The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

2008-08-12 14:13
What it's about:

In this adaptation of a true story by the protagonist, Elle magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby wakes up in an old seaside hospital to find himself paralysed, and only able to move his eyes. Trapped, he lives in his imagination, in his past, and through the generosity and love of others.

What we think of it:

"Harrowing" doesn't begin to describe this film, which places you inside the eyeballs and mind of a man trapped in his own head, tortured by a life he can no longer manipulate. Harrowing doesn't begin to describe it because like the best torturers, the film continually offers you hope along with the torment, and courage in the face of a terrifying reality.

There's a dark fantasy you may have indulged in once or twice: you wake up in a hospital bed and you can't move your arms or your legs. Your loved ones gather to tell you that you're paralysed. Maybe you live bravely. Or maybe you're one of those people who, like Kyle from Southpark's grandfather, just begs someone you trust to kill you.

In The Diving Bell and the Butterfly this terrible dream comes true for this journalist and, trapped in his own head, he's forced to face up to his memories, the inadequacies of his relationships and his own death. Or actually YOU are forced to face up to his memories, his fears and the inadequacies of his relationships. The movie is shot mainly from within his head – so the needle sewing his one eye closed comes towards your eye, the person's huge face staring is staring into your face, and the trapped, helpless fear is yours.

Comfort comes from unexpected sources – the kindness of his ex-wife (to whom he's finally available) and his children, even though the stroke he suffered has monstrously twisted his face. The nurses and doctors who care for him are his enemies and his muses, but most of all they enable him to speak. In a painstaking process, Jean-Dominique must blink to choose a letter from the alphabet as it's read out, and so forms his words, sentences, and finally, an inside-his-head story.

And it feels completely real. There are few of the usual distractions. If this movie were American, emaciated A-listers would have jostled with extras for attention. The French actresses (like Emmanuelle Seigner) aren't exactly obscure, but unlike the Julia Roberts' of this world, they're actresses immersed in their characters, not just boney brands with swollen lips flashing teeth and speaking parts.

The subtitles create the only real flaw in this otherwise impressive movie: When Jean-Dominique's carer/interpreter is reading out the letters in order of most to least common in French, the subtitles show them in English. If you speak no French, this is fine. But if you speak even very little, it's extremely confusing and very distracting when the word you hear being spelled never appears on the screen.

A small criticism of an almost perfect piece of cinema though, which takes you with it in the main characters' imagination, in your desire to protect those he's hurt, in your wishes that he'd be a better person, in your frustrations with his father. And when it's over, it leaves you feeling a bit like those stupid dark fantasies can: desperate to live every moment to the fullest and grateful for the independence and physical power of the life you have. When it's over, instead of a Hollywood ending, the miracle is your own daily reality.

- Jean Barker

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A beautiful adaptation of a true story that leaves you desperate to live every moment to the fullest.

Margot Luyt 2008/03/18 11:12 AM
Miss My friend is in the same situation as Bauby. We have read the book and I will go and see the movie, but he feels it might be too emotional and we will see it together later on DVD. I am writing this to inform your critic that there are people in SA that are in exactly the same position.
Claire 2008/03/18 3:08 PM
The book changed my life When I was going through a very dark time in my life one of my closest friends gave me the book. Sadly, we need to see how bad it can be to appreciate what we have, and then we feel very grateful that it hasn't happened to us.
Glenda 2008/03/26 1:21 AM
The diving Bell and the butterfly An important film that reminds us of our fragility and resillience, of the importance of kindness, of the graciousness of learning to receive as well as give, in our co-dependence through life's journey.
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