Louisa Clark is a “warm, chatty, life-enhancing presence with a lot of potential.”
That’s how the 26-year-old’s former employer, a café owner who is closing his business, describes her in a letter of recommendation after he’s forced to let her go. But despite the gaggle of glowing adjectives in that sentence, if anything, it still undersells just how exuberant, effervescent and extroverted Louisa really is.
Which are exactly the personality traits Camilla Traynor is looking for.
It’s not that she wants someone to talk to. It’s Camilla’s son, Will, who is in need of that after becoming almost completely paralyzed in the wake of a run-in with a motorcycle two years earlier. In a single, tragic moment, his dazzling career working in finance for his fabulously wealthy father (the family lives on a British estate that’s crowned by a massive castle) was cut short. As was his relationship with his girlfriend, Alicia, whom he promptly shoved out of his life. Now, most days, Will just sits sullenly in his wheelchair and mocks anyone who tries to cheer him up.
Which is exactly the treatment Louisa receives from him after she agrees to take the care-giving job for six months. What happens next is a version of the irresistible object running smack into an unstoppable force. After all, Louisa’s never had a bad day, it seems. And Will? Well, it’s been a very long time since he’s had a good one.
So long, in fact, that he’s convinced he’ll never have a good day again.
[Spoilers are contained in the following sections.]
Louisa Clark is radiantly, sometimes maddeningly optimistic about life. And it’s not because hers has been easy. Most recently, she dropped out of college to move back home to help pay her parents’ bills, faithfully working at a café for six years while her unemployed father looked for work. But she’s hardly bitter. Instead, Louisa is a ray of sunshine to virtually everyone she meets—a character quality that’s reinforced by her struggling-but-positive parents and her sister, Katrina, who also lives at home.
Will treats Louisa so shabbily at first that she just about does decide to pack it in after the first 10 days or so of spending time with him. (She mostly serves as paid company for Will, as a kind nurse named Nathan takes care of most of Will’s medical and bodily needs.) But she doesn’t quit. And, as you might have expected, Louisa’s unsinkable, upbeat attitude eventually begins to rub off on Will. He starts smiling. Laughing even. And he agrees to go out on day trips that the tireless Louisa begins planning for him.
When Louisa learns that Will has been planning his suicide, she doubles her efforts to get through to him, suddenly realizing that her battle for his heart is a life-or-death matter. And for a time it looks as if she’s going to convince Will to change his mind by the sheer megawatt energy of her love for him. Along the way, she strongly confronts him for making what she calls a selfish decision.
Will grows to love Louisa, too, repeatedly telling her that she deserves a chance to grow and explore and “spread your wings.” He takes steps to care for her financially, and he kindly secures a job for her father.
Meanwhile, Louisa’s family supports her staunchly through her increasingly high-stakes relationship with Will. When she tells her dad that she’s failed to get Will to change his mind, her father wisely responds, “Who says you failed? You can’t change who people are.” Louisa retorts, “Then what can you do?” To which he says, “You love them.” For her part, Louisa’s mother is aghast at Will’s intention to have himself euthanized, telling her daughter, “You can’t be a part of this. It’s no better than murder.”
Louisa’s mom wears a cross, and prays out loud before a meal. It’s implied that her faith is one of the reasons she’s adamantly against assisted suicide. “Some choices you don’t get to make,” she rightly says.
Louisa wears a variety of outfits that reveal cleavage—sometimes quite a lot. She and her sister talk about an outfit (that we see) being too “booby,” and she wears a bikini at a tropical resort. While sitting on Will’s lap and “dancing” with him at a wedding reception, they joke about the proximity of her breasts to his face.
Louisa and Will kiss several times. On a holiday with him at a tropical island, she lies down next to him. He expresses how much it hurts him that he will never be able to make love to her. Also, someone jokes crudely about how a paralyzed person has sex.
Louisa and her old beau Patrick, meanwhile, have been dating for seven years, and they’re shown in bed together. Before his accident, Will is shown in bed with his lover, Alicia. (He’s shirtless, and we see her bare shoulders.)
Dialogue indicates that Katrina dropped out of college because she got pregnant. An ongoing joke between Will and Louisa references French gay porn. Louisa mocks married couples who drift apart emotionally and only have intercourse “once every six weeks.” There’s talk of bras and breast discomfort, lap dances, oral sex, “good bed baths,” and working at a hot wax spa. Will sarcastically tells Louisa that one of her colorful getups makes her look like a “leprechaun drag queen.”
Much of the drama in the movie turns around the question of whether or not Will will go through with his assisted-suicide plan. And in a review such as this, a spoiler in this regard is absolutely mandatory: He does go through with it, ultimately unswerving in his desire to die. He says repeatedly in several different ways that he cannot bear to live trapped in a mostly paralyzed body. And he essentially refuses to let Louisa love him as he is. “I can’t live like this,” he concludes. “I need it to end here.” And so he and his family fly to Switzerland where (offscreen) he instructs the doctors to put him to death.
We hear that Will has already tried to commit suicide and see scars on one of his wrists. A flashback shows him accidentally stepping out in front of the motorcycle. (We don’t see the impact.) With his wheelchair he intentionally rams a dresser bearing pictures of him from happier, pre-accident times.
About a half-dozen abuses each of Jesus’ and God’s names. One s-word. A handful each of “h—,” “a–,” “b–ch,” “d–n,” “arsehole” and “bloody.”
Characters consume alcohol (wine, beer) in several scenes. Nathan reprimands Louisa for letting Will drink too much at a wedding reception. Several conversations refer to the various prescription medications that Will needs to keep his paralyzed body working.
Louisa, Will and Nathan go to a horse track and place bets on the race. There are jokes about “farting.” Louisa crudely lashes out at a snooty restaurant hostess.
Me Before You, based on JoJo Moyes’ 2012 novel, aspires to be sweetly romantic … and ends up being a vulgar, maddening, frustrating movie that endorses euthanasia. It feels like an unlikely mash-up of Bridget Jones’s Diary and Million Dollar Baby. In other words, we’re introduced to a delightfully spunky heroine who manages to penetrate the self-pity of a paralyzed man’s heart … only to have him capitulate to self-pity in the most extreme way imaginable: by having others end his life.
But the real worldview-rending thing here is that Will’s choice—a word we hear so often these days in the company of subjects such as abortion, sexuality and gender—is presented not as selfish and cowardly but as sacrificial, brave and even noble. We’re supposed to applaud his willingness to spare the woman who loves him the “agony” of caring for him. And, indeed, the audience I saw the film with did applaud at the end.
After all, it’s his body, his life. He can do whatever he pleases with it, right? That’s the prevailing philosophical ethos of our day, of course. And it’s reflected in the choice Will cannot be dissuaded from making here.
1 Corinthians 6 roundly counters that ideology, of course, teaching us that our bodies are not our own; that they belong to God. Every life, even one our society might deem somehow less than the best, has immense dignity because of His breath of life that sustains it. And when we presume to decide who lives and who dies—even when it comes to ourselves—we’re both playing God and violently, irrevocably demeaning the life that He gives us.
Thus, the movie’s determination to romanticize assisted suicide sends the chilling message to others who suffer similarly that their lives aren’t worth living either. That they, too, should just kill themselves.
Does that sound harsh? It is harsh when we strip away the sentimental trappings and take a cold, hard look at what Me Before You is actually saying. With all due respect to Louisa, there’s nothing “warm,” “life-embracing” or full of “potential” about it.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.