On a day off last year with my wife, we went and saw the romantic drama Me, Before You (spoiler alert!). The lead male character Will had been a James Bond prototype until he was struck down by a motorcycle and left a quadriplegic. His subsequent confinement to a wheelchair and necessary dependence on others reveals a broken and angry man intent on pushing the world away. Enter the heroine Louisa: a charming, sweet, innocent, country girl. With her patient care and zany clothes, Louisa melts the walls Will has put up. Their attachment grows and as a viewer you feel the pull of their loving relationship drawing you in. As their love develops, the shadow of death looms large. It is not so much the shadow of death, but the reality of voluntary medical euthanasia: Will leaves Louisa to go to Switzerland to have his life legally terminated, but will he go through with it? The underlying question is this: are the thrills and experiences of life, what I can do, more significant than loving relationships? Or to put it another way, is life best when it’s Me before You or when it’s You before Me?
Louisa follows Will to Switzerland. She opens out the French doors of Will’s room and you see her face light up with joy. My romantic side must have been awakened – surely Will had realised life was really about YOU before ME and had set up a sign in the yard saying “Marry Me”. As I waited to see this sign, the film cut to a cloudy white screen with a green leaf gently falling to the ground. Will had not changed his mind. Experiences, what I can do, how I can be pleasured, had won the day.
The film ends with Louisa drinking coffee in Will’s favourite Parisian square, reading his final words to her before buying the perfume he always thought she’d like. Is she sad? No, she leaves the perfumery apparently delighted by the whole experience. What a devastating distortion of life! To suppose the heartbreak of death and broken relationships can be overcome by perfume and the right coffee shop. To think that being able to do what I want overrides and outweighs the loving relationships we were designed for. Me Before You draws you in with the beauty of a YOU-before-ME sacrificial love, but it ends by declaring that the pursuit of my dreams and pleasures is the goal of life.
The apostle Paul writes of the church in Colossae: “my goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:2-3). He says this because he doesn’t want anyone deceived by fine-sounding arguments that shift the focus from life in Christ. Me Before You portrays a fine-sounding argument: If you can’t fulfil your dreams, if you are no longer able to do the things you long to do or used to do, there is no point to life. Paul goes on in Colossians 3 to remind us that life does not consist of the things we do, but of who we are in relationship to Christ and, in turn, to others. So, having been raised with Christ, we set our hearts on things above, where Christ our Saviour is seated at God’s right hand (Col 3:1-2). Do not set your minds on earthly things, for our life is made complete in the loving care of Christ, who said YOU before ME as he went to the cross. So in whatever we do, whether in word or deed, may we do it all in his name, thanking God the Father for the life we have in Him, and following his script of placing You before Me.