Compiled by: Jack Foley
COMPOSER, writer, editor and director, Alejandro Amenabar, has
built his reputation in his native Spain with a handful of original,
thought provoking movies.
He made his feature bow in 1996 with Tesis, which was eclipsed
by the enormous success of Open Your Eyes, a year later, subsequently
remade in Hollywood as Vanilla
Sky. In 2001 he tackled his first English-language film, The
The Sea Inside is based on the memoir of Ramon Sampedro, a man
paralysed in a freak accident as a young man who lived as a quadriplegic
for 30 years. Towards the end he demands the right to die with
dignity, but is unable to quicken his end without help.
Q. As the story of Ramon Sampedro is so well known in
Spain was there a great deal of pressure on you to do his story
A. I wouldn’t say there was pressure from other
people, but I felt the pressure myself to be faithful to the facts
and the essence of his story. Everybody knew the story, the official
one anyway. That was Ramon Sampedro in his bed talking to the
government, and through his book. But the private life of Ramon,
his personal life, wasn’t known at all by anyone.
Q. What made you cast Javier Bardem in such an atypical
A. Once we wrote the script we thought about who could
play Ramon. That was an important decision. Javier’s was
the only name that came up because he’s the best actor in
The problem was that it would seem like a crazy idea because he’s
big where Ramon was thin, and he’s not the same age, and
he has a different accent. It was a question of Javier’s
talent against all that.
Q. And it was helpful presumably to have him portray
Ramon in the scene that flashes back to the accident, wasn’t
A. If we had cast someone in their 50s we would have
had to cast a younger actor in that part. That didn’t represent
a problem to me. It’s a plus obviously being able to see
the real Javier when he was young.
Q. Was there a great deal of discussion about how the
accident itself would be portrayed?
A. That was one of the few things in the book that is
fully explained. The book doesn’t give you the story of
Ramon’s life, but he starts telling you how the accident
I remember one of the things that really impressed me was that
he saw his whole life flashing in front of his eyes when he was
waiting to die.
And what he saw was the harbours of all the cities around the
world that he had visited as a sailor, and all the women he had
loved. So here was someone in his 20s who has travelled the world,
and that of course had to be in the film. You see the photographs
during the film, we tried to find a way for the audience to make
that journey too.
Q. What was the reaction of Ramon’s family to the
A. They’re very pleased. I talked to them before
I started writing, even before I decided to get into this project.
I just wanted to know what they thought about the idea. They wouldn’t
say they were reluctant, but they weren’t really enthusiastic
Then I asked them for some anecdotes with Ramon, and they told
me what life in their house was like. And then I wrote the story
without talking to them. After the writing I gave them the script,
they approved it, making some comments but basically approving
it. And then after I finished the film I showed it to them.
Q. Did you form an opinion on Ramon’s decision
A. Firstly, you ask yourself, when someone like Ramon
is asking for this right to die, is what would you do if you were
in his condition. I don’t think I would want to die.
But the second question is should someone try to cheer him up,
and tell him he’s such a good writer, and all these people
love him, that he has to go on living.
I asked myself who am I, at 32-years-old, to ask this man who’s
been thinking about it for 30 years to change his view. I think
it’s really up to him.
Q. Your film was presumably
already finished when Christopher
Reeve passed away. He had a completely different attitude
to his condition, didn’t he?
A. I think he was the opposite side of the coin. I truly
think both these men were extraordinary. When I was writing the
film, I was conscious of anyone who endures and wants to go on
living. I didn’t want the film to be an insult to them.
I tried to be very careful with that, I didn’t want to encourage
people to kill themselves, but I wanted to tell the story of this
Eventually, it’s just about asking yourself how much you
love your life. In my case the more he said he wanted to die,
the more I respected him and at the same time the more alive I
A. And it’s because it means dying with dignity,
A. Ramon wanted to live with dignity. And for him life
without movement had no dignity for him. We are talking about
a man who travelled around the world in his 20s, so movement was
important to him. But I think what he wanted was to die with dignity
which doesn’t happen since his situation is not recognised
by the law. So he had to die alone and suffer.
Q. Did the film provoke any controversy when it was released
A. I think there was some, but the film hasn’t
been attacked or anything. Most of the people who’ve gone
to see it have liked it, though we’ve had people from the
church who say it’s not good.
They say Ramon is a bad example and that the film shouldn’t
have been made. People who say that also say they haven’t
seen the film and don’t intend to see it. But mostly what
you get is people who’ve seen it and really liked it.
Q. What about positive reactions to the film?
A. When I’m stopped on the streets of Madrid it’s
by people who come to me and say thank-you. That’s something
that’s never happened to me before.
Of course, we all have to deal with death sooner or later. I’m
not talking about our personal death but when we lose relatives
or friends. This film places you in front of death, but it’s
about feeling life, so the more you feel about that situation
the more you will think afterwards about how much you love your
Q. Is there a relationship between The Sea Inside and
your previous movie, The Others?
A. I think there must be a connection at the back of
my mind. I never thought that I’d make four films and they’d
all be films about death. I don’t think I’m the kind
of guy who is obsessively talking about it.
But in the last couple of years, I’ve found death around
me, I’ve found myself in the cemetery consoling friends.
In my films I don’t think it’s death so much as how
we face it, how we deal with it. Whether we want search for something
else, whether we want to find a way out and focus on our lives
in the here and now.
Q. There is a terrific sequence in the film where Ramon
gets out of bed and flies to the coast. What was the inspiration
A. That wasn’t in the book, but Ramon said a couple
of times that when he slept he dreamt of flying. That’s
the moment he felt absolutely free.
We were thinking about the dramatic problems, that he couldn’t
see the sea from his window. Mateo Gil, my co-writer, and I were
thinking what should we do.
We thought about changing that part of the story and making him
see the sea from the window. But I thought it was much more interesting
having him flying to the sea.
Q. When it happens, just for a moment, the audience surely
thinks he must have been faking?
A. Actually the festival jury in Venice were telling
us that they didn’t know too much about this story, so when
he stood up they absolutely thought he was faking it. That was
much more shocking for them. In the story we would drop in what
we called windows, so the audience wouldn’t feel trapped
in the room with him. That was one of those moments.
Q. What are your wishes for this film?
A. I would like the film to be seen as a tribute. This
is something that I felt when I finished the film, that it be
a tribute to the ones who pass away, and a balm for the ones who