Leagues beyond a disease-of-the-week movie, and a total departure for its director, The Sea Inside is a potent emotional journey anchored by powerhouse performances. It turns out that Alejandro Amenábar, known for gothic horror (The Others) and existentialism (Abre los Ojos), can do lyrical intimacy with equal finesse. Amenábar's technique is partly responsible for bringing Ramon Sampedro to life; his camera explores the rolling landscape of Sampedro's mind, as well as the photographs of his bedroom, which show the rich exuberance of Ramon's youth. But The Sea Inside wouldn't be half the experience without the work of Javier Bardem. He's such a charismatic figure, so quick to flirt or joke, that he can seduce even from his state of permanent recline, and at times, the 2004 Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film is equally satisfying as a wistful romance. Ramon's very quickness of wit provides the film with a central conundrum: how can a person who seems so harmonious with his world want to end his life? The Spanish countryside provides an idyllic backdrop for such weighty philosophical debate, deceptively appropriate in the way it accentuates the fragile beauty of life -- especially as captured through Javier Aguirresarobe's cinematography. Amenábar's script is also keenly attuned to life's absurdities. A memorable argument transpires between Ramon, stubbornly confined to his bed, and a paralyzed priest, down two floors because his wheelchair couldn't be carried any higher into the house. A messenger runs between the two, exchanging barbs, but their polarized views lie a much greater distance apart. Ramon's sardonic outlook on religious salvation cannot be shaken, and Bardem's performance convinces the audience there's no reason it should be. The range of perspectives of those who care about him lends the film additional poignancy, never crossing over into maudlin sentiment.