Several months ago, I was scrolling through Facebook when a movie trailer caught my attention. The actor who played Finnick in Mockingjay sat in a wheelchair and smiled at a pretty girl. Even without turning the volume on, it was clear the man in the wheelchair and the girl were falling in love. I smiled a little and moved on.
When I mentioned the trailer to a friend, she told me the movie was sparking a lot of controversy. The story (which I haven’t read or watched) depicts a newly wheelchair bound man and his female caregiver falling in love, but the ending has a big twist. The man decides to end his own live via doctor assisted suicide.
It’s been months since I heard about the ending to Me Before You, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Any form of suicide is sad, but medically assisted suicide seems most disturbing. It’s bad enough for one person to make a decision from a place of hopelessness, but assisted suicide is others agreeing with that hopelessness and participating in it rather than trying to give the hurting individual a reason to live.
Hearing about the ending to Me Before You hit me like a punch. Why would an author want to promote medically assisted suicide? How could movie goers flock to a movie like that? What does a story like that and consumers’ reaction to it say about our culture?
Fiction is one of the most powerful art forms available to us. It engages emotion and intellect. It pulls us into the joys and struggles of fictional people and for a while, we experience their stories vicariously.
So does the message fictional stories send about the value of life matter? Does fiction shape the way we think, or does it merely reflect the culture?
Jojo Moyes, the author of Me Before You, says that her intention with the novel was more about the way people with disabilities are treated than the right to die debate.
Although, it discusses the right to die, what it also does in much greater depth—I hope—is lay bare the way we treat disabled people as different, when actually they are not.
She also explains that the ending of her book was partly inspired by questions she found herself asking as she cared for a relative with a progressive illness.
At what point does the quality become meaningless? At what point do you give someone the right to decide for themselves? … You try to find a silver lining in any situation. What you realize with some conditions and illnesses, there is no silver lining. That’s really hard to take because it goes against all your feelings as a human being.
I can understand where she’s coming from with these questions. They are questions my family has been forced to wrestle with over the past few years, first when my grandmother entered hospice three years ago and again only a few months ago when my grandfather suffered a heart attack and we had to make the decision to take him off life support.
Fiction can bring us to those places of wrestling with hard questions and they can give the author a poignant way to share their conclusions (or lack of conclusions).
I believe fiction both reflects and shapes, which is why I believe we should think carefully about the stories we tell and the tales we consume.
Moyes asks, “At what point do you give someone the right to decide for themselves?” The truth is, we all have choices to make. Everyone who is capable of thinking and doing decides for themselves if life is worth living, and they decide what to do about their decision. But what about the rest of us? What is our responsibility?
We have a choice to. We can choose to do nothing. We can choose to support an enable a person regardless of what they choose. Or we can choose to fight for hope. To fight for truth. We can choose to leave dark places dark, we can choose to stand guard to keep light from peeping into dark places, or we can choose to shine the light whenever possible.
When I ask myself if the message fiction sends about the value of life is important, my answer is “YES” every single time, because fiction is the author’s decision on what to fight for. Taking a stand doesn’t strip someone else of their ability to choose, it simply displays the choice that you’ve made and invites people to come see how you reached that conclusion.
I can’t fault Moyes for asking the questions she’s asked or coming to the conclusions she came to. It’s hard to watch people you love suffer. It’s easy to come to the conclusion that there is no silver lining. But that’s not the message I want to send.
Fiction can confirm the pain people feel. It can tell them, “You’re right, there is no silver lining.” Or story can tell people, “Don’t settle for hopelessness. There is a silver lining, you just have to persevere. Don’t quit before the finish line. If you can’t find hope, it’s because you’re looking in the wrong places. Look to God. Trust Him. There is always hope.”
If you’re a story teller, ask yourself what perspective you’ll choose to reflect. If you’re a consumer of stories, think about the message you’re sending by the stories you support and recommend. Words aren’t something to be taken lightly.
What do you think about the value of life in fiction? What books have you read that send a message about the value of life? What did you think of them? I’d love to hear your thoughts!