It's all about me

I had never heard of the best-selling book “Me Before You.” But I found the trailer for the film at first very captivating. It looked like a warm, even family-friendly, love story between a paralyzed man and his caregiver, leaving a strong impression that the two are going to live happily ever after. But just before the movie’s release, I started seeing very strong commentaries against the film coming from disability activists. That’s when I realized I had been had.

The trailer was very deceiving. But at least it had been only a promotional piece and didn’t cost me anything but time once I learned of the deception, before turning over my hard- earned cash at the box office.

One of the reasons I was at first so intrigued by the trailer was that it reminded me of a touching and actually very pro-life movie with a similar plot that was released in the 90s starring Julia Roberts. In the 1991 film “Dying Young,” Roberts plays a carefree middle-class woman who is hired as a caregiver for a wealthy young man dying of leukemia. The two fall madly in love, although he wants to stop receiving treatment so he can live what he imagines will be a normal life away from hospitals. Julia Roberts convinces him that his life is worth the struggle and that, even if he doesn’t win the challenging, painful battle against leukemia, he will pass away having given it his best shot surrounded by those he loves.

It’s a film that leaves the audience with the message that although love and commitment sometimes hurt, life and the person you love, are both worth fighting for until God, not you or I, says it’s over.

Here’s a spoiler alert for you: “Me Before You” is really all about me. It doesn’t conclude as heroically as “Dying Young.” In fact, there is nothing heroic about it, even though the producers want you to think otherwise.

The movies are similar in that both caretakers come from middle-class backgrounds and fall in love with their clients. Both of the men in the films are wealthy and struggling with major health issues. But unfortunately that is where the similarities end. “Me Before You” is nothing more than a major propaganda piece for the so-called right to die movement. The film does great damage to those with disabilities because it sends the message that people in wheelchairs can’t be happy and therefore should be allowed to take their own lives.

How hypocritical for a major force in the culture that claims to promote tolerance and inclusiveness. Yet here is Hollywood promoting a dangerous stereotype sugarcoated in a love story that will no doubt have countless women young and old flocking to the theatres.

Thank goodness activists are speaking out strongly against the film’s harmful message. Supporters of various disability groups organized protests for the June 3 opening of the film. The organization “Not Dead Yet,” encouraging members to join the protests, posted a message against the movie on its website:

“‘Me Before You” is the latest Hollywood film to grossly misrepresent the lived experience of the majority of disabled people. ... [It] is little more than a disability snuff film, giving audiences the message that if you’re a disabled person, you’re better off dead.”

One advantage this movie provides is the opportunity to talk about the sacredness of life and the dignity of the human person from womb to tomb. The concerns being raised about this film and its assumptions could help many people see the wisdom of Church teaching: that life is truly a gift worth living instead of a present that’s ungratefully returned before it’s even unwrapped.

Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 130.