The Sea Inside
dir. Alejandro Amenábar
Opens Fri Feb 4.

In his 20s, the Spanish writer Ramón Sampedro dove into a shallow cove, struck the sea floor, and permanently lost all feeling from the neck down. The fateful event is a serene and recurrent flashback in The Sea Inside, an anguishing film about Sampedro's later fight to end his life on his own terms--against the will of his family, his friends, and the courts.

The movie is admirable and unsparing, and it's a departure for Alejandro Amenábar, a director who's only ever made thrillers and ghost stories. Still, it suffers under the weight of unrelenting ruin. "I want to die because I feel that a life in this condition has no dignity," Sampedro explains early in the film to a lawyer who has come to help him. What you want is for Sampedro and the lawyer to fall in love, but that's complicated: She's fighting against a degenerative condition herself. Another woman expresses something of a romantic interest for Sampedro, but he's plainly too helpless and too embarrassed for anything remotely resembling love--"Total dependency comes at the expense of intimacy" --and anyway, all he wants is for someone to help him die.

The problem with The Sea Inside is that the drama takes place almost entirely in this character's mind. Javier Bardem does as much as any actor possibly could, given what he has to work with. But the movie strains against its own limitations. Amenábar finds inventive ways to take the camera beyond the room where Sampedro is confined--with dream sequences and the occasional exterior scene--but he has committed to an unflinching portrait of this depressive, housebound man. Almost everything happens inside. Almost everything is bathed in blue. It's a wrenching movie, and it has its share of beauty, but it's slow, and it's a downer.

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