Friday, June 17, 2005

The Sea Inside 

I watched The Sea Inside (Mar Adentro) last night with Jonathan and Monika and another friend from our church. I was surprised by the film; I had expected it to be far less even-handed a treatment of its subject than it actually was. In fact, far from being a piece of straightforward propaganda for euthanasia and assisted suicide, which is what I had braced myself for, I felt that the film got to grips with the complexity of the moral questions involved. I highly recommend it. I think that it would be a shame if Christians miss such opportunities to engage in conversation with non-Christians. Such a film raises deep issues about how we view life, love, death and freedom. Rather than simply bombarding non-Christians with evangelistic films, there is much to be said for interacting with thoughtful films that non-Christians themselves are making. We might at least appear to be less arrogant. I never watch films alone, mostly because I find solitary viewing boring. One of the advantages of watching films with other people is that one has the opportunity to discuss one’s thoughts and impressions afterwards and be challenged to explore how and why the film connected with you and moved you. Even a bad film can serve to trigger a good conversation on occasions. If we are to mature in our understanding and appreciation of stories, such conversations are invaluable. I am strongly inclined to believe that learning how to appreciate, enjoy, deconstruct, critique and inhabit stories is a central skill for the Christian. A failure of imagination should not be regarded as a minor flaw in the character of a Christian. I have suffered from this flaw in the past and am working at trying to rectify it, by God’s grace. In The Sea Inside, Ramón Sampedro, who has been a quadriplegic since a diving accident, fights for the right to end his own life. There were many moments in the film that will stick with me. The following are just two. At one point in the film, Ramón’s elderly father says something to the effect of: “There is only one thing worse than your son dying before you do: him wanting to.” This remark served to highlight the tragic betrayal that Ramón’s desire to take his own life constituted. In a society that has been shaped so powerfully by such notions as private property, it is hard for us to recognize that our lives are not ultimately our own — that speaking of ‘the right to life’ can lead us into serious error, just as speaking of ‘the right to choose’ can. Our lives are continually given to us by others, but the gift of our lives that we receive never becomes purely our own private property, which we are free to determine for ourselves. Rather, the gift of our lives is a constant summons to unceasing reciprocity. To refuse to continually give your life (and your faithful death) to others is an act of treachery and robbery. Life must be shared in fellowship. When you have given your life to someone and that person chooses to commit suicide (or adultery) they rob you of your own life in some measure as well. Your narrative identity is poisoned. In the case of suicide, where hope of reconciliation seems impossible, the crime is all the greater. All of one’s memories with that person are soured because they were unwilling to give you the gift of their faithful death. Ramón’s unwillingness to be present in his continued suffering to those who take care of him and love him deeply serves to compound their pain. At another point in the film, Ramón is on the phone with Rosa, a local lady who has started to visit him regularly. His lawyer, Julia, who shared a passionate kiss with him the previous evening, asks him about his relationship with Rosa. Ramón says that he does not feel that he owes her an explanation. It becomes clear that Ramón is determined to live life — and arrange his death — on his own terms and the idea of faithfulness to others is obscured in his thinking. It becomes clear that Ramón’s desire to die is connected with an attitude that has infected his relationships in general and is not merely a detached desire. A determination to go on living in the midst of acute suffering can only flow out of a peculiar posture towards life and freedom that fewer and fewer people possess today. Suicide is the ultimate quest for autonomy, for escape from the givenness of relationships to the ‘freedom’ of self-determination (this was the sin of Adam, the attempt to find true fulfilment by breaking communion with God). As Wittgenstein observed, if suicide is allowed, anything is allowed. Our society seeks to escape from faithfulness and the sharing of life in fellowship with one another to individualistic autonomy, thinking that freedom will be found in the process. Such virtues as trust, hospitality, thankfulness and love wither. Lady Wisdom was far more astute than many of us appreciate when she observed that all who hate her love death (Proverbs 8:36).

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