‘Suncoast’ True Story & Real-Life Terri Schiavo Case, Explained


Laura Chinn took inspiration for her film, Suncoast, from her own life, and through it, she wanted to understand grief and loss in a better manner. That said, Laura has taken creative liberties and created characters that embody her own internal conflicts and the thoughts she never spoke about. Laura Chinn said in an interview that through the research work she did, she came to understand a very fascinating aspect of human beings. Grief, regret, disappointment, a sense of loss, etc., are the kinds of emotions that each and every one of us has felt at some point in our lives but the way every human perceives it is so unique and different. Laura realized that people have different reactions to similar events, and she said that you cannot force a person to feel a certain way because you feel that way.

In the film, we saw that the character of Doris, who is an embodiment of the director’s voice in a way, had a conversation with her teacher about what was ethical and what was not. Doris never really spoke in her class, but that day, her friends Laci and Brittany told the teacher that she was going through a very tough time in her life as her brother had been in a vegetative state for the last many years. The teacher asked Doris’ views on the ongoing debate about the right to live that was happening due to the real-life Terri Schiavo case. Doris said that there cannot be any set rule that tells us what’s ethical and what’s not. She said that just because something is written in the Bible or some law is made by the government, it doesn’t mean that a person who goes against it is a bad man. She said that only the one who is stuck in that situation has the right to decide for themselves. She said that at the moment, the world wanted Terri Schiavo to live, and they looked at Michael, her husband, as a demon, but that’s not fair. Doris herself felt what Michael might have, as she didn’t want her brother Max to suffer. On the other hand, her mother had very contrary views and she still couldn’t just let her boy go. 

Is Max’s character based on a Real-Life person?

Laura Chinn actually had a brother named Max Kenneth Chinn, and he was suffering from a terminal illness. Though Suncoast is a coming-of-age drama, Laura Chinn said that she didn’t face the dilemmas and internal conflict that Doris did, and she had a decent childhood where she didn’t have to fight to be a normal teenager.

The character of Paul Warren, who is played by Woody Harrelson, is entirely fictional, and the director created it because she wanted to show as many aspects of depression and grief as she could. Paul’s wife had died, and he was unable to move on in his life. He talked to Doris and told her that she should talk to her brother because once he was gone, she would regret the fact that she did not express whatever was inside her. Laura Linney’s character, Kristine, is inspired by Laura Chinn’s mother, though the director said that she was not as on edge as portrayed through the character. A creative decision to do so was made to accentuate those emotions in order to make the audiences privy to what goes inside the mind of a person who is stuck in that kind of situation. Laura Chinn mentioned in an interview that her mother was not as hard on her as shown in the film, and she lived her life like any normal teenager while her mother took care of her brother.

What Happened to Real-Life Terri Schiavo?

In Suncoast, we saw that, apart from the main conflict, there were things happening in the background that had some sort of effect on Doris’ and Kristine’s lives. Protests were conducted because people didn’t want the court to agree to the petition filed by a man named Michael, who wanted the court to give him permission to resort to euthanasia. The case is based on real-life events, and back in the day, it became a hot topic of debate in the entire country.

At the age of twenty-six, Terri Schiavo suffered a life-threatening cardiac arrest that sent her body into a state of coma. Due to the sudden attack, Terri was left in a vegetative state and had to be fed through a food pipe. In the year 1998, Michael, Terri’s husband, filed a petition in court, as he wanted them to grant him permission to remove the food pipe and not let Terri go through that painful process. Terri’s parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, challenged that petition in court, as they wanted to keep their daughter alive even if she was in a vegetative state. The legal battle went on for years.

On March 31, 2005, the Supreme Court gave permission to remove the food pipe, which eventually led to her death. There were a lot of protests that happened, and a lot of people demonized Michael and called him a wife killer. Michael said in an interview that he was messed up inside his head and that he was not able to process what was happening and why it was happening. He said that it was an extremely tough decision for him to let his wife go, and there were people outside his window chanting slogans, calling him names, and not showing any kind of empathy towards him. Michael said that he was not running away from his responsibilities, but he didn’t want his wife to suffer and endure when it was clear that the doctors had stated that her situation could be reversed. The media made him into a villain, and Terri’s parents as the noble souls who wanted to do the right thing. This is what Doris talked about when her class teacher asked her about how ethical it was to let someone practice euthanasia.

The best thing about Suncoast is the fact that it refrains from passing any judgment or taking any side. The film shows both sides of the coin and leaves it up to the audience to decide for themselves. Suncoast takes you on a really sensitive and insightful journey, and it makes you understand how important it is to be open to the views and perspectives of others, even though you don’t agree with them.

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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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