Obviously, you should not be reading this right now if you haven’t EITHER read the book OR watched the movie (and don’t want to be spoiled). I already posted a review of the book with no spoilers, but I really wanted to talk about the ending and how the book and the movie handled Will’s issues due to his disability differently (which made me like the movie less than the book).
Before I read the book, I knew that Will was going to end up ending his life. I’d read a review that said they were surprised he “went through with it.” (Really? That’s a spoiler, people! You need to mark it as such! Just because you don’t say what he went through with – it’s pretty obvious what you’re talking about in a book like this.) And the whole book, I was really torn about how I felt about that. After all, I don’t really condone suicide—I get that there are all sorts of reasons why people might want to end their lives, but I do feel like life is precious, even when it’s not the life we think we want.
But the book is interesting because I feel like it shows both sides of the issue so well. On the one hand, all of the people around Will are dead-set against him ending his life—they’re trying desperately to save him and to show him that life can be worth living. Lou talks to many people who affirm that life in a wheelchair can be just as fulfilling as one out of one. And none of the characters who love Will (Lou included) ever comes to the conclusion that what Will is doing is right, they merely realize that they can’t stop him and decide to support him in his final moments rather than abandon him. Really, what else could they do?
And then there’s Will himself: He’s obviously sad about the things he’s lost and miserable at the thought of a life in a wheelchair, but the issue in the book that makes me truly sympathize with Will and understand why he might not want to go on is his pain and sickness and the fact that the doctors say he can only expect those things to get progressively worse. For me, this is a game-changer. It’s one thing to adjust to a life not being able to do all of the things you love; it’s another to have to suffer through a life of constant pain and sickness with no end in sight. While I’m not necessarily a proponent of assisted suicide, I can understand it in these circumstances. I can certainly sympathize.
But this is where I felt the movie veered away from the book in a very important way: In the movie, Will’s pain and the spiraling nature of his illness are completely skimmed over—barely mentioned at all. In the movie, the entire focus of Will’s decision is based on the fact that he can’t live the life he wants to live. He can’t stand the fact that he’ll no longer be able to live his action-filled, daredevil lifestyle or go jet-setting off to Paris (and see women appreciating him). It’s all focused on the things he won’t be able to do.
This made me frustrated because there are plenty of circumstances in life where something happens that means that we don’t get to fulfill our dreams. Think of the athlete or dancer who trains single-mindedly for years and then sustains an injury that cuts their career tragically short; should that person give up on life completely because the thing that they’ve spent their life working toward is impossible? If we center our self-worth on specific abilities or jobs or circumstances, we’re bound to be disappointed at some point. Of course, someone in a wheelchair faces far more challenges than the average person (and I’m not disabled, so it might not be my place to judge), but that doesn’t make their life unworthy. Of course, it might make someone feel depressed and like giving up, but I would hope that the person would eventually find a way to not only accept their life but to thrive in it.
When the things Will can’t do are the focus of his decision, he seems far more selfish. And the fact that he tells Lou in the end of the movie that his time with her has been the best in his life seems almost degrading; while watching this scene, I found myself thinking, “Well, then, why isn’t it enough? Why can’t you have a life filled with different good things than you had before?” Will’s insistence that he’s sparing Lou from a life of taking care of him also seems insulting. After all, he’s changed her life in so many positive ways and made her see things differently. He’s given her a precious gift while in a wheelchair. Why does he assume that his limitations are such a burden that he has to spare Lou from them—and why is it implied that sparing her from those limitations is more humane than sparing her from losing him? I just can’t get on board with that message!
Now, when you add in Will’s pain and his spiraling illness (and probable eventual death), it changes things. You can see a bit more how Will might feel that he is sparing both himself and the people who love him extended pain. I still don’t know that I agree with Will’s decision, but I can understand it. The movie’s focus on Will’s limitations rather than his pain makes him a much less sympathetic character to me.
The movie also seemed to imply more acceptance of Will’s decision on Lou’s part in the end as well. Something about the final scene where Lou is in Paris and Will’s letter is being read was just off for me. She seemed almost too happy to move on or something. I don’t know. Did anyone else feel that way? I didn’t feel that when I read the book.
I should mention that I actually liked the movie overall—I thought the actors were well-suited to the character and the acting was excellent. And I thought that it was faithful to the book, except in the one (pretty critical, in my opinion) way.