Tonight, Tywana and I sit down to watch a movie. As usual, she’s not thrilled about any of the movies I want to see (and I tend to want to watch the free ones). She wants to see “Me Before You” a chick flick with Emilia Clark (Daenerys from Game of Thrones). OK… a chick flick it is.  Quick synopsis. It’s a movie about a girl who falls for a guy who is wheelchair bound and them dealing with the fact he is never going to get back to the life he once had.  I hate chick flicks. I really enjoyed this movie, though.

SPOILER ALERT

I am going to reveal the entire plot of the movie. Stop now if you don’t want to know.  I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this movie at all.  I figured I’d spend most of the time it was on checking Facebook.  I was wrong.  

Will Traynor is a rugged, handsome, uber-rich banker in his early 30s.  He’s in the prime of his life, with a gorgeous girlfriend, an amazing job, more money than God, and he travels the world surfing, sailing, climbing, doing all of the amazing things we would do if we had his looks, his money, and his skills.  One day he is struck by a motorcycle and paralyzed from the neck down. He can use his hands just well enough to operate his wheelchair.  That’s it.

Louisa Clark is in her mid-20s. She has never been anywhere or done anything.  She lives in England with her parents and her sister.  Her father is unemployed. So, the family pitches in as much as they can.  One day in her late teens her sister challenges her to find a job within 24 hours. Louisa finds a job at a local cafe.  Six years later, she is still in the same job.  This summarizes Louisa’s sense of adventure.  She has had the same boyfriend for seven years.  She is cute but quirky. She dresses like Sue from The Middle, in bright colors with mixed patterns- very childlike.  She has a sunny disposition. Nothing gets her down.  One day she is laid off from the cafe. So, she is looking for a new job. She applies for the job of Will’s caretaker even though she has absolutely no experience.  No one has been able to hold this job. It pays well.  It’s a six-month contract, but we don’t know why.  She goes for the interview which is a disaster, but she gets the job anyway.

In typical rom-com fashion.  We know Louisa and Will are going to hate each other at first. He is mean to her.  He is mad at the world.  He does not want to live this life. If he’s going to be miserable, he is going to make everyone around him miserable.  He lives at his parents’ estate in a stable that’s been converted into an apartment with everything he can possibly need. Louisa is told quickly that she is not there to attend to his physical needs. There is a trainer/nurse for that. Basically, her job is to keep Will company.

Fast forward and she and Will are growing on each other (wow, didn’t see that coming). One day she overhears his parents arguing.  A letter has come from a hospice in Switzerland where euthanasia is legal.  It’s revealed that Will told them that in six months he was going to end his life.  This is why they hired Louisa, in the hopes a cute perky girl could get him to change his mind. And that is the reason for the six-month contract. He had pushed away his girlfriend at the time of the accident.  She ended up engaged to a good friend of his.

Louisa decides that if she can just show Will enough adventure, he will realize how wonderful life is. She arranges to go to the horse races, concerts and even a trip to Tahiti.  She is loving it. Will is loving it. Then, she tells Will she knows about his plans.  She admits she has been doing all of this to try to convince him to live. She has fallen in love with him and is ready to ditch her fiance for him.  Will explains to her about his life before her.  Thus, the title, “Me Before You”. She didn’t know Will before the accident. His life, as it is now, might seem OK to her, but it’s torture for him. Every day he wakes up and wishes the day was already over.  In his dreams, he is able-bodied again only to wake up trapped in a body he can’t control.  He wants to be able to make love to Louisa, but he cannot. They speak of going to Paris. She says he should take her, but he does not want to go to Paris.  He’s been there.  He has wonderful memories of Paris.  He doesn’t want to ruin those memories by going back in a wheelchair, having to deal with the stares or the lack of attention from the ladies he used to get.  Nothing is the same for him. He just wants it over.  His parents want Will to live. Louisa wants him to live. Everyone is saying any life is better than death, but Will doesn’t agree.

This is the point where we would expect Louisa to talk Will out of going through with his plans and they live happily ever after.  That doesn’t happen.  The six months is up. Will goes to the hospice where he dies surrounded by Louisa and his parents and he leaves her enough money to start a life for herself in Paris.

As I watched the movie, I could so identify with Will. There are things I don’t want to do again, places I don’t want to go because when I was there before things were just so different that being there now is a painful reminder of what I don’t have anymore.  I will never go back to Disney World. It was a magical week for our family the time we went.  I have no desire to go back.  This week is Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. This will be our second Thanksgiving where Shayna isn’t eating with us. Last year we stayed home. This year we are going to Tywana’s brother’s house.  Her sister and her boys will be there.  Kayla will be with us. Those kids adored Shayna. Being there without her will be hard for all of us, I’m sure.  I can’t avoid the holidays, but if I could, I’d turn them all off.  They will never be the same.

Will’s body was broken after the accident. His injuries were visible.  Anyone could see that he could not walk or feed himself.  What they couldn’t see was the constant pain he was in.  The trainer at one point is discussing his condition with Louisa.  Will was in the hospital with pneumonia. Louisa asked about Will getting better, as in getting out of the wheelchair.  She thought everyone eventually got better.  The trainer explained there is no coming back from the type of injury Will had. “What about all of that therapy you do with him?” she asked. The therapy was simply to keep his muscles from atrophying, to keep him stable. There was no recovering.  He also explained to her that Will’s life was much tougher than she realized. Because Will liked her, he hid his pain when she was around. She didn’t hear how he sometimes screamed in pain when he knew she couldn’t hear.

This is how grief feels, it’s a permanent injury that there is no coming back from. The therapy I do for myself isn’t about recovering. There is no coming back from the loss of Shayna. The therapy is to keep from getting worse.  My injuries aren’t apparent to the world. For the most part, I keep the pain inside.  But, it’s there.  It’s daily and it’s constant.

I thought the movie made an excellent point about quality of life. Some would say that Will was young and had a lot of life in front of him.  No matter how bad he thought his life was, he should give it a chance. Louisa loved him and even though they couldn’t have had the kind of life he would have chosen, they could have had a “good” life.  But, Will was in and out of the hospital with pneumonia and he knew how much he cherished his life before.  Every day was a mockery of that life to him. He had no chance of recovering and it was likely that pneumonia was going to kill him soon and God only knew how much suffering would be involved. He chose to go out on his terms.  As he was there in hospice, saying his goodbyes and looking out of the window, I could picture his soul flying free, right after he took his last breath.

Here is where my parallel with Will ends. Will didn’t have children or a wife to live for. While Louisa loved him, he had not committed to her.  Will was unencumbered and was able to make a free choice.  I respect his choice.  I am in a completely different situation. I will keep getting up each day, making it the best I can for me and for Tywana and for Kayla.

I’ve watched the first two episodes of HBO’s series “Westworld” and I am fascinated by the premise and some of the questions it raises.

Westworld is fantasy immersion “park” which is massive. So massive that, when you are in it, it seems to have no borders. It’s set in an area that looks like Arizona in the days of the gunslingers. “Guests” come into the park and interact with “hosts”, who are designed or the guests pleasure. The hosts are life-like androids who get better and better with each passing generation as the creators update them and make them more human-like. Guests are given no orientation, no instruction manual. The only guideline is to start in the middle of the park for the most tame experience and to venture outward into increasingly intense experiences.

No one considers the hosts to be human. Biologically they seem to be. They can and do have sex with each other and with the guests. They can and do die on a regular basis. Some guests live out their fantasies to murder and maim without consequence or remorse. Some want to have indiscriminate sex. In fact, one of the dilemmas the designers face is whether they should keep making the hosts more and more human because, as one of the creators points out: “Do we really want the guests to think that woman her husband is sleeping with is a real woman or the man you just shot was a real human?”.

There’s no moral dilemma for the creators because they don’t think of the hosts as humans. They are just very, very lifelike robots. When they are killed or brutalized, they are brought back into the shop, repaired and they have their memories wiped. In case the memories aren’t wiped, because of the omission of one of the technicians, the creators have built in the concept of nightmares. So, if a host is put back into the park without having its memory wiped properly, it will attribute the trauma to nightmares. But, supposedly anyway, the hosts don’t dream, don’t have consciousness and don’t suffer from the years of unspeakable horrors they endure at the hands of the guests.

Periodically, the park ups the ante by putting characters into the park for certain narratives. What’s interesting is the narratives aren’t scripted. They just put in the characters, with their various traits, and they let them play out their roles in an improvisational manner. As one narrative is proposed, Anthony Hopkins’ character, the lead creator shuts it down. It’s too much. The guy proposing this narrative that involves all kinds of horrors, including “self-cannibalism”, says the guests come to learn who they are and they want increasingly bizarre adventures to explore. Anthony Hopkins’ character says “People don’t come to Westworld to find out who they are. They come to find out who they can become.” For some reason, that line particularly stuck with me.

As I’m watching the show, I’m fascinated by the questions it raises about the nature of consciousness. Through episode two, something is going on that the creators don’t understand. The self-correcting algorithms put into the hosts aren’t fully understood even by the creators. We are being shown that the hosts seem to be developing subconsciousness. Memories are bleeding through, unexpected behaviors are happening. The hosts think the memories are nightmares. Are they becoming sentient? Can they become sentient? What is consciousness?

Then, there are the moral questions. As I watch the show, am I supposed to identify with the hosts or the guests? Many guests just come to have a “white hat” experience. Some even want to be the heroes of stories. The hosts will offer different adventures to guests. Do you want to join a posse and go after a bad guy? Do you want to go look for treasure? But, some of the guests are here for a black hat experience. They want to visit the whore house. They want to rape a woman. They want to murder. Is it wrong to “kill” a robot that will reboot tomorrow? Is it wrong to kill a wife in front of her husband when each of them only acts like they are experiencing the unbearable emotions a human would experience?

Then, there is the parallel between Westworld and our world. I compare and I contrast as I’m watching. The comparison is that, when we are here, we are playing a role in a world designed for our pleasure or our testing or both. We cannot be permanently harmed. We interact with this world, exploring it. We are involved in a narrative that is both sweeping us along and that we co-create.

The contrast is that in Westworld while the guests think they are having a totally immersive experience. It’s not nearly to the level of our experience. Before we enter this park, our memories are wiped. We forget we are only playing a role. Instead of thinking we are on vacation for a couple of days or a week, we think this experience is the entire span of our lives. We forget we cannot permanently be harmed or even permanently harm another. If we kill someone or if we are killed, we are “gone”. We have forgotten it’s only game over and we’re back to our real life.

So, do we come here knowing who we are, but wondering what we can become? Do we immerse ourselves into these narratives for that reason? Is this Westworld on steroids where not only the hosts don’t know it’s just a fantasy, but even the guests don’t know?