The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
(Le Scaphandre et Le Papillon)

diving bell and the butterfly

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Le Scaphandre et Le Papillon)
Made in: France
Language: French
Director: Julian Schnabel
Starring: Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Seigner, Marie-Josée Croze, Anne Consigny, Max von Sydow, Olatz Lopez Garmendia
Year: 2007

Synopsis: Based on the true story of Jean-Dominique Bauby (played by Mathieu Amalric), who was a successful writer for Elle Magazine in Paris. One day, Jean-Dominique (aka Jean-Do) suffers a debilitating stroke, which leaves him completely paralyzed and mute. Although he is mentally lucid and and can still hear, he can't swallow. Furthermore, he's left with only one functioning eye.

The only thing he can do is blink.

Literally a prisoner inside his own body, one can only imagine what it's like. His condition is also traumatic for Céline (Emmanuelle Seigner), the mother of his children, and his father (Max Von Sydow).

One of his therapists, Henriette (Marie-Josée Croze) develops a way for Jean-Do to communicate, which involves blinking. It proves to be a long, tedious, but ultimately effective process. With the help of Claude (Anne Consigny), a representative from a publishing company, Jean-Do dictates a book about his life...all through blinking. The book is not only a memoir, but a detailed document of his condition, his way of dealing with it, and his reflections on life.

Remarks: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is visually ingenious, which you'll notice immediately. Director Julian Schnabel, through meticulous camera work, literally makes you see what Jean-Dominique Bauby sees. You get a glimpse of what it's like to be completely helpless while being mentally sound at the same time.

Of course, the entire movie isn't like that. Much of the story also deals with Jean-Domnique before the stroke. This, in turn, helps build the film as a portrait of a man forced to closely examine his own view towards life, and the people he has touched as well as hurt.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly works very well on two levels. One, and the most obvious, is the fact that this man was able to write an entire book through blinking. Writing a book without any handicaps is already a tough task. But to do it using only one eye to communicate with the one doing dictation?

If anything, the story will help bring some perspective to the troubles we put up with every day. It'll motivate us to get off our lazy butts and finish whatever project we said we were going to complete.

The second, is that the film helps us realize our capacity to achieve great things. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly isn't an underdog or rags-to-riches story. Jean-Dominique Bauby, although a wealthy and accomplished writer with Elle Magazine, wasn't a terribly talented person. His personal life was sort of a mess, and although he wasn't miserable, he wasn't 100% happy either.

Yet he was able to discover and make use of the great potential that he always had, and accomplished something extraordinary in the process. Of course, he was at his very weakest when it happened. But the fact remains that the potential was always there.

Who would like this movie: This one's for you if you like foreign films and human dramas. Visually, it's very inventive but may come across as unconventional (and a little weird). It's very different from biopics produced by Hollywood, but the themes are pretty universal. And although the story is very humbling (and sad), it's not depressing or self-indulgent.

(3 stars out of 4)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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