THE SEA INSIDE
Review by Ed Nguyen
Javier Bardem, Belén Rueda, Lola Dueñas, Mabel Rivera, Celso Bugallo, Clara
Director: Alejandro Amenábar
Audio: Spanish 5.1 or stereo surround
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Video: Color, 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen
Studio: New Line
Features: A Trip to The Sea Inside documentary, director commentary, galleries, trailers, deleted scenes
Length: 125 minutes
Release Date: May 17, 2005
has been one of the more controversial topics in cinema lately.
Among recent films, Alejandro Amenábar's Mar
adentro (The Sea Inside, 2004) is the one that most intimately studies this
subject, choosing the true story of Ramón Sampedro as an illustration of the
emotions and arguments surrounding a person's right to end his or her own life.
real Ramón Sampedro was a quadriplegic who as a young man had been paralyzed in
a diving accident. He spent the
remainder of his life in a decades-long quest for permission to end his own life
voluntarily and with dignity. Sampedro
eventually passed away, although his personal plight received some degree of
publicity in the final years of his life, particularly with the posthumous
publication of his autobiography, Letters from Hell. This
collection of writings over the years expounded upon Sampedro's personal views
and revealed a literary gift fortunately not diminished by the limitations of
his physical handicap.
life story interested director Alejandro Amenábar, best known to American
audiences as the director behind the Nicole Kidman horror film The
Others. The Sea Inside
would be only his fourth feature, but its subsequent international acclaim and
accolades, including an Oscar for Best Foreign Film, firmly established Amenábar
as a major directorial talent in Spanish cinema.
like Hitchcock's Rear Window, The
Sea Inside takes place mostly in the lead character's bedroom.
While there are some exterior locations and scenes with secondary
characters, too, the focus is primarily on Ramón Sampedro and the world as he
sees or experiences it. Much of his
interactions occur with the occasional visitor or with his immediate family - an
older brother and wife, a nephew, and the aging father.
Ramón's bedroom window is quite literally his only window to the world,
and in moments of ennui or inner thought, Ramón has flights of fancy and
day-dreams about the world just beyond his window.
film opens in the latter years of Ramón's life with the arrival of a lawyer,
Julia (Belén Rueda), to the family farm in the Galician countryside.
In response to Ramón's communiqués, she has agreed to take on his
unusual case regarding euthanasia at no charge.
In actuality, Julia has her own personal though earnest motivations for
wishing to help Ramón.
Julia's various visits to the farm, she gradually learns more about Ramón's
life and his personal outlook on life, not only from candid discussions with him
but also from samples of his writings over the years.
One central theme has haunted Ramón's thoughts for the last several
decades - a desire to end his own life with dignity.
As a former sailor, Ramón was a young man accustomed to whirlwind motion
and constant travels. But his
present reality is as one stripped entirely of youth and mobility.
While there remains in him a sense of vitality and wise composure, with
dreams and creativity intact, Ramón's physical impairment forces him to endure
a monumental daily test of his beliefs and faith. Over the decades since his accident, he has focused his
energies upon a single determined goal, as he has come to regard his handicap as
a prison from which there is but one escape.
During one early interview session with Julia, Ramón illustrates this
point by stating, "You're sitting there, three feet away.
But for me, those three feet are an impossible journey."
The Sea Inside is less about the
central character's transformation during the course of the film (Ramón's
attitude has been set by this stage in his life) and more about how he
influences or changes those around him. Two
women in particular, Julia and Rosa, are much affected by their encounters with
Ramón. While Julia may serve as
Ramón's lawyer, she quickly empathizes with his plight, and he in turn will
serve as a stabilizing anchor for her own moral or personal dilemmas (the
character of Julia was based on several real women who each in her own way
admired, helped, or loved Ramón Sampedro).
Rosa (Lola Dueñas), based on Ramona Maneiro, is another young woman
inspired by Ramón; frustrated by the tribulations in her own life, she visits
Ramón one day perhaps for guidance and eventually grows to love him.
secondary characters are fleshed out quite realistically in the film.
Manuela (Mabel Rivera) is the devoted sister-in-law who along with Ramón's
brother, José (Celso Bugallo), has taken care of him over the years.
For his part, José strongly disapproves of Ramón's personal crusade,
and José's voice provides one of several counter-arguments in the film.
On the legal side, there is also Gené (Clara Segura), another who has
championed Ramón's legal struggle to die with dignity.
However, the legal aspects of the film are truly secondary to the plot
and are given only scant on-screen time. The Sea Inside is not a courtroom drama, nor is it a lugubrious
exercise in self-pity, and rightly so. Instead,
it focuses on the characters and their relationships.
It is more about familial love and the emotional ties which unite people
beyond distance or physical impairment.
the somber theme of the film, there are many instances of light touches and
humor. Ramón's interactions with
his young nephew and even with Rosa's young children reflect a kindly, gentle
touch to his nature. Another
humorous sequence involves a not-entirely successful debate with Padre
Francisco, a quadriplegic priest who has traveled to Ramón's home in the hope
of impressing upon him the precious gift that is life.
Both men are as stubborn as mules, and the discussion proceeds nowhere.
Ramón, Javier Bardem is truly a revelation.
Bardem is a Method actor (fortunately he did not take the Method too
far), and he is completely convincing not only as a quadriplegic but also as a
man two decades his senior. Bardem's
performance is poignant and readily identifiable without resorting to
histrionics or emotional manipulation, and it stands as a testament to the real
Ramón Sampedro. Bardem was very
deserving of his Best Actor Oscar nomination (and he probably would have won,
too, had his role been in English).
year 2004 was an unparalleled one for the bio-pic genre.
While most of the publicity went to American films such as The
Aviator (about Howard Hughes), Ray
(about Ray Charles), or Beyond the Sea
(about Bobby Darin), the best bio-pics were actually foreign films.
After the outstanding The Motorcycle Diaries (about Che Guevara), the best bio-pic of the
year was easily The Sea Inside.
Both Spanish-language films were character studies which focused
predominantly upon the joys of human existence and compassion.
Because these films recounted only small portions of their central
characters' lives, they possessed tighter plot cohesion and ultimately provided
greater emotional resonance than their over-blown American counterparts.
If you are interested in bio-pics and are not afraid of non-English
language films, then by all means check out The
Sea Inside, or The Motorcycle Diaries.
looks very good. Amenábar has
chosen natural hues and tones for his film, which possesses a realistic color
palette. While some digital effects
were used in the film, they are essentially invisible and practically impossible
to spot without reference to the documentary or feature commentary included on
this disc. The transfer is solid,
and the image quality is pristine. Detail
levels are excellent, and I did not detect any blatantly obtrusive mastering
forewarned. There are at least
three "Spanish" languages spoken in this film - Catalan, Galician, and
Castilian. As a result, even native
Spanish speakers will some trouble with the dialogue from time to time, so
keeping the English (or Spanish) subtitles on is well-advised.
The sound is not aggressive but is fairly immersive, nonetheless, and
helps to bring the viewer into Ramón Sampedro's world, both his stark reality
and his day-dreams.
subtle sounds of the waves and the ocean throughout the film are quite
important, too. They symbolize not
only Ramón Sampedro's continuing inner struggles but are also a representation
of his symbolic death, the tragic occurrence early in his life that paralyzed
him and the haunting memories that have played in his mind ever since.
only one thing worse than having a child die on you - for him to want to die."
and foremost among the bonus features is A
Trip to The Sea Inside (84 min.), a very extensive documentary chronicling
the creative process behind the making of The
Sea Inside. Starting from the
script-writing sessions through location scouting and set construction and
actual filming, this is a true blood-and-guts look at the making of a film.
We can also see Javier Bardem as he visits various hospice settings and
health professionals in preparation for his role and his convincing
metamorphosis into a quadriplegic for this film.
Included are rehearsals with the actors and technical discussions with
Amenábar about camera positioning and frame composition, editing, and scoring.
There are brief glimpses of the real Ramón Sampedro in this generally
excellent documentary, probably one of the best available on any DVD this year.
Keep in mind that the documentary is presented in Spanish, although
English subtitles are available.
there is a feature commentary by director Alejandro Amenábar.
It is presented entirely in Spanish with English subtitles.
Most of the topics are already addressed in the documentary on this DVD,
so Amenábar merely adds further details or coloring to the proceedings, such as
when he describes incidents of artistic license in the film or sequences based
on actual events in Ramón Sampedro's life.
As such, the commentary is a good supplement to the documentary but can
be bypassed by anyone not particularly keen on reading subtitles for a
commentary track. Of note is that
Amenábar does take some time to consider how he himself might act, placed in
Ramón Sampedro's terminal situation.
are three photo galleries. The
first (32 photos) is comprised of cast and crew shots. A storyboard gallery (32 frames) shows the storyboard
sequence of a pivotal scene in the film. The
third gallery (17 paintings) shows artwork created for the set design.
are included for The Sea Inside, Mike
Leigh's controversial Vera Drake
(another extremely good bio-pic), and Jean-Pierre Jeunet's A Very Long Engagement (starring Audrey Tautou).
are three deleted or alternate scenes. "I
Want You to Go" is an extended version of an argument between Julia and her
husband (only a couple of seconds of this scene exist in the film as part of a
montage). "Julia Changes Her
Mind" is a later scene between Julia and her husband; it's incredibly
moving - a pity it was deleted. Lastly,
"Dedication" is a scene in the garden between Manuela and her son as
they read a dedication in Ramón's book. In
total, there are about six minutes' worth of rather nice scenes which were
deleted only because they dealt with secondary characters.
I'm glad these scenes are available again on the DVD.
there is a web-link, and clicking on the New Line icon brings up the DVD