“Me Before You” starts off with the typical Hollywood romantic scene: an heterosexual young and attractive couple, rolling between the sheets of a luxurious apartment’s bed. Then they have sex. In the next scene – Warning! Spoilers start here!-, the boy (Will) is hit by a car and gets tetraplegic as a result. Then his life changes forever: not only he no longer can walk and can’t feel most of his body, he also loses his luxury apartment, his girlfriend (who leaves him after the accident and marries his best friend) and, of course, he loses morning sex. In fact, he doesn’t get any sex at all from that moment on, although paradoxically the film focuses on the (alleged) desire among its protagonists: Will and Louisa.
Louisa is the attractive young caretaker Will’s parents hired when he comes home from the hospital. Later in the film we find out that Will’s basic care is already covered by a nurse, and his parents expect that Louisa shows him that there is more to life, a life worth living for, a live without suicide desires. They do this because they are their parents and they love him, right? However, Will’s death is presented in the movie as “a logical and normal desire given his condition,” which has created tons of criticism from activists with functional diversity (you can follow the campaign here #MeBeforeAbleism, NotDeadYet and #MeBeforeEuthanasia), fed up with this perverse as usual representation within the film industry (think of films like Mar Adentro, Whose Life Is It Anyway or Million Dollar Baby). In “Me Before You” the star’s death is especially romanticized: any crudeness or explication about death is erased, showing instead a bucolic farewell scene where his parents and Louisa embrace him feeling sad but sympathetic with his decision. His death is also seen as the best to everyone as it gives Louisa an inheritance that allows her to “make her dreams come true” (or should I say Will’s dreams for Louisa’s life? The classicism and sexism of this film is worth several articles besides this one…).
However, this column reflects on sexuality and functional diversity, so here is what I want to emphasize in “Me Before You”: the representation of Will’s (a)sexuality. The film gives you the idea that Will’s sexual life is only possible, desirable and even imaginable before the accident – when his body reacts to some kind of regulation. Therefore a clear connection between ableism and patriarchy occurs when it’s time to evaluate if Will’s body is (in)valid for pleasure. Before the accident, when he has an “able” (independent, young and vigorous) and “masculine” body (active, conventionally attractive and strong), the film shows him as desirable and desiring (several scenes portray him as a successful playboy): valid for pleasure, legitimate to have a sex life.
However, after the accident Will happens to have a body that is “unable” (requires assistance for all tasks of everyday life) and “unmasculinized” (dependent, fragile, vulnerable), which positions him as being invalid for pleasure, illegitimate for sexuality. Sentences like “Will needs to feel like a man again” (by his father) or even by himself in one of the most famous scenes (after a date with with Louisa, he stands in silence with eyes closed imagining “for a few minutes” that “he is simply a man who took a girl in a red dress to a party”) try to show that Will is not a man (anymore). And that makes it clear that he can’t have a sex life no more. That is also clear to Louisa who accepts the idea as an irrefutable truth (well, she accepts everything he says in an exasperating repetition of the role of a silly, ridiculous and submissive girl…), so their relationship is sublimated and their contact is reduced to intense physical looks, occasional hugs and a couple of virgin kisses.
This would be an unthinkable representation if it functional diversity was not involved (and all the symbolic images that set it as illegitimate for pleasure), or does anyone here know any Hollywood film in which its young, attractive and loving characters do not have sex?
This post was originally written in Spanish. Click here for the original text.