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on 13 September 2008
The issues underpinning this film are ones which provoke the strongest of opinions, with very few being able to occupy a grey middle-ground. Who has the right to decide when a life should end, when the holder of that life wants his to stop, but needs help to achieve that end?

This film is no dreary discourse on the ethics of euthanasia. Nor is it a life-affirming piece filled with cod philosophy and hope. What it is is a masterfully-acted sweep of underplayed emotion and artistic film-making which simply captivates. The acting is superb. There are characters here who make you weep - not through overplaying the emotionally-charged subject matter, but by quietly shouldering the events that life has thrown at them, dealing with them, and simply making the best of them. Optimism and despair are threaded through every minute of this film.

The film itself is breathtaking. There are long shots of the landscape and the sea; these, set against the tightly-framed shots set inside the quadriplegic Ramon's room, eloquently speak of his captive physical life while his mind is flying free. Amazing.
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Your personal position on euthanasia will probably determine whether or not you consider the life of Ramón Sampedro to be inspirational. But his story as told in "Mar adentro" ("The Sea Inside") certainly provides food for thought. Ramón became a quadriplegic at the age of 26 and when this 2004 film begins he has spent even more years confined to a bed. He could be in a wheelchair, but Ramón refuses. What he wants is for the Spanish courts to grant him the right to die. His reason is that he does not find the life he is living to be one of dignity. Ramón does not judge those who are in a situation similar to his own who want to go on living, but for him life has become unbearable and he wants to have the dignity that he is denied in life by dying.
The great irony is that for the most part you would not know this his life was so unbearable to look at Ramón (Javier Bardem, in a wonderfully understated and captivating performance). He is articulate and smiles often, showing both wit and humor in his conversations with others. Ramón can still write, using a pen that he holds in his mouth. Far from being neglected, his sister-in-law, Manuela (Mabel Rivera), has been taking good care of him, aided by her son, Javi (Tamar Novas). But his brother, José (Celso Bugallo), wants Ramón to stop talking about wanting to die and their father wonders how a son of his could want to give up on life. Still, Ramón thinks mainly of the empty part of the glass of life and is pushing his case in court against a legal system that apparently wants nothing to do with him or his thorny issue.
What is different at this point in his quest are two women who become involved in Ramón's life. Julia (Belen Rueda), is a lawyer who is suffering from a degenerative disease and he has picked her because he thinks she will be more sympathetic to his cause. What he does not anticipate is that they would fall in love with each other. Then there is Rosa (Lola Duenas), a local woman who decides she has to visit him and becomes part of his support group as well, even if articulating her motives is beyond her capability. The addition of this two women changes things for Ramón who insists that the greatest show of love his family and friends can have for him is to allow him to die. Trapped by the refusal of any one friend to do all that he needs, Ramón finds a way to make their piecemeal support enough.
"Mar adentro" does a good job of presenting both sides of the issue. The only party to the dispute that comes out looking bad are the courts, that seem to prefer sidestepping the issue by ruling on technicalities rather than making a direct ruling. Ultimately, what Ramón has going for him is that he is so reasonable. His anger is usually reserved for Javi on such mundane points of life as the placement of a comma in a sentence, and there is only one night where Ramón sinks into the depths of despair and cries out in the night, asking why it is that he wants to die. But there are other sequences in the film that answer that question, showing through the literal flights of Ramón's imagination the maddening limitations of his daily routine. In the end, Alejandro Amenabar's film does not ask you to either endorse or accept Ramón's decision, but simply to understand its rationality.
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The rule of thumb is that Life is preferable to Death. But, on your mental scale, what value judgement would tip the balance towards the latter? THE SEA INSIDE is a forceful, emotive and sympathetic examination of assisted suicide. It's not a film for those seeking the usual Saturday afternoon pabulum of Hollywood escapism. And for those that believe that opting out of Life is never an option, it will likely be infuriating.
In a Oscar-worthy performance, Javier Bardem plays Ramón Sampedro, the Spanish poet who became a quadriplegic at age 26 when he dove into shallow waters and broke his cervical spine. In THE SEA INSIDE, it's now almost three decades later, and Sampedro is spending the last two years of his life petitioning the conservative Spanish government for the right to die with dignity via an assisted suicide. The film is an extraordinarily well acted piece by all members of the cast.
The family that cares for Ramón 24/7 includes his older brother José (Celso Bugallo), his brother's wife Manuela (Mabel Rivera), his father Germán (Alberto Jimenéz), and his nephew Javi (Tamar Novas). Besides the dedicated Manuela, who loves Ramón like a son, there are three other extraordinary women in his life: Julia (Belén Rueda, in her acting debut), the lawyer who handles Sampedro's legal case and who has a secret of her own, Gené (Clara Segura), the representative of a national right-to-die organization, and Rosa (Lola Dueñas), the single, working mother of two that just stopped in to say hello to the invalid and ends up adoring him. Indeed, the large number of caring females in Sampedro's stunted life yields perhaps the film's only trace of humor. When jealousies simmer among the gentler sex, Ramón discovers that he has women problems.
In emotional intensity, THE SEA INSIDE transcends a previous award-winning film about assisted suicide, THE BARBARIAN INVASION (2003). At mid-point, in a sequence of devastating power, the camera becomes a window on Sampedro's fantasy that he can leave his bed. At another time, Ramón's bedridden helplessness is contrasted to the virile, active young man he once was through a series of old photographs examined by Julia. And the visual presentation throughout is mated to a dynamite soundtrack.
This production was Spain's entry into the 2004 Academy Award competition for Best Foreign Film. The fact that it won was no fluke.
THE SEA INSIDE makes a strong case for voluntary Death with Dignity for those wishing that escape. It's certainly controversial, as evidenced by the Web sites attacking its stance. If you're looking for an intelligent, thought-provoking, sobering experience - I hesitate to use the word "entertainment" - it's a must-see.
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on 2 July 2007
This story is about a couragous man, Ramon Sampedro, who became a quadraplegic due to a diving accident. 28 years later he choses to end his life because he can no longer live imprisoned in a useless body. He is tired of depending on others and yet he loves his family and those around him who did so much to make his life meaningful. Initially, he hires a lawyer to bring his case to court, to try to end his life legally. His lawyer is a woman, Julia, who has a disability which the viewer later learns is a chronic debilitating heart condition. She empathizes with Ramon's situation and begins to appreciate his finer qualities as she delves into his past and how it affects him when disabled. She wants to understand him as a total human being, not just a person with a handicap. Ramon also develops a relationship with another woman named Rose, who learns of his plight and visits him often. She becomes the person who perhaps comes closest to meeting his emotional needs ...

The film is shot artistically and realistically ... Alejandro Amendabar, the film producer, director, and creater of the musical score did a fabulous job of making a film which tackles a difficult subject - euthanasia. He made a film which shows the dignity of a human being who had a serious health problem, who made a conscious decision which few around him could accept. The personality of Ramon shines within this film. Javier Bardem plays Ramon showing a person who has a sense of humor as well as all human traits. Most amazing is how Javier Bardem holds his body stiffly, keeps his hands contracted, and his back arched, looking exactly like a paralyzed person. The views outside Ramon's window are stunning ... When he daydreams of flying and having a fully functioning body, the scenery of the mountains, streams, and shoreline of the beach are spectacular.

The ethics and conflicts which Ramon faces are felt by his family and everyone associated with his case. Julia and her assistant review the current laws and recognize the challenges which they will be facing when his case is brought to court. They want Ramon to go before the judges and explain his views ... believing in person he may sway them to understand his plight. Ramon has not been outside for many years and hates wheelchairs. Yet he sees this may be his best option to achieve his goal. He makes design alterations to his wheelchair which his family builds for him. He goes to court, the cameras are rolling ... His lawyers plead his case but the judges on a legal technicality, deny Ramon any time to speak. His request to die with dignity at a time of his choosing becomes the top news on television, the radio and in the newspapers ... A Catholic priest who is also paralyzed and in a wheelchair presents the case for life and surmizes before the cameras that perhaps Ramon has not received enough love from his family and is looking for this ... Manuela, his sister-in-law who has cared for Ramon during most of his paralysis is offended and hurt by the priest's allegations. She gets a chance to confront him, when the priest makes a visit to discuss Ramon's decision with him personally ... Ramon is confronted by his brother who adamantly states, that as head of the family, he will not allow anyone to kill himself in his house. The emotional toll of his decision on the family is shown fully and with sensitivity. It happens that at the end Ramon chooses to leave his home with one of his women friends to visit a seaside resort. This is where his final days are spent.

The point of the film was to present life as it is lived from the POV of Ramon a paraplegic who is totally dependent on others. The whole idea was that in a mainly Catholic society (Spain) there was ONE person who stood *against* the majority (who believed it is a sin to commit suicide). He was trapped in a paraplegic body and wanted OUT. His family showed they loved/cared/sacrificed for him, no matter how it affected themselves and how it strained their relationships. At times, they were at emotional breaking points. The film was so outstanding I can not say enough about it. I had tears in my eyes often throughout the film. My highest recommendations. Be prepared to use up several boxes of tissues ...

Erika Borsos (pepper flower)
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 10 April 2008
This is a superb film that deals sensitively with the difficult subject of assisted suicide and the rights of a severely disabled man to decide to end his life. Javier Bardem is exceptional as the quadraplegic victim of a swimming accident that occurred 28 years earlier. He brings immense dignity, humour and warmth to the character. The film manages to cover many angles of the situation: the burdens on his family; the frustrations of the victim; the attitude of the Catholic Church; the ramifications of Spanish law; and the lack of understanding by the able-bodied. All this done in the frame-work of a beautifully crafted film with a story that carries one along wanting to know how it ends.

After watching the film I felt I'd had a memorable and moving experience.
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VINE VOICEon 16 February 2008
I came to this after seeing Bardem in "No Country for Old Men" a couple of weeks ago: what an actor! And what an example of Spanish cinema. The cast on the whole excelled, the script balanced gravity with humour (the upstairs-downstairs debate with the Jesuit is especially funny, but smiling through the pain recurs throughout the film), the cinematography made you want to go to Galicia and fly above the landscape the way the lead character, Ramon, fantasized he could fly. It comes down on Ramon's side without being too heavy-handed, and the viewer can come away understanding -- or at least, sympathizing with -- his desire to die without feeling bludgeoned into dropping any beliefs, pro-euthanasia or otherwise. (I confess to being on the fence about this in the conviction that I cannot decide about something this personal and vital without finding myself in a similar situation.) As it is, you sympathize with them all -- including the ones that hold views which may oppose your own.
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on 13 June 2005
Presenting a topic as controversial as the one touched upon in this movie is not an easy task, but director Alejandro Amenabar has succeeded in achieving a balanced and humane approach at the issue of the right to die with dignity. In my opinion, the director could not have done this without the magnificent performance of Javier Bardem, who transmits the feelings and opinions of Ramon Sampedro with such conviction and clarity that one cannot help but feel touched by the story and the issue at hand.
Ramon is a quadriplegic that wants to die because he claims that living this way has no dignity. He has been prostrated in his bed for the last twenty-six years of his life after hitting the bottom of the sea and breaking his neck. The issue is not a simple one, because Ramon has a loving family and his mind works perfectly, so a lot of people in that situation, me included, would probably hold on to life. But the distinction is relevant here, since Ramon does not argue that everyone in his situation should die or desire to do so, but rather that he wants to do it, and should be allowed to. Basically, he wants to decide how to live and how to die without other people's opinions being a factor.
In order to achieve his wishes, Ramon is consulting with a lawyer (Julia) to get approval from the courts. But Ramon has to battle other people beside the courts, like his brother, who cannot comprehend why Ramon is insisting on dying. As the process towards the trial begins, Ramon becomes news on TV. That is how Rosa, a local neighbor, finds out about him and decides to try to infuse him with a desire to live. Ramon's relationship with Julia and with Rosa is a central part of this movie and helps understand better his wishes and how difficult his decision is.
This is a highly emotional movie that touches on complex issues and uses powerful statements on both sides, so there are no easy answers. In my case, one of the statements that left me thinking for the longest time was when Ramon said "The person who actually loves me will be precisely the one who helps me die". But I guess that different people will react in different ways and reach different conclusions, the important point is that the film will make you think and consider both sides of the argument. Now you just need to get ready for an emotional upheaval and plunge into the sea with the wonderful Javier Bardem.
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on 24 May 2012
A fairly uncomfortable story; intently pivoted on an inconvenient possibility which some may deny but which we could encounter spontaneously without warning - loss of freedom. Incarceration by severe disability is explored as the potent scenario here.

Javier Bardem engages the main protagonist (Ramon Sampedro) in what can be perceived as a reasonably convincing depiction of a man paralysed from the neck down who after 26 years finally decides he can no longer come to terms or proceed with his life handicap.

This picture coerces a self-appreciation of good health; a sense of how delicately and immeasurably it can be interrupted and displays the tremendous upheaval and disaster dispensed upon every sensibility of our familiar, everyday life comfort zone. After the credits, I quietly tested and celebrated my five senses/breathing/muscles etc. whilst recalling all the foolish things I've ever complained about, such as queuing.

Many exchanges forced me into a given characters shoes in an attempt to assimilate either their diplomacy or vitriol towards the helpless victim of accident. The cerebral energy Ramon does have is spent defending his own prerogative and setting upon various naysayers who seek to thwart what he sees as a choiceless desire for termination.

Powerful one liners will instantly switch up your angle of viewing perception such as "you learn to cry by laughing". His reply to his nephews off the cuff remark about his grandfather being useless really touches the soul.

In one way, the story mirrors that of Denzel Washington in The Bone Collector. The two productions cannot be compared in any other way, but its worth noting that The Sea Inside (Mar Adentro) didn't consistently feed my attention span like TBC could. Most of the scenes are confined to the 'death' bed without much prior reference to his former life. I feel the duration could have been either shorter or marginally more eventful.
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on 3 February 2006
Wonderfully acted,directed, and beautifully scripted. Not usually a great fan of subtitled films but this one is too good to miss.Subject matter a little depressing but dealt with so well.Should be shown to anyone with 'views' on euthanasia,especially people who could change the law.
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If you were told that this story was about a quadriplegic that wants to end his life and the people who want to help or hinder him, you'd probably turn away. But this film is inspiring and life affirming without melodrama or cheesy dialogue. Based on a true story of a Spaniard who has been disabled since a neck injury 30 years prior, Ramon Sampedro (played to perfection by Javier Bardem from "When Night Falls") embarks upon a political journey to end his life legally. Ramon is surrounded by three strong women (his mother, a lover `wanna-be' and a journalist) and a loving family. His insights are thoughtful and beautiful, with director Alejandro Amenabar ("The Others", "Permanent Midnight"), flashing a fantastic style ranging from heartfelt close-ups to wild flying scenes against the backdrop of the Spanish countryside and seaside. Whether one agrees with Ramon's decision is irrelevant to the story, as it is all about celebrating life. The truly human dialogue backed with brilliantly subtle cinematography is refreshing. The only drawback is the ending - not that you guess what happens, but because the film is over and so is the life it so beautifully portrays.
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