The Sea Inside

2004, PG-13, 125 min. Directed by Alejandro Amenábar. Starring Javier Bardem, Belén Rueda, Lola Dueñas, Mabel Rivera, Celso Bugallo, Clara Segura, Joan Dalmau.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Feb. 25, 2005

The Sea Inside

Among the obvious list of things that make moviegoers feel good – bunnies, puppies, and children with slight lisps all spring to mind – euthanasia typically would not make the cut. But that is indeed the sleight of hand of Spanish filmmaker Amenábar’s The Sea Inside. The film, nominated for an Oscar for best foreign film, chronicles the real-life 30-year battle of a paraplegic named Ramón Sampedro to end his life. Sampedro is played by the incomparable Bardem (Before Night Falls), a hulking actor who has brought tremendous physicality to his previous roles. That physicality is concentrated here, and it’s extraordinary to watch an actor fully embody a role in which the canvas for conveying emotion is confined to the neck up. Bardem plays Sampedro somewhat impishly – he’s a flirt with the ladies (indeed, he juggles two romantic interests), a faux gruff mentor to his young nephew, and the charismatic leader of a one-man crusade. There are very few cracks in the jovial facade; actually, one wishes there were a greater willingness on the part of the filmmakers to burrow into those cracks. Sampedro sparked a national debate in Spain about the right to die, a fight all the more heated considering his country’s complicated relationship with Catholicism. That tension inspires one of the film’s best – and funniest – setpieces, in which a paraplegic priest (and bit of a media whore) journeys to Ramón’s house in order to convince Ramón that life is indeed worth living. The house is not set up for a wheelchair ramp, and Ramón, peeved with the intrusion, refuses to be carried down to the first floor to engage in a moral debate. The priest, hellbent on saving a soul, won’t be deterred; he sends one of his young acolytes upstairs to serve as his mouthpiece. The young priest is soon jogging breathlessly up and down the stairs between the two to deliver one opposing argument after another, until the two paraplegics finally shuck all decorum and resort to shouting from one floor to the next. It works because it’s funny, but also because Amenábar and co-writer Mateo Gil (who also collaborated with Amenábar on Open Your Eyes) sincerely explore in this scene the gray areas of the right-to-die argument. Understandably, a filmmaker tackling the retelling of a national hero must do so with great delicacy, but The Sea Inside presents not so much a hero as a saint in Sampedro. Encouraged by Amenábar’s score (incongruously Celtic-twinged but effectively fulsome), I did indeed feel good, feel stirred, by The Sea Inside, but in the way we do when the enemy is vanquished, the lawyer wins the big case, the doctor saves the patient. I felt good, in broad strokes, about the human condition, yet, looking back on it now, that feels somewhat like a failure. On Amenábar’s part or mine, I’m not sure.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Javier Bardem Films
Everybody Knows
Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem charm in this slight tale of lost loves and kidnapping

Marjorie Baumgarten, Feb. 22, 2019

Mother!
Jennifer Lawrence on the brink of madness

Marc Savlov, Sept. 22, 2017

More by Kimberley Jones
Trump’s Twitter Library, a Ferris Wheel of Cheese, and More From the Wide, Weird World of SXSW
Trump’s Twitter Library, a Ferris Wheel of Cheese, and More From the Wide, Weird World of SXSW
Festival-adjacent events abound!

March 8, 2019

Our #1 Friend Crushes at SXSW 2019
Our #1 Friend Crushes at SXSW 2019
Eight panelists we want to be our SXBFFs

March 5, 2019

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

The Sea Inside, Alejandro Amenábar, Javier Bardem, Belén Rueda, Lola Dueñas, Mabel Rivera, Celso Bugallo, Clara Segura, Joan Dalmau

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle