Shallower Than It Looks

A handsome young man stands on the edge of a rocky cove staring down into rippling turquoise water. It looks deep, so he dives. But it is not deep. He hits bottom, breaks his neck, then spends 28 years as a quadriplegic. He also becomes famous for battling with the legal authorities in his native Spain for the right to commit assisted suicide. He loses the battle but wins the war: after publishing a book, he persuades one of his many devoted helpers to give him a glass of water spiked with cyanide.

"The Sea Inside" ("Mar adentro") is about a real man, Ramon Sampedro, whose followers are no doubt hoping that it will win this year's Oscar for Best Foreign Film. I am hoping it doesn't, because like the water into which Sampedro dove, it is exquisitely beautiful - but a lot shallower than it looks.

The acting is superb, especially Javier Bardem's portrayal of a man whose face, especially his eyes, are filled with all the seductive vitality missing from the rest of his body. Also finely drawn are the people who pass through Ramon's picturesque Galician farmhouse: his father, brother, sister-in-law, nephew, and three loving women: a "death with dignity" activist, Gene (Clara Segura); a lawyer, Julia (Belen Rueda), who is warding off her own debility from strokes; and a local factory worker and single mother, Maria (Lola Duenas), who at first urges Ramon to live but then becomes the one who helps him die.

But as lovely and beguiling as this film is, it is also tendentious. This is especially true of its caricature of a quadriplegic priest, Fr. Luis de Moya, who has said in an interview that he and Sampedro had a serious correspondence about assisted suicide before Fr. de Moya came to visit Sampedro in Galicia, and that while neither man swayed the other, they parted with mutual respect.

If this is true, or even if it isn't, why does director-writer Alejandro Amenabar feel obliged to ridicule Fr. de Moya, making him mouth petty dogma in a scene contrived to be as farcical as possible? And why accuse the Church of being inconsistent on such issues as suicide, euthanasia, abortion, and the death penalty, when in fact it is consistent?

One needn't be a Catholic or even a believer to grant that the Church's reasoning about these questions is strong and philosophically compelling. If "The Sea Inside" had the courage to take on that reasoning, then it would be worthy of its own considerable artistry. Admire the artistry if you want (I did). But be careful. Don't plunge in head first.

February 13, 2005 9:00 AM |



PRC Pop 

The Chinese pop music scene is like no other ...

Remembering Elvis 

The best part of him will never leave the building ...

Beyond Country 

Like all chart categories, "country" is an arbitrary heading under which one finds the ridiculous, the sublime, and everything in between. On the sublime end, a track that I have been listening to over and over for the last six months: Wynnona Judd's version of "She Is His Only Need." The way she sings it, irony is not a color or even a set of contrasting colors; it is iridescence.

Miles the Rock Star? 

Does Miles Davis belong in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame? Here's my take on his career ...

Essay Contest 

Attention, high school jazz listeners ...

more trax

Me Elsewhere

Edward Hopper 

Painter of light (and darkness) ...

Dissed in Translation 

Here's my best shot at taking Scorcese down a few pegs ...

Henri Rousseau Revisited 

"Henri Rousseau: Jungles in Paris" appeared at the National Gallery of Art in Washington this fall ...

Paul Klee's Art 

Paul Klee was not childish, despite frequent comparisons between his art and that of children...

Our Art Belongs to Dada 

Rent my "Dadioguide" tour of the Dada show (before it moves to MoMA) ...

more picks


About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by published on February 13, 2005 9:00 AM.

Observing the Formulas was the previous entry in this blog.

Halfways is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

AJ Ads

AJ Blogs

AJBlogCentral | rss

About Last Night
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Artful Manager
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
blog riley
rock culture approximately
critical difference
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dog Days
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
Life's a Pitch
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
Mind the Gap
No genre is the new genre
Performance Monkey
David Jays on theatre and dance
Plain English
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Real Clear Arts
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
Rockwell Matters
John Rockwell on the arts
Straight Up |
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude

Foot in Mouth
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Seeing Things
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...

Jazz Beyond Jazz
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...

Out There
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Serious Popcorn
Martha Bayles on Film...

classical music
Creative Destruction
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
The Future of Classical Music?
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
On the Record
Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Slipped Disc
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds

Jerome Weeks on Books
Quick Study
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera

Drama Queen
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
lies like truth
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world

Aesthetic Grounds
Public Art, Public Space
Another Bouncing Ball
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Modern Art Notes
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog
Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.