FILM: Staring into the abyss

NEW RELEASES Reviewed by Anthony Quinn

The Sea Inside (PG)

Alejandro Amenabar

(126 mins) iii88

STARRING Javier Bardem, Jola Duenas, Belen Rueda

The Door in the Floor (15)

Tod Williams

(111 mins) ii888

STARRING Jeff Bridges, Kim Basinger, Jon Foster

The great Spanish actor Javier Bardem takes on his most challenging role yet in Alejandro Amenabar's drama The Sea Inside. To play the real-life writer Ramon Sampedro he has been required to learn one language - Galician - and to refrain from using another - body language.

Sampedro, a former merchant seaman who had travelled the world, was paralysed from the neck down in a diving accident; he lay immobile in bed for nearly 30 years, from where he launched a public campaign to win the right to end his life with dignity. Bardem, despite these physical constraints, gives a performance of extraordinary intimacy and tenderness, for he understands that an actor's most revealing gift is his eyes. Through them he allows us to trace a lifetime of anguish, yet also a spirit of geniality and resilience that induced family and friends, literally, to wait on him hand and foot.

The story concerns the relationship between Ramon and two women who become involved in his plight. One is Julia (Belen Rueda), a lawyer who is herself suffering from a degenerative disease and thus understands too well his longing to escape his constricted existence. The cigarette they occasionally share smoulders with ambiguity: he jokes that it might help speed him on his way to death, but its switch from her lips to his lights the fuse of romantic possibility.

The other woman who befriends him is Rosa (Lola Duenas), a factory worker who has been inspired by his benign grace under pressure; a single mother with two children, she has been damaged by her disastrous choice of men, and now sees it as her mission to save this morbid soul from himself. It illustrates a paradox: though Ramon hungers for his own death, the example of his quiet fortitude has inspired others to re-evaluate their lives.

Amenabar, who directed Open Your Eyes and the Nicole Kidman ghost story The Others, is somewhat obsessed with mortality himself, and this latest movie explores, sometimes poignantly, the shadowlands between life and death. Ramon, marooned in a broken body, seems to occupy a quasi-posthumous limbo: he feels he ought to have died when he broke his neck in the accident.

Amenabar's approach to his subject is lyrical rather than realistic; the script talks frequently of the "indignity" attached to the quadriplegic condition, though what we are shown is the solicitude of Ramon's sister- in-law Manuela (Mabel Rivera) and the practical can-do of his nephew Javi (Tamar Novas), who fixes the gadgets that make a disabled life slightly easier. When Ramon seems to be fantasising about suicide by throwing himself from a window, the camera skims the ground before hurtling across the countryside in a flight of delirious fancy.

The film is not without its flaws. The score, composed by Amenabar, is a busy mixture of Gaelic pipes and drums whose winsomeness quickly grates: it trails the "let's cheer this plucky underdog" message much too shrilly. There is also the problem of being able to guess the film's emotional terminus. Objectors to the right-to-choose philosophy are allowed their say - a quadriplegic cleric comes to Ramon's house and, unable to mount the stairs to his room, argues the church's position from the hallway - but the script never lets us doubt that self-determination will win the day. Bardem's performance, however, is a small miracle of expressiveness, and seems to contain the regret of a lifetime in his sad smile.

I have invariably loathed all the movie versions of John Irving's books, so had no happy expectations for The Door in The Floor, Tod Williams's adaptation of Irving's 1998 novel A Widow For One Year. Then again, it stars Jeff Bridges, one of America's most cherishable institutions, so there is at least one reason to see it. He plays Ted Cole, a children's author whose relationship with Marion (Kim Basinger), his wife, has stalled in a rut of grief since the death of their teenage sons in a car accident. To their East Hampton beach house comes a callow prep-schooler, Eddie (Jon Foster), whom Ted has hired as driver and summer assistant just as he and Marion are beginning a trial separation. Eddie, who has literary ambitions, reveres Ted's work, though discovers that the man himself spends more time in the bed of a local divorcee (Mimi Rogers) than at his desk. Instead of learning about sentences from Ted, he learns about sex from Marion, who takes pity on the boy after surprising him with his pants down, and soon he's quite the Fast Eddie.

The strength of the film lies in its casting. Bridges, rumpled, unshaven and apt to wander around in his night-shirt, revisits his look from The Big Lebowski, though not the stoner amiability; he catches exactly the self-absorption of the dissatisfied writer, and the competitiveness. "Oh, it seems true," he says on reading Eddie's first short story, "it just isn't very interesting." Foster as the youthful go-between is believably diffident and gawky, and skilful enough to earn our sympathy rather than beg for it.

For a while these two performances and the gorgeous pearly light of the Hamptons coastline are sufficiently absorbing for us to pardon the film's high-toned soapiness, but it loses its grip during the whimsical switch to farce in the final half-hour. I felt sorry for Rogers having to endure most of its cruelty, while Bijou Phillips must have been wondering where her performance as Alice ended up - the cutting-room floor seems most likely. The last scene, explaining the film's enigmatic title, is a fizzle; or, to quote Ted, it seems true, it just isn't very interesting.

Jeff Bridges is interviewed on page 8

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

art
Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album