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Representation Done Incorrectly

Me Before You tells viewers that disabled people cannot live happily

Originally published on December 2, 2021 by Katherine Ransiear, Staff Reporter

This article contains discussions of suicide that may be triggering to some readers.

Louisa Clark (left) is played by Emilia Clarke, Will Traynor (right) is played by Sam Claflin. (Warner Bros.)

Thea Sharrock’s Me Before You, based off of the book of the same name by Jojo Moyes, is a disgusting, stomach-turning movie that teaches the lesson that disabled people are a burden and unable to “live boldly.”

The film follows Louisa Clark who is hired by the Traynors, a rich family in need of a caretaker for their recently quadraplegic son, Will. It runs just as any other heterosexual enemies-to-lovers rom-com: He hates her, she becomes the only person that treats him differently, he loves her.

But, for a movie in which the love interest is disabled, this is the most ableist movie I’ve ever seen.

Will is suicidal after becoming quadraplegic from a motorcycle accident, and after attempting suicide, tells his parents that he will stick around for another six months before committing physician-assisted suicide in Switzerland. What’s even more insane is that instead of getting their son a therapist, like any sane family would, the Traynors decide to hire a young, attractive woman named Louisa to help teach him that life is worth living.

That premise is already incredibly problematic and ableist, but it gets exponentially worse. After many montages of Louisa trying to convince Will that he can live a good life as a disabled person (during one montage, the early 2010s sad boy classic “Unsteady” by X Ambassadors plays loudly in the background), he still goes to Switzerland to get euthanized.

Me Before You goes from being problematic, but at least an attempt at disabled representation to egregious and bigoted. The moral of this movie is that disabled people will never be as happy as abled people, and they’re better off dead.

The movie tries so hard to show that being disabled means that a person can never experience lasting happiness. It represents Will’s life before becoming disabled as unbelievably perfect. He’s engaged to Vanessa Kirby, he goes on vacations to various seaside islands, and he carries a permanent smoulder on his face. 

After the motorcycle accident he loses all of that; his fiance leaves him for his best friend, he loses all of his friends, and most-upsettingly, he loses his smoulder.

He talks often of how he is unable to ever enjoy life again, and treats himself as a burden constantly.

During one scene in a conversation with Louisa, Will advises, “you only get one life. It’s actually your duty to live it as fully as possible.” He treats an able-bodied person’s life as precious, but holds the opposite belief for his own.

Ableism is lanced throughout every scene of this movie, be it Will’s parents not taking his mental health crisis as serious enough to get actual mental health support, or the multiple scenes making fun of disabled people, one of which includes Will twisting up his face and shouting to mock disabled people – and that’s the very first time the viewers are introduced to his character. Not to mention the fact that the movie ends with Will going ‘peacefully’ into the light, then shows a letter that he wrote to Louisa, instructing her to “just live.”

Moyes mostly got away with it too. Me Before You has a 7.4 out of 10 on IMDb and a 4.8 out of five from Google audiences. The film has been labelled as a tearjerker and is obvious clickbait to be seen as a “tragic love story” by abled viewers.

This movie plays into a franchise of films based on the so-called suffering of disabled people. These movies tend to teach their viewers that they should be thankful to not be disabled, and the only way a disabled person can even begin to be happy is if an able-bodied person deigns to help them. It’s an ugly mix of bigotry and saviorism, and Me Before You adds an even darker layer. The movie concluding with Will’s death, and portraying it as the only viable option for him as a disabled person, sends a positive message about eugenics.

Me Before You should never have been written, it should never have been made into a movie, and it should never have been watched. It is a horrifically out-of-touch romance written by an able-bodied woman about the suicide of a disabled man. It’s revolting, and does not deserve your time or attention.

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Representation Done Incorrectly