Saturday, May 03, 2008

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: Grade A

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)
Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Seigner, Marie-Josée Croze; Director Julian Schnabel. (French, Subtitled).

In 1995 the prominent editor of Elle magazine suffered a stroke in Paris, at age 44. When he awoke 20 days later, he found himself totally paralyzed except for his left eyelid. In this movie of that experience, the camera takes the stricken man's point of view as the lens peers out into the hospital room. We hear his voice, representing his thoughts, as he is first perplexed by his condition, then horrified, outraged, self-pitying, then finally challenged. He can see and hear perfectly well. It’s a brilliant use of the cinematic medium. When he cries, the lens, his left eye, goes blurry. Doctors, therapists, and friends stand in front of his one good eye and speak to him, many giving outstanding acting performances.

As the movie progresses, we move out of that restricted point of view so we can see him sitting in a wheel chair at the sea, and we have a full field view of his surroundings. The diving bell of the title is his paralyzed body, the butterfly his imagination, which is rich and varied. In beautiful photography, he reminisces on his life, especially on his relationship with his father, and imagines faraway places, journeys to other centuries, luxurious meals, and so on (though oddly, not tennis, rowing, dancing, or other vigorous bodily activity). One of his therapists develops a system of communication in which she reads the alphabet to him, and he blinks to indicate his choice of a letter in the list. By this method he manages to “dictate” an entire book, his memoir (The Diving Bell And The Butterfly, by Jean-Dominique Bauby. Translated by Jeremy Leggatt. Knopf, $20). This movie is a film treatment of that book. It is a treat for the eyes, with great acting and a fascinating story that never leaves you bored. The only disappointment is that most of the authors’ reminiscences are sentimental and banal. I would have liked him to reflect on the human condition, pride, ambition, the nature of suffering, fate, existence, God, the relationship between mind and body. But he was not that guy, so we get what he had to give, which is interesting enough, packaged into a very well-made film.

1 comment:

  1. I loved "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly", but the movie I'd rather see is "My Stroke of Insight", which is the amazing bestselling book by Dr Jill Bolte Taylor. It is an incredible story and there's a happy ending. She was a 37 year old Harvard brain scientist who had a stroke in the left half of her brain. The story is about how she fully recovered, what she learned and experienced, and it teaches a lot about how to live a better life. Her TEDTalk at TED dot com is fantastic too. It's been spread online millions of times and you'll see why!