The Sea Inside has Spanish filmmaker Alejandro Amenábar's (Open Your Eyes) auteuristic grip all over it. Besides directing, Amenábar also co-produced, co-wrote (with longtime collaborator, Mateo Gil), scored and edited this saga about a true-life quadriplegic who campaigned for 30 years against Spain's judiciary for the right to end his life. Paralyzed after a diving accident, Ramón Sampedro (Javier Bardem) is reduced to lying supine in a room of his older brother José's farmhouse. Day and night, year after year, Ramón is vigilantly cared for by José (Celso Bugallo), and his small clan. The slow grind of Ramón 's existence, salved only by his family's devotion, eventually wears the patient down to where he feels euthanasia is the only dignified option left.
Ramón's outspokenness wins the interest -- and the affections -- of a pair of women: Julia (Belén Rueda), the terminally ill lawyer who helps Ramón build his case, and Rosa (Lola Dueñas), a single mother drawn to Ramón out of loneliness and her admiration for his strength. But while the sensuous Julia, herself coping with illness, fully sympathizes with Ramón 's cause, the feisty Rosa sulks and frets whenever Ramón so much as breathes a word of his intentions.
Julia and Ramón 's efforts are aided by a lawyer-activist pair, Gené (Clara Segura) and Marc (Francesc Garrido), both exuding the tireless, unflappable gravitas we all associate with those lawyer-activist types. Meanwhile, on Rosa's side is the curmudgeonly Jose. But, being a boorish farmer, he can only express his moral chagrin through snarls and half-uttered denunciations. More eloquent are the rantings of a paralyzed priest who demands that Ramón drop his case on grounds that his appeal for death oversteps his religious bounds. That particular scene in which Ramón and the priest holler at each other -- Ramón from his bed and the priest from his wheelchair downstairs -- as they debate the Meaning of Life strains for seriocomic poignancy. But the strain is too great for Amenábar and Gil's prosaic, largely by-the-numbers script, and the scene falls flat.
Indeed, The Sea Inside is a not-so-subtle polemic on the subject of one's moral right to die. Amenábar and Gil's script is content with tracing Ramón's ordeal and his personal relationships in monochromatic shades. Ramón, for example, mentions how humiliating and degrading it is to be living in his condition, but Amenábar never ventures into those dark and private corners of his existence -- the lack of personal control and dignity, the yearning for sex and physical adventure, and the very terror of immobility -- to show us why his struggle is so crucial to him. The movie, instead, relies on dialogue littered with moral and religious bric-a-brac. But these are just words, after all, batted back and forth between characters, never managing the emotional resonance that a more sensitive, imaginative approach could've yielded.
As a director, Amenábar verges awfully close to the sappy, stilted tactics of any Hollywood hack. His soaring aerial shots, meant to convey Ramón's dreams of flying out his window to freedom (smacking of the cinema of Penny Marshall), his glib handling of Ramón's tender, profound relationship with Julia, and his deploying of his frequently saccharine score all collude to keep this material tediously superficial.
At every turn, the movie wants to wring heartache and tears, but its too contrived to elicit anything like real feelings. The sense of presumptuousness that steeps the movie's script and direction also infects its cast. There is an earnestness in the movie's performances, an over-eagerness to shine in the spotlight, orchestrated from a desire to win acting awards. To be fair, Bardem and the rest of his cast are generally fine, but they're far too comfortable in this material, never giving it the immediacy and edge that it deserves. Bardem is eminently watchable, but the best actor alive might've heard that label once too often. One wonders if he's taking the hype to heart.
In his past projects, Amenábar has proven himself a talented and capable filmmaker. But that's little consolation here. The Sea Inside is but a vanity project that, from top to bottom, proves unequal to the task of unlocking the existential truths at the heart of Ramón Sampedro's story.
The DVD adds a few deleted scenes, commentary track from Amenábar, and a making-of documentary.
Aka Mar Adentro.
Me love you long time.