[WARNING: This post contains spoilers for the Me Before You book and movie.]
On the same weekend that Paramount's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows premieres as part of the blockbuster-heavy summer season, Warner Bros. is debuting counter-programming in the form of the romantic drama Me Before You. Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones) stars as Louisa Clark, a young woman in need of a job to help support her family who takes a position caring for Will Traynor, a former businessman who was paralyzed in an accident two years prior, played by Sam Claflin (The Hunger Games). Over the course of their time together, the two characters form an unlikely bond that inevitably changes them both.
Me Before You was adapted from the novel by Jojo Moyes, who penned the screenplay as well, and is the cinematic debut for director Thea Sharrock, who is largely known for her work in the theater. Given that the author of the book took on scripting duties for the adaptation, Me Before You sticks close to the source material. However, Moyes and Sharrock recently discussed one pivotal moment for Louisa that was left out of the movie and why that scene in particular was dropped during the adaptation process.
In an interview with Screen Rant, Moyes and Sharrock spoke about the scene from the Me Before You book in which Will coaxes Louisa to explore the maze within the castle on his family's property, and it brings back memories of an assault she suffered many years beforehand while in that same maze. Moyes explained that there were a number of drafts of the script, some that included the scene and some that didn't, but they eventually decided to leave it out:
"The problem we had with it is [that] in the book it's almost a throwaway line. You read it and you kind of go, 'Whoa, did she just say what I think she said?' and you go back and you realize what she's telling you in quite opaque terms. There is no way to do that visually because the moment you go into the maze or you express anything about the horror of that evening, it becomes a much bigger and weightier thing and you can't do that quickly and be respectful to the topic."
The scene in question has been a topic of discussion among readers since Me Before You was published in 2012, with fans wondering whether the trauma Lou suffered was the result of rape, as many inferred. In the novel, the assault also provides another layer to the character of Lou, allowing the reader to infer that the night in the maze was the reason behind her staying in her small hometown rather than traveling the world.
As Moyes states, though, the team behind the film had trouble finding a way to incorporate that facet of Lou's backstory in the adaptation of Me Before You. According to Sharrock, they experimented with different storytelling techniques, like flashback or telling the story in the moment, but no matter how it was incorporated the scene became the most important aspect of Lou's story:
It became the pivotal thing, it became the thing that made Louisa who she was and therefore changed the entire direction of the film and of the arc of the character and therefore the arc of the story of the whole film. … It became the thing that you just constantly came back to and suddenly it became a film about a girl who had possibly been raped in a maze and then anything else was happening was around that.
In the end, after six months of discussions according to Moyes, they decided to leave the scene out in an effort to have the film's focus remain on the relationship between Lou and Will. As Sharrock explains, the moment in the book is a pivotal point for the two characters since it's when they begin to open up to each other, so she felt it was important to maintain the spirit of that scene even though Lou's assault was left out of the film.
Of course, the portrayal of rape and sexual assault, especially as part of a TV show or movie adaptation from a novel, has been a topic of discussion in recent years, largely due to Game of Thrones. The show has been criticized for its portrayal of rape, sexual assault, and violence toward women, specifically for using such scenes as plot devices to move the story forward or simply for shock value. However, this problem isn't restricted to Game of Thrones, though viewers may be most vocal about HBO's wildly successful fantasy series, and many shows have been guilty of using rape and sexual assault tropes for similar reasons.
As a result, Moyes and Sharrock's careful and lengthy discussion of whether to include Lou's assault in the Me Before You movie seems to show a level of understanding of the topic of violence against women and how its portrayal in film and television can be handled poorly. Given their comments on the matter, it would seem Moyes and Sharrock understand that rape and sexual assault should be dealt with in a manner that is respectful and does the topic justice.
Still, in terms of staying true to the novel, fans of Me Before You may feel the loss of Lou's assault as a necessary aspect of her character. But, as is the case with most adaptations, certain facets of the book were bound to be left out in the process, and Moyes and Sharrock did not take that decision lightly. Rather, they put in time and effort to crafting the best adaptation of Me Before You as is possible within a two-hour movie.
Me Before You is now playing in theaters.