Movie #115 The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
(2007, France, d. Julian Schnabel)
My initial reaction after seeing this film was disappointment because I had heard so much about it. But then after chewing on that for a couple days (yes my review is quite late), I came to the conclusion that this movie really was a gem in the anthology of French film. It tells the true story of then Elle magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby and his sudden onset of the rare “locked-in syndome”. He becomes paralyzed from head to toe and must rely only on the blinking of his eyes to communicate. The first part of the film (a beautiful stylistic choice) is conducted in first-person, which means we see what he sees. When Bauby blinks, the camera goes black. It’s sort of an unsettling experience especially as Bauby’s discovery as to what happened to him also becomes our discovery. It is only when he begins to be reminded of certain keys to his past (Elle, the mother of his kids, his lover, his kids, his friends, etc…) that Schnabel adopts a third-person perspective. When Bauby finally stops pitying himself (which is fairly fast) he realizes the only two things left unparalyzed are his mind and imagination. From there he begins to use that imagination and creativity to color the world around him and paint a portrait of a place where he is still OK. During his trials, Bauby’s beautiful and dedicated speech therapist develops a system of his being able to convey his thoughts using only his eyes. She lists off the most common letters in order and he blinks when he hears the right one. He writes his autobiography like this and the title of that autobiography can’t help but make me think of Plato’s views on love. Love, according to Plato, can either “lift me up or bring me down”. The title of the autobiography: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Filled with a mesmerizing performance from the always dependable Mathieu Amalric, the film is not only a showcase to the incredible will of Jean-Dominique Bauby but also to the level of craft Julian Schnabel brings to the table.