But who can ever "have their old life back"? And for how long? In a few more decades, he will be elderly and unable to do all things he loves to do anyway.
A brief discussion about the morality of assisted suicide is put in the mouth of Lou's cross-wearing, grace-at-meals-praying mother: "There are some choices we don't get to make! It's no different from murder! You can't be a part of it," she tells her daughter. Lou is not sure if she did the right thing by refusing to go with Will to Switzerland to be with him when he dies as he had asked her. Lou's Dad simply says: "We can't change people." (True enough.) Lou had tried so hard to change Will's mind. When Lou asks in return: "Then what can we do?" Dad says: "Just love them." Her Dad instead encourages her to join Will and his parents in Switzerland. (Lou, of course, is not materially cooperating in getting Will to Switzerland--others did that--she is only "being there" for him while he knows she still doesn't agree with his decision.)
IS THIS EVEN A LOVE STORY?
The title is curious. Who is "me"? Who is "you"? Although Lou begs Will not to go through with his lethal plan, promising to stay with him, Will tells her that his mind has been made up from the beginning and that he has never wavered, not even for her. He will not stay alive for her. She brought some joy into what he has determined to be the end of his life, and he did his part trying to bring her out of her shell and get her to dream big--but this eleventh hour fling was only in the context of a promise he made to his parents: he would give them only six more months. The sacrifice (even though Lou is a well-paid employee of Will's mother) seems to be all on Lou's part. This does not seem to be a true, reciprocal love story. If he had stayed alive for her, it would have been. You can't be in love with a ghost and share life with a ghost (all apologies to Patrick Swayze). Will also hints that because they won't be able to have a married life with sex and children, she doesn't know for a fact that she won't have regret in the future for having stayed with him. Will has NO STORY ARC. NONE. Neither does Lou, really either. There are no major changes or transformations in this entire story. What is this story, then? Either it's an aesthetically-pleasing but poorly told story OR simply propaganda for euthanasia.
PRO-DEATH (WHICH IS NOT YOLO)
What is the point of this book/movie? Why was it created? To make euthanasia more palatable? "It's his choice" is stated over and over again. Yes, of course, suicide has always been a choice, an option. A very sad and tragic one, one that people choose only in utmost desperation, and one that humanity has always tried to talk and help its constituents out of. Will says: "I'm not the kind of man who can accept this." (Who can really "accept" a tragedy such as quadriplegia?) And yet people do "accept" it all the time. Look at the brilliant and drastically compromised Stephen Hawking (who suffers from ALS) who presses on with humor and an indomitable will to live, still contributing to the world of science). Although, sadly, he has evidently said he will look into euthanasia when he can no longer do what he wants to do.
There is no mention of God as the master of life and death. No mention of going back to God at death. (Although there is a belief in some kind of an afterlife when Will tells Lou he will be right by her side all through her life. Which is also strangely creepy. What if she gets married?) No mention of what dying naturally would be like (most likely he will diminish irreparably in just a few years and die naturally then anyway). No mention of redemptive suffering: the fact that suffering purifies us and can be offered up for others. No mention of the fact that we go on living till the last gun is fired. What if there are still important lessons for him to learn, indispensable bits of living still to be lived? Others who need to come in contact with him--whose lives he can grace? And of course, as believers, we would want to grow daily in our relationship with God as much as possible on this earth before we leave it.
"Me Before You" has to be classified as a pro-euthanasia film. It's like a sugar-coated poison pill. Our world is on a slippery slope to CELEBRATING suicide. What happened to helping each other live, not die? What happened to hope? Does this mean we shouldn't stop people from jumping off ledges? After all, it's their choice. "Hey, buddy! Hold it right there! We respect your choice, and we don't really care if you die or not, so just hold on and we'll get you a physician to 'assist' you...."
--"Me Before You" is a watershed film. In a bad way. A really bad way. It occurred to me that the whole point of film is conflict, dramatic tension, resolving seemingly insurmountable obstacles. But what if suicide begins to lurk prominently as the go-to option in cinema, in our own life? NO STORY. Yes--Will had a very challenging life as a quadriplegic, but euthanasia legislation is very, very broad and includes reasons like "emotional distress." "Me Before You" is a bold, ugly new dimension to the culture of death. (And I think people instinctively recognized this about MBY--one of the reasons the film is so buzzy--even if many can't put words to their discomfiture.)
--"Me Before You" is only one of several recent much-lauded pro-euthanasia films: "One True Thing," "The Sea Inside," "Million Dollar Baby," "Amour."
--Death can only be bittersweet when it's inevitable, not when it's a planned control-move.
--Will didn't take his own advice to Lou to "live boldly." He quit.
--Toward the beginning of the film, Will makes Lou watch "Of Gods and Men" (with French subtitles) about the Trappist-martyrs of Algiers who chose to stay with the people and be killed rather than abandon their mission. Lou says: "They could have left!" (and saved their lives). Will says something like: "But their lives had more meaning because of their action" (likening it to his own planned assisted-suicide)? The Trappist-martyrs were not suicides.
--What is a "culture of death"? It is a culture that has separated body (the physical) and soul (the spiritual). It is a culture that sees death as not only a valid solution, but a good solution. Not only a good solution but the best solution. Abortion is the "loving" thing to do. Euthanasia is "dignity." War and violence are easily invoked.
--We all know or know of someone who has committed suicide. Some were terminally ill and in excruciating pain. Some were mentally ill or at their wit's end for whatever reason. Some were facing a desperate or dangerous situation or life. Some had no family or love or basic resources. Some were depressed or bullied teens. Suicide was not the best solution--palliative care (to relieve the pain of terminal illness), proper psychiatric care and medication, better circumstances or a societal safety net would have been the best solution. But they are now in God's mercy: God who alone sees our state of mind and reads our hearts. St. Therese of Lisieux (who suffered immensely at the end of her life) warned: never leave potent medication within reach of a suffering person.
--The majority of failed suicide attempts are grateful to have NOT succeeded. They were temporarily in so much pain (of whatever kind) that they couldn't see any other way out. These people go on to embrace life and help others who are feeling suicidal.
--In today's Western society, the young in particular seem to want to insulate themselves from any kind of unpleasantness, discomfort, difference of opinion, negative experience. They don't even want to hear certain words that might be "triggers." This is a mentality ripe for euthanasia. What will happen when real tragedy strikes? Illness or accidents? Won't it be simply unbearable? I'm not saying that young people today haven't suffered a lot already in their young lives--only that the best way to cope with suffering is not always avoidance. Check out C. S. Lewis' weighty little book: "The Problem of Pain."
--Think about this: It's human nature that when we know we don't have an easy option, we make do. We challenge ourselves. We find a way. Give us an easy out? We'll often take the path of least resistance.
--WHERE DOES IT ALL END? OR IS THERE ANY END TO THE SELF-KILLING?
--This rush to legalize euthanasia everywhere (now legal in 5 U.S. States, with Canada on the verge of passing a sweeping euthanasia bill) is like a massive, worldwide deathwish.
--In its original form, the horrifying Canadian euthanasia Bill C-14 would include: "mature minors" (um, aren't children by definition not mature yet?), the mentally ill(!), and just about anyone having a bad day. It's not all about terminal illness and the elderly--as bad enough as that is. This is about death on demand. Death on tap. Society agreeing that the world is better off without you and you are better off without you. This is society participating in your suicide.
--One of the many problems with culture-of-death solutions is that they decrease the overall value of human life in both theory and practice. And in countries like the Netherlands that have had euthanasia for a long time, IT'S NO LONGER A MATTER OF CHOICE. Are you an old person with no family to advocate for you? You're taking up a hospital bed. Bye bye.
--Euthanasia is WICKED BAD FOR THE ECONOMY. There are entire industries and jobs surrounding care of the sick, disabled and old. The only one who profits from euthanasia? Governments (more money in governmental coffers and pockets), insurance companies (no payouts/coverage) and the organ transplant industry.