The Sea Inside

Best known for genre films like ABRE LOS OJOS (1997) and THE OTHERS (2001), Spanish filmmaker Alejandro Amenabar makes a departure with his fourth film in that it belongs to a genre that — unfairly or not — tends to elicit more critical and audience respect than scifi or horror films. In bringing the true story of Ramon Sampedro — a quadriplegic who...read more

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Reviewed by Ethan Alter
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Best known for genre films like ABRE LOS OJOS (1997) and THE OTHERS (2001), Spanish filmmaker Alejandro Amenabar makes a departure with his fourth film in that it belongs to a genre that — unfairly or not — tends to elicit more critical and audience respect than scifi or horror films. In bringing the true story of Ramon Sampedro — a quadriplegic who waged a decades-long court battle for the right to die — to the big screen, Amenabar has produced a classic melodrama, complete with a soaring score (composed, as always, by himself) and lots of tears. As a young man, Ramon (Javier Bardem) was paralyzed from the waist down in a diving accident. Thirty years later, his world has shrunk to the bedroom where he's cared for by his older brother, Jose (Celso Bugallo), sister-in-law Manuela (Mabel Rivera), elderly father, Joaquin (Joan Dalmau), and teenage nephew Javi (Tamar Novas). Ramon's upbeat, charismatic personality wins him a number of admirers, including lonely single mother Rosa (Lola Duenas), who falls in love with him. While Ramon seems happy, he wants the right to end his life. But suicide is forbidden under Spanish law and his repeated legal challenges have failed. He's having trouble finding a new lawyer until Julia (Belen Rueda) enters his life, prepared to take up the cause. They quickly discover a powerful bond that might have blossomed into romance were it not for Ramon's condition and the fact that Julia is married. Ramon suddenly finds himself with two women he cares for deeply and they in turn must decide whether they're capable of helping him carry out his wishes. How much you ultimately embrace this picture depends on your attitude toward traditional melodrama. Unlike Amenabar's previous films, which tinkered with the givens of their respective genres, this one hews closely to established conventions. At times, the movie's ordinariness is disappointing, especially coming from someone who produced a genre-bending effort as stylish as ABRE LOS OJOS. But no one could accuse Amenabar of phoning it in; while the film is deeply emotional, he's careful not to wallow in cheap sentiment, and his clear-eyed direction ensures that it never becomes a cable-TV problem-of-the-week movie. He's helped immeasurably by Bardem's masterful performance in a tricky role: Viewers must like Ramon enough to care whether he lives or dies while simultaneously understanding why death is the right choice for a man who seems so full of life. The result isn't an easy film, but it is rewarding. (In Spanish, with English subtitles.)

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  • Released: 2004
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Review: Best known for genre films like ABRE LOS OJOS (1997) and THE OTHERS (2001), Spanish filmmaker Alejandro Amenabar makes a departure with his fourth film in that it belongs to a genre that — unfairly or not — tends to elicit more critical and audience respec… (more)

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