Me Before You, Review; On Expectations

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When I read the book Me Before You, I hated it. I kicked myself for not trusting the title, which made me recoil. How selfish. How anti-the-way-I-want-to-life-my-life. It was so totally wrong, I even wondered if I’d interpreted it incorrectly.

A friend loaned me her copy, saying it was good, and inspired by the recent (at the time) release of a film based on the book (and being a woman in that vaunted 18-35 commercial age range), I read it. I read a tear-jerker while I was pregnant and in the process of moving. What did I expect?

Parts of it drew me in, and of course, the hunky lead didn’t hurt, but I was disquieted by the ending. I watched the film yesterday while getting dinner ready and doing some cleaning, and while they blunted some of the sharp edges of the story for the sake of cinema, it had much the same effect. **spoilers to follow**

The movie version, though, made a message much less ambiguous, and for me, easier to swallow (it was clarity that I don’t believe was offered by the book, the original author’s edition). A active, successful, rich young man is left paralyzed by a freak accident, and while he’s mean and moody, a cheerful, (literally) bright young woman comes to be his minder. It’s set in England (accents included), and against a super quaint backdrop, of course. It becomes clear that he’s ready to die, whether by suicide or euthanasia. His parents struggle with his wish, and the caregiver is their last-ditch effort to make him want life. They fall in love, of course, but he is still intent on ending his life in Switzerland. In the book, after a falling out, he leaves with his parents and dies; in the movie, she makes it to his bedside in time.

The disquieting part for me, which felt in the book as if it was a stand for “freedom,” was the young man’s insistence that this was not “his life” — it wasn’t what he’d planned or envisioned for himself, and so he decided he couldn’t go through with living it. The choice is set up as the life he didn’t want versus the freedom of choosing to die. There’s more than a hint at glorifying euthanasia, in the book, especially.

On the other hand, in the film more than the book, the young woman struggles with how to love well. The young man insists that she’s been putting her family before herself and that it’s keeping her down, chaining her to their quaint little town rather than allowing her to be herself, to be “free.” Near the end of the movie, her father gives her a piece of advice about love — that you can’t control or determine the choices or path of the person you love, all you can do is love and support them through it (this is what inspires her to jump the plane, of course).

In my second go-round with this story, I was struck by the importance of characters’ expectations. The woman’s expectations of life weren’t huge, she helped to provide for her family, she treated the people around her well, she helped to create community and mutual care in her work. The young man’s expectations of life weren’t met after his accident, and since he could not see his way to let go of his former expectations, the pain made him want to die.

What expectations might you have of life? Which ones might be hanging on from a very different moment in your life, and are no longer serving you now? How might you let go of expectations that are only causing you pain?

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