I didn’t review Alejandro Amenábar’s The Sea Inside when it came out in 2004 simply because—Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film or not—it never played locally. I saw the film, however, because it’s the type of film that studios send screeners of to critics in the hope of the film landing a spot on as many 10 Best lists as possible. Problem is The Sea Inside is a little too much that type of film for my taste. It’s the well-meaning “problem” picture—the kind of “important” movie that Stanley Kramer used to turn out in the 1950s and ‘60s with depressing regularity. OK, so The Sea Inside is a lot better than the usual Kramer social tract, but it’s still cut from the same cloth. It’s not a bad movie. It’s a good movie. It’s just not a movie for which I can work up much personal enthusiasm. Of the three Amenábar films I’ve seen—Open Your Eyes (1998), The Others (2001) and this one—The Sea Inside, for all its merits, is easily my least favorite.
But on with the plot. It’s a fact-based story about a real person, Ramón Sampedro (splendidly played by Javier Bardem), a quadriplegic who waged a nearly 30-year court battle in his bid to obtain the right to die rather than live on in his disabled state. That sounds more heavy-handed and grim than much of the film is, since a lot of The Sea Inside involves Ramón’s relationships with two women (Belén Rueda and Lola Dueñas) whose paths cross his. In this manner, the film is less about Ramón’s legal case than it is about the very positive impact he has on people in his sphere and his ability to teach others the value of life, even if he can find none in his own existence. It’s strong, effective stuff that never descends into soap, and it deserves a look—regardless of the fact that it’s the kind of movie I have an aversion to.