Very often, film adaptations of popular books exclude beloved plot points or characters, much to the chagrin of devoted fans. But the film version of Jojo Moyes' best-seller, Me Before You, thankfully does so in a way that improves the story. The film, which stars Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin and opens Friday, June 3, omits a troubling subplot — a rape that seems out of place in an already dark book. Retaining it for the screen would have resulted in another unwelcome entry into the already full cannon of films that include extraneous instances of sexual assault against women. Me Before You tells the story of Louisa Clark, a small-town Brit who, after struggling to find a job, is hired as a caretaker for Will Traynor, a quadriplegic man. Will is miserable and takes his misery out on the unsuspecting girl hired to care for him. Louisa, on the other hand, remains a bolt of energy; her quirky clothing and bubbly personality offer a different pace for Will. As one can probably tell from the trailer, the two start off butting heads but eventually fall in love, with Will's condition looming over their happiness. One of the things Will wonders about Louisa is why she's never left their quaint, medieval English town to see any of the outside world, or even attend college. As it turns out in the book, Lou was headed for college, but tragedy struck just before she left. While partying as an impressionable teen, Louisa got drunk and was lured into a local hedge maze by a group of older, soccer-playing men. It is implied, through Louisa's recounting of the story, that she was gang raped, after which she decided to abandon her college plans and stay home where she felt safe.
That horrible incident is actually why Louisa dresses the way she does, in quirky, retro clothes that seem to come straight from Mod Cloth or Miss L Fire. As she describes herself before the incident, she dressed much more suggestively in spiky heels, skinny jeans, and revealing tops. But after the rape, Lou says, she wanted to make herself as "unattractive" to men as possible, dressing in kooky clothing and styling herself in a way she thought they'd hate. In the book, Louisa eventually recounting her trauma to Will is one of the reasons he stops being so snarky with her. It's also implied that, as a result of the rape, Louisa has physical intimacy issues, which is why it doesn’t faze her that her relationship with Will may not include much sexual activity. While this subplot provides the book with these particular nuances, its inclusion is not only rather shocking, darker even than Will's attempted suicide or his eventual plan to end his life, but totally unnecessary. The added nuance doesn't make up for the fact that we don't need another story wherein the main female character suffers through a sexual assault in order to advance the plot. Thankfully, the entire rape subplot doesn't make it into the movie. As it stands in the film, the reason Louisa never goes to college is left open, Will's question awkwardly unanswered. But that awkwardness is much more preferable to the inclusion of yet another instance of sexual abuse on screen. Louisa is a girl who wears offbeat clothes and doesn't much enjoy sex, and having that simply be the way her character is — rather than the result of a brutal assault — is perfectly fine. The character doesn't need to have gone through sexual trauma as an "excuse" for her personality or the way she dresses. There's far too much needless violence against women on television and in films as it is, and it's particularly egregious when a history of trauma is used as means to make a man feel bad and fall for a woman or to explain her personality quirks. Moyes adapted her own book for the screen, so she was the one who ultimately decided to leave the rape out of the screenplay. It was the right call.
This summer, we're celebrating the biggest movie season of the year with a new series called Blockbust-HER. We'll be looking at everything film-related from the female perspective, interviewing major players in the industry and discussing where Hollywood is doing right by women and where (all too often) it is failing them. And now...let's go to the movies!