The Sea Inside (PG)

Staring into the abyss

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 divorcée (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.

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
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.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine