Living is a tricky thing. It’s complicated. It’s ugly. It’s both unexpected and predictable. It’s also beautiful. We never know what lies around that next corner, and there’s no map to tell us that that’s where we must go; we must be brave enough to walk that road anyway and see it for ourselves. Thea Sharrock’s 2016 film Me Before You shows us that regardless of the corners we turn and the doors we dare to open, there is no path that will shelter us from all the ugliness, but if we look for what’s good, and what’s kind, we will be prepared for anything.
Me Before You tells the story of Louisa Clark (Emilia Clarke) who, upon losing her job at a local bakery, finds work with the Traynor family. Despite her inexperience, she is hired as a companion for Will Traynor (Sam Claflin), a once extremely active, successful businessman, now suffering the devastating effects of a motorcycle accident, leaving him paralysed from the neck down. In hiring Lou, his parents hold out the small hope that her sunny and uniquely colourful disposition could perhaps raise his spirits.
Initially, Will despises having Lou around him; he does not want anyone’s pity and spends most days longing for the life he once had. However, Lou is not about to let Will’s sour and sepulchral temper get the better of her, and she goes out of her way to treat him with decency. Just days into her new job, Lou overhears Will’s parents talking and learns that Will has promised them just six more months before he intends to die by assisted suicide. Though he has made his wishes clear, Lou takes it upon herself to change his mind, packing their remaining days together with a variety of events in order to show Will just how much the world has to offer him still. Along the way, Lou and Will begin to develop mutual romantic feelings, seeing as they both understand, encourage and ultimately push one another to grow and to live more freely. Unfortunately, despite all of Lou’s good intentions, after returning home to London from an island getaway together, Will informs Lou that he still intends to follow through with the euthanasia, believing that he could only offer her a ‘half-life’ if he stayed and not the full life in which she deserves. Lou immediately quits her job as a companion and ignores Will, but changes her mind and soon flies to the medical centre in Switzerland to be with him in his last few hours.
Based upon Jojo Moyes’ bestselling novel, this film marks Sharrock’s directorial debut. Her adaptation of the romantic tale pulls on our heartstrings from the opening scene, all the way through to the end credits. It is first and foremost a story of two people falling in love, and yet, it is so much more than that. It is about consciously seeking the silver lining in times when it may appear impossibly bleak — even if it’s nothing but attending a concert with a girl in a red dress.
What is truly commendable is the natural progress of Lou and Will’s relationship and how it is told despite a run time of just under two hours. The bond between Lou and Will is healthy and gradual, beginning as mere strangers at odds before shifting into the region of mutual respect, to close friends and then reaching its climax as lovers. Even though their love is essentially ill-fated from the start, seeing as Will’s stubbornness on when and where he wishes to end his own story act as a constant, sad echo, it is that fleeting aspect of time which allows us to truly appreciate what the two protagonists are able to build with each other. Life is not always fair. It’s as Lou’s father tells her: “You can’t change who people are, but you can love them.” Moyes’ book and Sharrock’s rendition are nothing but beautiful encouragements to give your heart away, even if you might get hurt in return. Loving someone and loving them well is a reward in and of itself, and in this day and age, doing something as selfless and sacrificial as that is rare indeed. Just don’t forget to save some of that love for yourself.
Throughout the film, we see a woman fall in love with a man, but we also see a girl fall in love with herself. Initially, Lou just thinks of herself as someone who’s far too cheery, and having a strangely bold sense of style and being stupid and naive, which she tells her sister. Once we reach the final scene, Lou is a different person: she’s different because she is wholeheartedly herself. Will helps her realise that, but in the end, she allows herself to believe it. She wears her ridiculous bumblebee tights and flashes her wide, sweet smile proudly. Lou undergoes a journey without ever realising it, as she’s much too absorbed with helping Will solve his own problems. But it’s alright to look after one’s self too. You deserve goodness too.
It’s hard to classify a film like Me Before You because it can fall under many categories — romance, comedy, drama, tragedy, inspirational, but isn’t that what makes it even more realistic? Even more relatable? Life isn’t just one thing. Love isn’t just one thing. It is a quiet jewel of work, which bravely addresses a sensitive subject and manages to do so with grace, humour and sympathy.
Who we are when we emerge around the other side of life’s many corners is determined by our hearts and that our legacy is carried on by the friendships we make. Some people may remain unchanged. Some only a little changed. And then there’s those who are significantly changed. It’s up to us to take whatever malevolence, sickness, challenge or opportunity and push ourselves but also to enjoy ourselves. To be thankful for that family dinner, that lame joke, that red dress, or that one handwritten letter. “Live boldly. Don’t settle. Just live well.”
by Kacy Hogg
Kacy is an English Lit student living in the Great White North (no not Winterfell unfortunately), Canada. Her favorite films include the Harry Potter series, Cinderella, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Hangover, and Lady Bird. She’s also an avid binge-watcher of Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. You can follow her on Twitter here: @KacHogg95
Categories: Women Film-makers