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New Line Home Cinema presents
The Sea Inside (Mar adentro) (2004)

"A life that ends freedom isn't a life..."
- Ramón Sampedo (Javier Bardem)

Review By: Matt Peterson  
Published: May 16, 2005

Stars: Javier Bardem
Other Stars: Belén Rueda, Lola Dueńas, Mabel Rivera, Celso Bugallo, Clara Segura
Director: Alejandro Amenábar

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense depiction of mature thematic material
Run Time: 02h:05m:53s
Release Date: May 17, 2005
UPC: 794043784026
Genre: foreign


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A A-A-B+ B+

DVD Review

Euthanasia is one of those issues. Like abortion or the death penalty, it is a topic rife with bitter divides, dissenting opinions, and vocal proponents who are convinced they are in the right. Frequently, God is brought into the picture to induce some sense of finality. The recent battle over Terri Schiavo, and the coincidentally timed Million Dollar Baby have brought the debate back into the limelight. To avoid angering Michael Medved, let me say this: The Sea Inside is about euthanasia. There's no room to deflect that bullet with a shield of boxing footage. But unlike Eastwood's overrated misstep, Alejandro Amenábar's joyous film examines the debate from every angle, and leaves the important questions unanswered.

The story, based on real events, is quite simple. For nearly thirty years, Spaniard Ramón Sampedo (Javier Bardem) has been bedridden. A diving accident left him a quadriplegic, leading to a life he finds lacking in dignity or purpose; it is a living hell for the spirited Ramón, who is spearheading a campaign to let him commit suicide. He wants nothing more than to end his life, and free his spirit from the broken cage in which it is trapped. His family, whose absolute love is demonstrated through their daily, diligent care, is opposed to the idea. Ramón's brother, in particular, will not allow such an act to be committed in his home. Others can sympathize with Ramón's request, but no one is willing to grant his wish.

Ramón himself is a bit of a conundrum. A witty and soulful man, Sampedo seems to have the spirit and will to live a happy and fulfilling life. Even those who defend his right to die with dignity, such as Julia (Belén Rueda), a lawyer who volunteered for his case, find themselves enamored by the charismatic, loving Ramón. How can this man want to die? Why does he want to die? Despite having friends and family who care for him, the aged Ramón stands firm in his desire to greet death. The source of this desire is unknown even to him; he does not believe he will escape into a blissful afterlife, nor that his act is merely a noble one, meant to relieve his family of the responsibility of his care. He is simply fighting for what he believes is his right: the freedom to take action as he sees fit.

In the wake of this struggle, Ramón's humanity and capacity for love seems endless, changing the lives of those around him. His fantasies of youthful love return during his blossoming relationship with Julia, whose own health concerns contribute to an even deeper connection. Rosa (Lola Dueńas), a local single mother, befriends the bedridden sage, and she too falls in love with his strength of character. Through Ramón's fight, they discover the meaning of personal freedom, which includes the right to make both right and wrong decisions. Is suicide right for Ramón's case? Sampedo seems to think so, though he makes it clear this is his choice, and no one else's. He is perfectly aware many others in his position can lead happy and fulfilling lives; he simply cannot.

Javier Bardem's performance is outstanding. After acclaimed turns in films such as Before Night Falls and the overlooked The Dancer Upstairs, Bardem is becoming one of the most respected actors in the world, and rightfully so. Thanks to some superb makeup, Bardem is nearly unrecognizable here, playing Ramón without an ounce of doubt or reservation. Bardem is one of those rare chameleon actors that truly becomes the character at hand, and this is certainly no exception. His supporting players, most notably Belén Rueda, are likewise impressive, supporting Bardem beautifully.

This is an accomplished exploration of a difficult subject; The Sea Inside's Oscar win for Best Foreign Language Film is certainly warranted. Director Alejandro Amenábar (a virtual Noel Coward, he also co-wrote, scored, edited and produced the picture) has woven a genuinely moving tale, peppered with soaring visuals that engage and exhilarate. It is a film that examines all the sides and dimensions of the euthanasia debate (captured most notably in a spirited debate between Ramón and a quadriplegic priest). No stone is left unturned here, and ultimately, the audience is asked to decide whether Ramón's decision is the right one, and whether or not friends and family have an obligation to heed a request with such finality. The narrative gently uncovers the various facets of such a complex issue without resorting to preachy, slamming sentiments. Despite a somewhat drawn out ending, this is a carefully considered script.

For such a depressing concept, The Sea Inside stands as a truly uplifting piece of work. As the spray of the sea hits the face of Ramón Sampedo, we are reminded of the benefits of freedom. We can choose to act as we will, but with actions come consequences. Whose voice rings true? Who is right and who is wrong? Admirably, Amenábar lets us provide the answer.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: New Line's anamorphic 2.35:1 image captures Javier Aguirresarobe's skilled cinematography with great detail. Colors are bright and bold when called for, and contrast is solid. Aside from some occasional darkness to the image, no major complaints.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Spanishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Spanishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby 5.1 audio is not flashy, but provides an immersive, ambient soundscape that wonderfully supports the image. Just listen to the detail in the audio during Ramón's flight. Aside from some choice moments, this is a rather front-centered soundtrack.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Vera Drake, A Very Long Engagement
3 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Alejandro Amenábar
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo, Storyboard, and Production Design Galleries
Extras Review: New Line has included some extensive extras. We begin with an audio commentary by Alejandro Amenábar, whose comments are subtitled in English. The director's contributions seem a bit hesitant at first, but he fills the running time with some interesting doubts, anecdotes, and background info. He also draws some intriguing connections to his previous films.

Amenábar was reluctant to offer a commentary due to the inclusion of A Trip to The Sea Inside (01h:24m:20s), a lengthy look at the production of the film. This piece examines the project's genesis, preproduction (such as location scouting and set building), special effects, and more. This is a very interesting, comprehensive, rather fluff-free look behind-the-scenes.

There is a section of three deleted scenes: I Want You To Go, Julia Changes Her Mind, and Dedication (06m:21s total). You will also find three galleries of photos, storyboards and production design artwork.

Finally, the film's trailer is accompanied by trailers for Vera Drake and A Very Long Engagement.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

Alejandro Amenábar's portrait of Ramón Sampedo's fight for the right to die is a moving examination of the euthanasia debate. Enthralling visuals and Javier Bardem's revelatory performance contribute to an unexpectedly reaffirming tale that will offer more questions than answers. New Line has produced a fine release.

 


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