I approached The Sea Inside with the sort of dread I reserve for disease-of-the-week made-for-TV movies. Sure, this was a classy production starring a solid, stolid actor, Javier Bardem (Before Night Falls), and guided by a stylish director (Alejandro Amenábar; no matter what you thought of The Othersme, I landed on the nice Nicole Kidman performance, but it didn’t give me the heebie-jeebies sideyou have to admit it was stylish). But the subject, the true story of a Spanish quadriplegic who implored his government to let himself end his life, is the kind of thing that is so often sentimentalized and rendered with sincere heavy-handedness that no amount of good advance word allayed my reluctance to be manipulated.
Thankfully, the manipulation practiced by Amenábar and Bardem is artful and bracing. Bardem plays Ramón Sampedro, a ship’s mechanic who has been paralyzed from the head down for nearly 30 yearshe snapped his neck in a careless swimming accident. Trapped in bed, cared for by his brother’s family, Ramón is a middle-aged man who craves nothing more than an end to the tediousness and ceaseless embarrassment he feels his life imposes upon himself and others. He makes contact with a female lawyer (Belén Rueda) who agrees with his death-with-dignity philosophy and helps him take his case to the government. If I tell you that they fall for each other, and that another womana factory worker, Rosa (Lola Dueñas), who befriends Ramón and pleads the opposite argument, that his intelligence and wit make him irreplaceable in the worldalso finds herself in love with him, you may think The Sea Inside is, despite its true-story bona fides, rather unbelievable.
And indeed, it is pretty difficult to swallow the romancing, but only in retrospect: The movie’s narrative is so sleekly swift, and Ramón is so persuasively charming and ornery, so plainspoken and agonized, that while you’re watching, you buy it all. At times, Amenábar also anticipates your qualms. Just when you might be wondering why the despairing, death-obsessed Ramón spends so much time smiling, someone asks him just that question, and he replies that when you depend entirely upon others, you learn to cry with a smile. The remark is wry and chilling; forced into a state of perennial gratefulness, he is civil, but resentful and suffering.
Amenábar does pretty things with Ramón’s fantasies of getting up, leaping out his window, and flying over vast green stretches of trees to arrive at the ocean. He makes nervy choices such as depicting a quadriplegic priest as a media whore who goes on TV to condemn Ramón and his family for Ramón’s death wish before he even meets them; this smug Jesuit is also clearly meant to be the loser in a debate with Ramón about the right to die. (In the same invigorating spirit of debunking the purity of its characters, I wish the film had included more of Sampedro’s poetry, which I’ll bet, from the bit that’s recited here, stunk.)
Some will find The Sea Inside inspirationala testament to the power of imposing one’s will upon the world. But the more earthbound among us can simply enjoy the film’s provocative insistence that if one is to be denied the full capacity to love, to experience a full range of emotions and experiences, dying is no disgrace, no sin, no proof of cowardice. I wonder how many viewers will home in on the brief courtroom scenes, in which Amenábar, who co-wrote the film with Mateo Gil, emphasizes that Spain is a secular country that should therefore not pass judgments based on being a slave to your . . . altar-boy conscience, as Ramón says (in a later moment.) In the current America, viewed by our president as a Christian country, The Sea Inside operates as stealth art: stately, moving, beautifully acted, and urgently subversive to our own status quo.
The Sea Inside
Directed by Alejandro Amenábar.
Fine Line Features. R.
For other uses of "Thesis", see Thesis (disambiguation).
Tesis (Thesis) is a 1996 Spanish thriller film. It is the feature debut of director Alejandro Amenábar and was written by Amenabar and Mateo Gil. The film was made while he was studying at Universidad Complutense in Madrid  The film won seven 1996 Goya Awards including the award for Best Film, Best Original Screenplay and Best Director. It stars Ana Torrent, Fele Martínez and Eduardo Noriega.
Ángela, a university student in Madrid, is planning to write a thesis on audiovisual violence and the family. As she is sitting on a commuter train, it halts and passengers are told to evacuate. A man has committed suicide by jumping on front of the train. While being led out of the station, Ángela moves toward the tracks to see the man's remains. She is warded away at the last instant. At a thesis meeting, she asks her thesis director, Professor Figueroa, to help her find the most violent videos in the school's video library. After class, Ángela seeks out the help of a fellow student, Chema, who is known for his collection of violent and pornographic videos. While Ángela watches a violent film with Chema, Figueroa finds a tape hidden in the school's audiovisual archives. The next day, Ángela finds Figueroa dead of an apparent asthma attack in the university's viewing room. She takes the video tape from the player and leaves for class. A younger professor, Castro, takes over Figueroa's classes and the supervision of Ángela's thesis project. She goes to Chema's house to watch the film she stole. It is a snuff film, a film of a person being murdered. As they watch a woman being tortured, killed, and disemboweled, Chema realizes that she was Vanessa, a girl who attended their university and went missing two years ago. Chema is able to determine that the killer used a Sony XT-500 camera, based on the fact that it had a digital zoom feature, and that the film was shot in someone's garage.
While at the library working on her thesis, Ángela sees a handsome young man named Bosco using an XT-500 camera. When she leaves the library, he pursues and catches up to her. He notices that she has newspaper clippings about Vanessa's disappearance and states that he has information about Vanessa. Ángela pretends she is filming a report about Vanessa's disappearance and asks to interview Bosco about it. At the interview, he insists that Vanessa must have run away with a boyfriend because she sent a note to her family saying that she was in love. Ángela is willing to accept Bosco's innocence, but Chema tells her that Bosco is a psychopath. Once home, Ángela realizes that Bosco is inside her house waiting for her. Although she is initially frightened, Bosco charms her family and they invite him to stay for dinner. Once alone, Bosco attempts to seduce Ángela, but she resists his advances. At the school, Chema asks a security guard to see the security tape of the video library on the night of Figueroa's death. That night, Ángela has a dream that Bosco threatens her with a knife, performs oral sex on her while videotaping it, and then stabs her.
At a thesis meeting, Professor Castro asks Ángela what she knows about Figueroa's death. Ángela denies all knowledge, but Castro plays her a security tape of the viewing room, which shows Ángela finding Figueroa's dead body and taking the videotape. As Ángela is about to admit why she took the tape, Chema calls. Ángela answers the phone in a separate room and Chema tells her to leave Castro's office immediately, saying that Castro is involved in the snuff film. Castro listens in on the call and tries but fails to catch Ángela as she flees his office. Later that day, Bosco's girlfriend, Yolanda, confronts Ángela and explains that she, Vanessa, Bosco, and Chema, who was once a friend of Bosco, had gone to a series of director's workshops two years ago with Professor Castro. Yolanda states that she left when they made Vanessa take off her clothes for a short film, that Chema was obsessed with snuff films, and that she believes he killed Vanessa a week after the workshop ended. Later, Angela asks Chema whether he knew Bosco, and Chema admits that he did, but that he also left the workshop when things got out of hand. At night, Chema shows Ángela a hidden tunnel he discovered in the school's video library. In a room off the tunnel, they find shelves of video tapes like the one of Vanessa, indicating that many other women may have been murdered on camera. Suddenly the door to the tunnel closes and they are locked inside. Fearing they will be killed, Chema and Ángela walk further into the tunnel with only matches to light their way. They find an editing room where they fall asleep in each other's arms.
When Ángela wakes, the lights have come back on and Chema is gone. She walks through a doorway and is chloroformed. She awakens tied to a chair, facing Professor Castro, who is videotaping her. He tells that he only edited the snuff videos, but that he has to kill her and that her death will be painless and much quicker than Vanessa's. As Castro aims a gun at Ángela's head, Chema appears and wrestles with him. The gun goes off, killing Castro. Ángela and Chema escape. Once at her house, Ángela's father tells her that her sister, Sena, is at a party with Bosco. Terrified, Ángela hurries to the party. Once there, Sena refuses to leave with Ángela, insisting that Bosco is in love with her. In order to persuade her sister to leave, Ángela approaches Bosco and passionately kisses him. The next day, Ángela tells Chema they need to go to the police. Although first reluctant, Chema agrees but takes a shower before leaving. While Chema is in the bathroom, Angela finds an XT-500 camera among Chema's things. The tape inside the camera reveals footage taken of Ángela from outside her bedroom window. Convinced that Chema has been stalking her, Ángela flees. She goes back home to advise her sister to remain safe, then takes a taxi to Bosco's house. She is followed by a figure in a black rain coat.
At Bosco's house, Bosco and Ángela talk about their relationship. Suddenly, the lights go out and Bosco goes downstairs to check on the power. When Ángela follows him, she finds him lying on the floor. Chema has followed her to the house and knocked out Bosco, but Bosco revives and in the struggle that ensues, Bosco beats Chema to the ground. While Bosco goes to get rope to tie up Chema, Chema tells Ángela to look in Bosco's garage. As Bosco binds Chema, Ángela goes to the garage, which she recognizes from the snuff film of Vanessa. Bosco ties up Ángela and explains how he intends to torture and kill her. However, Ángela cuts her bonds with a knife, slashes Bosco, grabs his gun, and shoots him dead. Ángela visits a recovering Chema in the hospital. On the television in his room, an announcer states that the bodies of six women were found at Bosco's home. Ángela gives Chema a book inscribed with an invitation to have coffee with her and tells him she is going to abandon her thesis. As they leave, the announcer states that footage from a snuff film will be shown on air.
As film made by a film student about film students, much of Tesis is metafilmic and comments on the Spanish film industry, Hollywood influence and the voyeuristic nature of the horror and snuff genres. Following the aesthetic of the American horror genre, Angela operates as the "Final Girl", or resourceful female protagonist that defies stereotypical feminine traits. Although Tesis fits the suspenseful mold of a Hollywood horror flick rather than its symbol-rich European counterpart, according to European film critic Marguerite la Caze, Tesis has a thesis: "human beings, no matter how well-meaning, are attracted to violence and death in all its forms". 
Tesis has generated much critical analysis due to its study of the fascination of violence. Film critic Leora Lev discusses Angela's ethical rejection and simultaneous attraction to violent images as this film's primary conversation. Lev states that Angela's psychosexual conflict with both the snuff film and the murderer, Bosco, is emblematic of the culture that consumes violent films and reality television series.
After the fall of Francisco Franco's military dictatorship in the late seventies, Spain began transitioning into democracy. The shift from a strictly conservative regime to a Westernized democracy resulted in drastic cultural changes known as La Movida. These changes included the introduction of contraception and abortion, the inclusion of women in the public sphere, and a decline in Catholicism.
Violence Against Women
Even after women were considered members of the public sphere during the democratic transition, violence against women was still considered a private or family problem. It wasn't until the late nineties that the Spanish Government began enforcing policies or regulations dealing with the issues of domestic abuse and rape. In 1995, the year Tesis was being created, the United Nations held the first Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, which defined violence against women as: "Any act of violence based on gender, which may result or actually results in physical, sexual or psychological harm, including threats, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, in either private or public life". This definition began shaping regulations in Spain during the late nineties, and many laws and acts have been passed since.
Although women in Spain earned the right to vote under Franco's military dictatorship, divorce was impossible, women could not open bank accounts, obtain passports, or buy property without their husband's permission. During democratic transition, Spain's socialist government created the Institute for Women in 1983 in order to promote equal rights. Women's rights have been slowly, yet continuously improving since the military dictatorship fell, and Spain in the 1990s was witnessing the beginnings of these cultural changes.
Ángela, the protagonist of Tesis, is a female grad student. This is an unusual, but not unheard of, occurrence for the time period. Ángela's younger sister, Sena, is starting to study law. Amenabar's female characters in Tesis, with the exception of Ángela's mother, operate almost solely in the public sphere.
During the mid-nineties in Spain, reality television became one of the most consumed genres of entertainment. In 1993, the brutal killing of three young women became the fixation of the Spanish population. After finding the bodies of the three missing teens in a ditch, showing evidence of torture and rape, television channels rushed to report the investigation. The subsequent trial of the murderers also captured national attention.
The film was shot in five and a half weeks, preceded by a month of rehearsals, on a low budget: €721,214. It grossed €2,646,145 in Spain by March 1997.